On Facebook and fake news, selfies and self-consciousness, selling our souls to the Internet, and other aspects of the digital revolution.
With these engaging and provocative essays, Roberto Simanowski considers what new media has done to us. Why is digital privacy being eroded and why does society seem not to care? Why do we escape from living and loving the present into capturing, sharing and liking it? And how did we arrive at a selfie society without self-consciousness?
Simanowski, who has been studying the Internet and social media since the 1990s, goes deeper than the conventional wisdom. For example, on the question of Facebook's responsibility for the election of Donald Trump, he argues that the problem is not the “fake news” but the creation of conditions that make people susceptible to fake news. The hallmark of the Internet is its instantaneousness, but, Simanowski cautions, speed is the enemy of depth. On social media, he says, “complex arguments are jettisoned in favor of simple slogans, text in favor of images, laborious explorations at understanding the world and the self in favor of amusing banalities, deep engagement in favor of the click.” Simanowski wonders if we have sold our soul to Silicon Valley, as Faust sold his to the Devil; credits Edward Snowden for making privacy a news story; looks back at 1984, 1984, and Apple's famous sledgehammer commercial; and considers the shitstorm, mapping waves of Internet indignation—including one shitstorm that somehow held Adidas responsible for the killing of dogs in Ukraine. “Whatever gets you through the night,” sang John Lennon in 1974. Now, Simanowski says, it's Facebook that gets us through the night; and we have yet to grasp the implications of this.
Roberto Simanowski is a scholar of media and cultural studies and the author of Digital Art and Meaning, Data Love, Facebook Society, Waste: A New Media Primer, andThe Death Algorithm and Other Digital Dilemmas (the last two published by the MIT Press).
Simanowski writes theory in the vernacular in tightly focused short pieces snatched from observation of the pervasive machinations of mediation in every moment of and scene of daily life. Like Barthes's Mythologies half a century ago, this work exposes the machinations of familiar media forms like selfies, news streams, and other meme pipelines.
Johanna Drucker, Martin and Bernard Breslauer Professor of Bibliography, Department of Information Studies, UCLA; author of The General Theory of Social Relativity and Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production