The New Passivity
April 19, 2012 6:19 PM   Subscribe

The demand to participate can become coercive, exhausting the very collective faculties it officially celebrates. While interactivity can be imagined as the “like” or “retweet,” it also encompasses the “agree to terms” button. The supposedly democratic call to dialogue and participation can turn sour when people have good reasons and desires to retreat.

Via Frank Pasquale's always rich Twitter feed.
posted by latkes (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Please feel free to comment.

The irony. Also, why are you coercing me to participate, latkes?

Seriously though, as someone who is not on Twitter, Facebook or any other social network (well, Mefi is different ...), this piece kinda captures my aversion towards constantly having to like this, plus that, being constantly required to instantly have a opinion - any opinion - on a multitude of topic ranging from the inane to the bafflingly complex.

Btw, one of the commentators recommended this related talk: Markus Miessen: The Nightmare of Participation.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:45 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The irony. Also, why are you coercing me to participate, latkes?
Does metafilter have a terms of use beyond the guidelines? I don't really recall ever agreeing to any legal terms when I signed up. Most of the rules here are of the form "don't do X or we will ban you"
posted by delmoi at 6:52 PM on April 19, 2012

(1) I am certain I heard this phrase from someone else, but a Google search didn’t reveal my source.

I love this footnote so much I could hug it. Also I wish that my advisors had let me get away with that kind of thing.
posted by winna at 6:57 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

(1) I am certain I heard this phrase from someone else, but a Google search didn’t reveal my source.

As a librarian, I hate this footnote so much I could hug it to death.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 7:04 PM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Somehow I'm reminded of something Benjamin Franklin supposedly said: "One of the delights known to age, and beyond the grasp of youth, is that of Not Going".
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 7:11 PM on April 19, 2012

we need some occasions for reflection that aren’t simply subsumed under the sign of participation

Been feeling this way lately, too. I just went to a great conference and found it was really hard for me to stay in the moment without live-tweeting it; then I traveled alone for a few days and compulsively updated my social media at each new destination. Why can't I be alone and just think? Or write in my journal? Or work on longer-term projects toward which these experiences gradually feed? About to delete about half my facebook friends, so I can concentrate more on real life and less on very thin connections and the automatic presumption that because I met someone, we must now interact as friends.

I had high hopes for this piece because, as an exhibit developer and museum interpreter, we deal a lot with the concept of learning via interaction. I don't think one can deny that interaction is fundamental to learning - but not all learning depends on multisensory interactions. One of the greatest skills people develop is the ability to learn quite efficiently through directly didactic methods, without expending a great deal of energy to contribute, manipulate, or otherwise interact. BUt that is best done once one has the fundamentals of a discipline down and has adequate real-world learning. Part of me is afraid of throwing the ideal of interactive learning out with the bathwater, because there are still far, far too many environments - K-12 schools, museums, college classrooms, on the job trainings - where the presumption is that all learning can be adquately done by direct verbal download.

The consumerist critique is important, but that deals only with certain forms of prescribed - not open-ended - interaction. I agree that most people use technology in quite a passive way not that different from television at all, with their "interaction" basically confined to, essentially, selecting a channel from among a list of options - the "downloading" the author refers to. I also think he's right that the danger of "uploading" or contributing/creating content is that of turning our own selves into commodities. People have grown very comfortably seeing themselves, uncritically, as a "brand," and manipulating that brand identity threatens a self-expression that's free, individuated, inconsistent, quirky, serendipitous, and original.

Good piece with important ideas, a little unfocused maybe, but worth reflecting on.
posted by Miko at 7:16 PM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

(well, Mefi is different ...)

This is pretty much how everybody I know justifies their preferred level / method of on-line interaction. Hell, for that matter, it's the process behind much of their our real-life interaction.

"I don't like the way XXXX does YYYY, but ZZZZ is different."
posted by Pinback at 7:22 PM on April 19, 2012

As a librarian, I hate this footnote so much I could hug it to death.

