Enframed Online

Please like, subscribe, follow, give me the thumbs up, leave a comment, favourite, retweet etcetera. In the abstract arena of the internet where everyone under the age of 40 makes their living, the currency is in the above listed units. That’s how you get traffic, hits, interactions, views, metrics and so on which equals profit. Somehow. I think it’s from advertising but that’s getting choked these days too so I don’t really know. Either way, both our livelihoods and our own self-worth today are measured in these kinds of metrics making social media a bizarre kind of augmented reality video game like Pokemon Go. Gotta catch em all!

This kind of thinking – technology as a mode of living – was perfectly defined by Heidegger in 1949 as ‘Gestell’ in German or ‘Enframing’ in English. The idea being that for something to exist in the Human world it must be ‘framed’ by us first i.e. something doesn’t really exist to us until we have named it and discovered its purpose. It is a lot more complicated than that but that’s the broad strokes. As such, we have enframed other people to serve the purpose of ‘followers’ or ‘friends’ on social media, they are a literally a resource to be mined, a different node with unique attributes in a system that falls into certain predictable patterns that we can then manipulate for our own ends, literally like a computer. It is perhaps little wonder then with the YouTube vlogger, the influencer and the blog pundit we have ended up with such a right-wing society developing in the west.

Now this hypothesis was developed by Heidegger prior to the invention of digital technologies so I doubt he could have foreseen how prescient this theory was. His perception of it was seeing the totality of vision or everything on Earth as ‘Standing Reserve’ or any matter waiting to be exploited by us (there’s no coincidence the Standing Reserve is used in military vocabulary too). Heidegger saw it as the way humanity has evolved and grown by using the environment to create tools, homes, toys, vehicles, etc but technology in general is our way of life so we must enframe the environment around us to see it as a resource. Whilst this is an accurate way of describing humanity it is equally problematic when it is applied to people. Heidegger himself flirted with Fascism and the Nazi mentality can most definitely be seen as a very extreme method of enframing, i.e. humans as a resource to be exploited. Ironically the current Neoliberal model of Capitalism is also very much the same; seeing people as consumers, artists as creators, art as content, a useful item as product. To enframe is to rob something of its own essence, its own definition of what it is and with every demand for a like and subscribe we are framed as a resource.

For me the fact that a lot of the ‘Alt-Right’ online, who like to troll and abuse anyone not white or male, seem to talk of objectivity, espouse a love for science and demand ‘The Truth’ in every discussion. This search for objectivity which they deem objectively true is an oxymoron. All experience is subjective but their belief in this objectivity reveals how they have enframed everything as a means to serve their way of life. In essence, the various YouTube channels, Facebookers, Celebrity Tweeters, Instagram Influencers and so on that say they are apolitical still enframe their audience as a resource for them to continue living their lives, so are indulging in a type of ‘soft-fascism’. Yes, I’m calling PewDiePie a fascist like everyone else. But seriously, the fact the likes of Milo, Cernovich and Alex Jones do so well online is because they don’t see people, they see metrics and text on a screen, a similar mentality as the various Nazis when asked how they could perform their crimes replied all they were doing was signing bits of paper. Whilst this comparison is admittedly extreme, the dehumanization in both cases is most certainly there.

It’s probably worth pointing out here that I write for a YouTube channel and most of my writing work is published online these days so I am by no means saying the internet is inherently bad but there are significant problems with our relationship with it. I like to think the stuff I write and the way I approach the internet goes some way to assuming the people who view my CONTENT are their own people with their own complex opinions and experiences that they bring to the discussion but I fully admit this is not always the case. Many is the time I have made a criticism of a celebrity or ‘important person’ online only to have them reply in defense. This always depresses me because typically I will stand by the criticism but by no means wished to offend or upset the person, in the same way you may have a criticism of a friend in real life but you would not wish to insult or attack them at a dinner party, I’d like to think I had better manners and was kind enough to know when and how to broach the subject in private. The internet and social media does not lend itself to this way of thinking. I enframe these celebrities as untouchable objects who neither hear nor care about my petty concerns so I can offer my super important hot takes to the world but then I am regularly proved wrong when I get an angry or wounded reply in defense.

I, more than most, have a lot to be grateful for thanks to the internet. It has given me a whole new life, new friends, travel, work and a girlfriend but the reason for that is, I hope, I always see the various people I interact with online as human beings with thoughts and feelings like me. A certain level of empathy is needed in the age of social media that is sorely lacking and has created an enormous amount of issues that has undeniably ruined lives. The alternative now is to just go off grid entirely which presents its own problems in a world where almost every financial transaction, bank, business and relationship is formed or fostered online. For me personally the sheen has definitely left the internet. The novelty of Amazon, YouTube, Social Media, et al has worn off with various scandals and problematic views, actions around tax avoidance, propaganda and misinformation, sales of personal information, abuse, Sexism, Racism, as well as poor customer service, built in obsolescence and much, much more. The Digital Revolution has transformed the world and isn’t stopping now but I think people are starting to predict, if not a Post-Internet Culture, but a culture where the internet is massively reduced in its scope and perhaps a return to more ‘analogue’ methods of interacting and sharing experience and knowledge. By no means does this remove the problems presented by our selfishness or our need to enframe the world as a mine of resources but it would certainly mitigate the impersonal mode by which we’re engaging with people, and the world, at the moment.

