So does social technology liberate us or enslave us?
I was sitting at my local weekend cafe having a long macchiato (I know, I know) and the kids were having some babycinos when I spied a young bloke with four women sitting at a communal table across from me. There was an obvious attraction between them, there was hair touching, flicking, and preening. There was much touching and mutual adoration with the eyes. And they all had good hair. I watched with the indifference of a parent with two toddlers, tired and incapable of adult conversation let alone the idea of flirtation. Then I noticed they had started taking photos with a smartphone, I’m guessing an iPhone. After each photo they would cluster around the iPhone and admire themselves and laugh at their casual narcissism captured only seconds beforehand and represented on Facebook.
It seems that there is more representation than ever. Instagram, digital SLR’s, Facebook photo sharing, Path, YouTube and other social/technology tools make us the subject and the producer of content. Rather than being liberated by the technological innovation in photography we are constrained in a continuous style of making and remaking ourselves so advertisers can get to know us better as subjects and cultural producers. The great fear of the critical theorists that mass culture only exists to reproduce itself as a profitable and very efficient economic machine has been both realised and obliterated. Cultural production is still mass but it is a mass of heterogenous agents creating and uploading and sharing. The multi-national producers of cultural content have been replaced by these intelligent agents whose means of consumption has been liberated only to be co-opted into a more insidious economic machine where we are are the slaves and the captive consumers generating profits with every click.
I don’t want to be teleological, but living in the era where cultural production is undergoing the biggest change since the invention of the printing press is a pretty exciting place to be. We just need to be clear that this technology has the potential to both liberate and enslave.