Come now, what could possibly be wrong with using a quote that you openly admit you can't cite correctly, or even at all?

posted by winna at 7:24 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

using a quote that you openly admit you can't cite correctly, or even at all?
Or could have made up out of thin air?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:54 PM on April 19, 2012

These days, when I head out bush, and am hit with the pure joy and wonder and awe of being in a wild place, I find myself thinking "This really needs to go up on facebook, I need to share this, I should have bought my laptop and NextG wireless dongle with me!"

And then after a day or two, I realize that isn't why I went, and it's not what I'm there for. I'm there to reestablish a link between myself and "nature". I'm there to feel at a deep and personal level a direct connection between myself and the world that I and my ancestors evolved from and grew up in.

For me that's something that happens in the wild regardless of whether I'm there alone, or with others. When it's done with others it can build into a (probably grandiose, but very intense) feeling of being the only humans alive at the dawn of time. The fact that feeling is often shared silently is one of the most amazing parts of it.

That's something that represents very real interaction for me. I love looking at wilderness photography and video online, I love sharing what I produce with friends online. But in a sense doing that is never more than presenting or receiving a set of analogies of the reality. It keeps me going between trips but it isn't the real interaction that feeds my soul.

Thinking of it as a set of qualia might be an appropriate conceptual approach towards what I'm getting out there. It's not really a set of experiences or feelings that can be truly communicated, whether from me to others, or others to me. That first response I get of "shit I've gotta share this" is inherently flawed, and does substantially detract from my ability (and that of anyone I'm sharing with) to grasp the reality.

In short, when you look at the video or the picture, you think you're getting it. But you aren't. It's passive consumption of something illusory. To borrow a word, it's maya.

So yes, sharing some things in any other way (social media included) except experiencing them directly with others is replacing something active and real with something passive and illusory.

Very much reminds me of the quiet resolve to disengage so as to reengage that was present at the end of this essay featured on the blue a week or so back.
posted by Ahab at 8:24 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Metafilter: to instantly have a opinion - any opinion - on a multitude of topic ranging from the inane to the bafflingly complex.
posted by polymath at 8:55 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I like other people. I like communicating and sharing with them.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:30 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Secular lent isn't a bad idea. If a form of participation is starting to feel oppressive, stop. Quit cold turkey for a month. If you stop doing the same thing every day you get enough perspective to ask what about the medium is worth your time and whether you can find a way to use it that would make it a good part of your life.

This is true of Metafilter. Do I get a welcome back party?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:22 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like other people. I like communicating and sharing with them.

Well, I certainly do, too. But as in all things, we need some balance. Sharing and communicating to the extent that it crowds out reflecting, contemplating, and being present in the moment starts to feel like a mental illness to me after a while. It can be easy to fall into those patterns, because when you communicate through online platforms you usually get pretty fast and pretty satisfying feedback, mirroring your interactions back to you. Tight feedback loops are somewhat addictive, brain-chemical-wise. In the physical and in the internal world, feedback looks and acts different, and sometimes it is very subtle. I'd like to break the addictive cycle a little more.

Before there was the internet I traveled with a journal all the time, I took (film) pictures, and I wrote letters. These things also allowed me an escape of inattention, a way of watching myself having experiences and sharing those experiences (even if only with a future version of myself, as in journaling). I'm not sure why those felt a little different than the social-media engagements I have today. For one thing, it was not as hard to devote my attention to sustaining them over a longer time.
posted by Miko at 7:55 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Really thoughtful comments Miko.

One thing I've been wondering about lately is the way the technologies I grew up with (literacy, photography for example) are also as you say escapes of inattention that I wasn't aware of because they were so normal to me. I remember hearing a possibly apocryphal story about when people first starting riding in trains. The speed was so intense people felt they were going crazy - I guess it was called Railway Nerves. True or not, the story reminds me of how unaware I am of the way technology forms my sense of normal.

My own kid is growing up in an age where IMing and Skype and Like buttons are just a part of her culture, so they won't stand out to her as noticeably problematic - as much as I try to limit her screen time etc. Those things are her normal - so I wonder what quiet self reflection will look like to her and her peers.
posted by latkes at 3:24 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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