hyperauthenticity

Authenticity is a tricky animal, and social media complicate the matter. Authenticity is that which seems natural, uncalculated, indifferent to external forces or popular opinion. This sits in tension with the performativity of everyday life, in which people follow social scripts and social decorum, strive to be likeable—or at least interesting—and constantly negotiate the expectations of ever expanding networks. The problem of performance is therefore to pull it off as though unperformed. The nature of social media, with its built-in pauses and editing tools, throw the semblance of authenticity into a harsh light. Hence, the widespread social panics about a society whose inhabitants are disconnected from each other and disconnected from their “true selves.”

For political campaigns, the problem of authenticity is especially sharp. Politicians are brands, but brands that have to make themselves relatable on a very human level. This involves intense engagement with all forms of available media, from phone calls, to newspaper ads and editorials, to talk show appearances, television interviews and now, a social media presence. The addition of social media, along with the larger culture of personalization it has helped usher in, means that political performances must include regular backstage access. Media consumers expect politicians to be celebrities, expect celebrities to be reality stars, and expect reality stars to approximate ordinary people, but with an extra dab of panache. The authentic politician, then, must be untouchable and accessible, exquisite and mundane, polished yet unrehearsed. Over the last couple of elections, social media has been the primary platform for political authenticity. Candidates give voters access to themselves as humans—not just candidates—but work to do so in a way that makes them optimally electable. It’s a lot of work to be so meticulously authentic. more...

Apple_-_Live_-_September_2014_Special_Event

What are all those people celebrating with their standing ovation? Even the guy on stage is applauding. Sure the new product is exciting, but applause? Unlike a play or a musical performance (even a U2 performance), nothing is actually happening on stage when a product is announced. All that work that goes into making a product was done months ago, and the audience isn’t even being asked (at the moment) to thank the people that made the product. Instead of rapt silence or an excited buzz, lots of people are moved to show their unbridled enthusiasm in a very specific way. It is the same kind of collective reaction that comes after a political speech and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When we applaud the Apple Watch we’re applauding an imagined future. more...

Image credit
Image credit

Late Monday night it was discovered that one of the EPA’s Twitter accounts was a C-list celebrity on the popular iPhone game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The Tweet was one of those automatically generated ones meant to announce progress in a game or the unlocking of an achievement. Its easy to imagine the scenario: an over-worked or deeply bored social media manager didn’t realize they were signed into their work account instead of their personal one and let the tweet go. Or maybe a family member borrowed their work phone. Who knows? What we do know is that the tweet immediately garnered thousands of retweets and countless more screenshots were shared on other platforms. Why is this even remotely funny? What sorts of publicly held believes does it reveal? more...

giphy.gif

I learn a lot on Tumblr. I follow a lot of really great people that post links, infographics, GIF sets, and comics covering everything from Star Trek trivia to trans* identity. I like that when I look at my dashboard, or do a cursory search of a tag I will experience a mix of future tattoo ideas and links to PDFs of social theory. Invariably, within this eclectic mix that I’ve curated for myself, I will come across a post with notes that show multiple people claiming that the post taught them something and so they feel obligated to reblog it so others may also know this crucial information. If you’re a regular Tumblr user you’re probably familiar with the specific kind of emphatic sharing. Sometimes it is implied by one word in all caps: “THIS!” In other instances the author is ashamed or frustrated that they didn’t know something sooner. For example, I recently reblogged a post about America’s Japanese internment camps that contained a note from another user who was angry that they were 24 when they first learned about their existence. I want to give this phenomenon a name and, in the tradition of fellow regular contributor Robin James’ recent “thinking out-loud” posts, throw a few questions out there to see if anyone has more insights on this. more...

curate1

 

So I’ve been thinking a lot about curation and its role in contemporary social life. I’ve had such thoughts before, and have since expanded upon them. Here’s where I am…

Curation is the act of picking and choosing, marginalizing and highlighting, adding, deleting, lumping, and splitting. Social life in itself is highly curatorial, as social actors necessarily filter infinite masses of stimuli, selecting and preening in intricate ways while sculpting performances out of the broad slabs that constitute affect, body, and demeanor. In what follows, I argue that new technologies—and social media in particular—amplify curation, facilitating its operation as a key organizing principle of augmented sociality.

Specifically, I briefly outline a three-pronged theory of curation, in which social actors curate their own performances, curate what they see, and are always subject to curatorial practices of others—both human and machine. I refer to curated performance as outgoing curation, curated viewing as incoming curation, and curation at the hands of others as third-party curation. more...

 

The author, planking
The author engaging in an activity that might be considered "planking." Circa 2009

In the Spring semester of my third year of college I had a stats class that really took the life out of me. One day I elected to take a brief nap in a dorm lounge. The picture above was taken shortly after I laid down, and subsequently posted on Facebook. Out of context, it appears as though I am planking– an internet meme in which individuals are photographed intentionally laying face-down in strange places. It has popped in an out of the global media for almost a decade but resurfaced over this summer into a world-wide activity. It has since inspired similar activities including owlingBatmanning, and stocking. I will refer to the entire trend collectively as “performative memes.” Unlike Anthropology Major Fox or lolcatz, these memes are about performing a certain embodied act, not producing an image for visual consumption. All around the world, friends are taking pictures of each other doing strange stunts and posting them on the internet. What exactly are we doing –socially- when we engage in performative internet memes?

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