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How friendship became friending

I love manfestos with theses: Here is one from FibreCulture about Web 2.0 (via Metafilter), written by European academics. They contend that internet culture has now fully integrated itself with everyday life (it is not a simulation or virtual anymore, but the genuine substance of our lives), which has ramifications for how social networks and the like might facilitate social change. One of their theses (it's more like an amalgam of about a dozen theses):

Social networks are technologies of entertainment and diffusion. The social reality they create is real, but as a technology of immediacy you can't get no satisfaction. We initially love them for their distraction from the torture of now-time. Networking sites are social drugs for those in need of the Human that is located elsewhere in time or space. It is the pseudo Other that we are connecting to. Not the radical Other or some real Other. We systematically explore weakness and vagueness and are pressed to further enhance the exhibition of the Self. 'I might know you (but I don't). Do you mind knowing me?'. The pleasure principle of entertainment thus diffuses social antagonisms—how does conflict manifest within the comfort zones of social networks and their tapestries of auto-customisation? The business-minded 'trust doctrine' has all but eliminated the open, dirty internet forums. Most Web 2.0 are echo chambers of the same old opinions and cultural patterns. As we can all witness, they are not exactly hotbeds of alternative sub-culture. What's new are their 'social' qualities: the network is the message. What's created here is a sense or approximation of the social. Social networks register a 'refusal of work'. But our net-time, after all, is another kind of labour. Herein lies the perversity of social networks: however radical they may be, they will always be data-mined. They are designed to be exploited. Refusal of work becomes just another form of making a buck that you never see.

Social networks don't function as a new public sphere but as an entertainment technology. They prompt us to replace the tussle of genuine connectedness with further self-display. Instead of arguing with one another, we preen. And this preening becomes a kind of exploitable labor, thanks to the way social networks facilitate data-mining. This is how social networks empty friendship of its significance as a haven of honesty and noneconomic reciprocity. It also neuters the online space, heading off any of its potential as a site of radicalization. Because the online space is devoid of conflict -- everyone is "friends" -- it is anodyne; "the Tyranny of Positive Energy" assures that politics is screened out of online social behavior. (Back when I used Facebook, I remember deleting several "friends" who made pro-McCain statements in their updates. I decided I didn't need to engage with that sort of thing when I was consuming friendship.)

The authors make the key point that the way we conceive of our activities in online space is dictated by the tech firms and their software and gadgetry:

What, then, are the collective concepts of the social networked masses? For now, they are engineered from the top-down by the corporate programmers, or they are outsourced to the world of widgets. Tag, Connect, Friend, Link, Share, Tweet. These are not terms that signal any form of collective intelligence, creativity or networked socialism. They are directives from the Central Software Committee. «Participation» in «social networks» will no longer work, if it ever did, as the magic recipe to transform tired and boring individuals into cool members of the mythological Collective Intelligence.

What we do online is engineered by these concepts, possibly at the level of the proprietary, branded language itself -- and words that once had utopian zest to them have become assimilated into the cynical Web 2.0 jargon: "sharing", "friending" and so on. We are losing words to describe what it means to join others in solidarity. (Maybe I should start a social-networking company called Solidarity -- target green, progressive types.) I wouldn't argue that we can therefore fight the battle against the technological commercialization of private life on the semantic level. But the progress of the resistance can perhaps be charted in changes in the language usage that gains common acceptance -- that crops up in consumer magazines and in the mouths of sitcom characters.

This advice is offered in the last thesis: "If you must participate in the accumulation economy for those in control of the data mines, then the least you can do is Fake Your Persona." I'm not sure that this is worth the effort; though I already do this in the way I multiply email addresses to suit various online purposes. Having multiple crypto-identities may muck up data-harvesting and stand as a sign of resistance to the main allure of social networking right now, which is to archive our personal identity project and dignify it with all the preserved affirmations provided by others. I have a Facebook page, but it's there the way I would have a listing in the White Pages in the telephone era.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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