PM Pick

Me media and self-induced shallowness

I'll try to be reasonable and measured in my rhetoric in this post, but frankly, the whole notion of -- the site where college kids post profiles of themselves for fellow college students -- turns my stomach. The objectifying name, first of all, puts me off -- I don't want my face in a book (I'd rather just have words in there, I suppose). The idea of being an image in a human catalog seems about as dehumanizing a condition as I can think of -- and so what if that's in fact what our condition is. (If I were Kenny Rogers, I would just drop in to see what condition my condition was in.) And the thought that by design, this catalog is full of, in the words of a Facebook VP, "the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum of the 18-to-24-year-old age group" doesn't settle my queasiness any. Facebook has the pretensions of being the country club MySpace, where the lesser orders need not apply and you can be sure of mingling with only the right sort of people -- just like on the campus at Princeton. Just what we need, a site for rich kids at privileged schools to flaunt their advantages and show off to each other while the national media looks on -- this week The New Yorker has an article about the site.

But at least the article afforded a few details that made me believe the author was eager to stick the knife in to the preening kids of Facebook -- the college students come across as vain, shallow, inane, conformist, pretentious, selfish and gullible all at the same time. One of Facebook's flacks tells John Cassidy, the author of the piece, that if you aren't on Facebook, "you don't exist" and students seem to believe this. Says one: "I tried to hold out and go against the flow but so many of my friends were members that I finally gave in." (How many friends would have to jump off the proverbial bridge before he would? How many would have to be stoning an embassy before he would join in? What kind of reasoning is this?)

Cassidy reports how some students feel helplessly addicted to the site, logging time on it "obsessively". Eventually these sites will be able to measure exactly how much time you spend watching your own profile and grooming it, and that information will likely prove very useful to advertisers down the road. Already ads are targeted to users based on what interests they list, and some users join corporate-sponsored groups voluntarily. (Cassidy here affords himself the opportunity to point out the hypocrites who belong to anti-corporate groups like "Not a Corporate Whore" and to groups sponsored by Apple.) Another student describes "agonizing" over what bands to list as his current favorites "I'm a musician: what I play and listen to has always been an important part of my identity." Though I'm always arguing that people define themselves via pop music, it's still sad somehow to see it so baldly stated. Aren't there better ways to make your mark on the world than by being known as a fan of Babyshambles and Lady Sovereign? (Though what a marketing coup for another band the student names, Marxy, who by being mentioned in this article just got the most prominent advertising they will ever get.) One hopes this kid discovers politics, and starts staking his sense of self in that instead. At least it seems to matter a bit more in the grand scheme of things.

Though more than anything else, I sympathize with this student. Reducing yourself to a profile is a totally humiliating experience; it's like hollowing oneself out. I know I wouldn't want any of my actual friends looking at my canned profile on one of these "Me Media" sites because they would immediately know what utter bullshit it is. How can it not be; none of us can live up to some ideal notion of ourselves in front of other people, especially people who like us and pay attention to what we do. Any actual friend would immediately be able to highlight all the phoniness, no matter how earnest my attempt at self-description might be. These profile pages offer an embarrassing glance at one's daydreams and posturings, it renders you shallow to those who probably know you more deeply. The idea of having a life online seems ultimately reductive in just this way: for all the promise of interactivity, it still seems to reduce you to an array of items you display on your 1-gigabyte shelf. You sell yourself in search terms and provocative photos, and you use site meters to measure your significance, and you compete to amass the largest number of "friends" as though it means anything. You can only have meaningful friendships with so many people, studies have placed the number, if I remember right, at about eight. (How's that for crack research? Plucked that number out of thin air. I think I read about the studies in an Economist article a few weeks ago and I can't find it now.) It seems a shame that has people racing to compile thousands and thousands of fake friends while neglecting those eight people who actually matter. Though these sites are often called "social networking" platforms, Cassidy cites a sociologist who reveals the truth about them: "It doesn't have anything to do with networking at all. It's voyeurism and exhibitionism." One user tells Cassidy, "It's a way of maintaining a friendship without having to make any effort whatsoever" -- you just add someone to a list and you have performed your duty as friend. You get to feel like you have a lot of friends, without having to go through all that troublesome business of getting to know them or giving a shit about what they are up to. Instead you can think of them only insofar as they are looking at you and making your profile page seem more impressive. What else are friends for?

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.