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Death of Art, Birth of Content

 

The question ‘what is art?’ has long plagued our species as we seem to be the only species that creates it. One definition is that Mankind makes two things: Tools & Art. Tools serve a physical and singular purpose whereas Art does not. Others say it is simply pure expression of the Will with no absolute purpose. Whereas a lot of people say Art does have a deep and profound purpose even an instructive one. The debate will rage for many centuries to come I’m sure but one thing is for certain humankind has created Art since the birth of consciousness and it shows no sign of stopping. Art seems to be a by-product of living. People who claim to have no creative or artistic leaning will still be creative in some way or will have some creative outlet, no matter how small or apparently inconsequential. The difference between the everyday person who is creative and The Artist is that The Artist has a passion for the Arts and dedicates study, education, time and effort to their development in the field so they might become more accomplished in it.

Content is a funny word. With the same spelling but a subtle difference in pronunciation it can either mean a state of peaceful happiness or a thing that which something contains. The meaning of the latter was once an identifiable object: the content of a glass was water, the content of a painting was a landscape or a portrait. Today the meaning has become more abstract. Content has providers, editors, managers, controllers and more. Content now has many meanings under one heading.

In recent years technology has levelled a great deal of playing fields in every industry and certainly in the arts. As an example for Photographers, what would have taken years of study in a darkroom to develop the techniques associated with printing a photograph and editing its final product and then a minute understanding of curation and galleries to display in is superseded by Instagram which will edit an image in a moment and display it for millions in mere seconds. We would call the former Photographer an Artist yet scholars, academics and critics would sneer at describing an ‘Instagrammer’ as an Artist. Thanks to technology developing a more egalitarian distribution of automated expertise the establishment surrounding the Art world is forced to find ways of differentiating the Artist from the everyday person and their creative outlet, thus dismissing Instagram and similar social media sites. What this implies is that to critics of internet outlets Art, ‘real Art’, is about the discipline and effort involved not necessarily the content of the Art. The creativity and uniqueness of a given image is dismissed due to its medium and normally what the image is of. Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed became a book of self portraits published by Rizzoli, InstaPoet Rupi Kaur’s collection of Poetry ‘Milk & Honey’ is published by Andrews McMeel, both sell very well and both are largely not taken seriously by the artistic establishment or general patrons of the Arts. If they are called an Artist it is with the caveat ‘Internet’ or ‘Social Media’ as a prefix. In addition, with technology making many different styles and disciplines of Art available today’s ‘Internet Artist’ is often a multi-disciplined, multi-skilled creator. YouTube celebrities often write and edit their own videos, direct short films, setup photography shoots, write their own books, develop independent channels for reviews, journalism or anything that takes their (and their audience’s) interest. As such many people in more traditional media outlets and art industries struggle to define what these Artists actually are.

To counteract this they have instead been labelled as ‘Creatives’ and what they create, their creative output, is ‘Content’. This signals a very important change in the perception of the modern Artist: The Artist as commodity. The chief manner in which many internet Artists make their money is advertising. The average Youtuber or Instagrammer has a provable audience share in their follower count, they have metrics on who sees them, who interacts, how often and so on. This repurposing of business speak, ‘Creative’ and ‘Content’, for Artists and their output is indicative of how their creativity is perceived by those wishing to finance their creativity. Since the first Artist, their making a living has been a problem. The inherent monetary value of Art is at the whim of the public and like the definition of art itself it is hard to ascribe a financial definition to it too. Often an Artist relied on a Patron or familial wealth to support their endeavours, today these still stand but they have just updated. Many Internet Artists see the patronage of advertisers as freeing, no need to break into the near impossible Artistic Society bubble, yet as YouTubers recently discovered advertisers have certain demands and legalities they must abide by and so must control how their products are advertised which many YouTube artists and their ‘Content’ don’t adhere to. As such a recent crackdown meant a lot of YouTubers lost money due to monetisation of their videos being removed and in some cases channels were shut down. Unfortunately due to the open nature of the internet the absence of one channel/profile is often of little concern to the site as whole as there is always a wealth of other Creatives churning out Content daily.

Art has intrinsic value in that it is essential to life, whether we realise it or not. Cuts to funding in the Arts makes it harder and harder to make a living or even develop the skills necessary to become an Artist in an educational institution. Therefore it makes sense that Artists use one of the only avenues left available to them to educate themselves, develop their craft and create and publish works of art. Yet they are immediately dismissed as crass, vain, cheap, intellectually barren and so on. Not all ‘Content’ on the internet is great by any means but there are some truly great artists producing genuine works of Art online that get buried amongst the chaff. Throwing the baby out with the bath water regarding internet Artists may seem trivial but traditional Artists and their mediums are going to have to accept that digital ‘Creatives’ and their ‘Content’ are, in many ways, the future and have the potential to be as revolutionary and valuable as themselves and should afford them the same titles of Art and Artist. The goal should, ironically, be to judge them and their work on their Content not their medium.

Collected Unconscious

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One of my favourite quotes I like to think back to when I realise I’m wasting my time writing poems no one will ever read was said by Sigmund Freud: “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me”. What he means by this (I suppose) is that any discovery he makes he will find examples of it in literature from previous times. His preoccupation with Hamlet and Shakespeare is well documented. The fact most poetry is continually reassessed is evidence of the truth of his statement. A curious thing is why this might be the case.

An oft repeated phrase from me regarding poetry, when asked, is that Poetry itself is a method of failure. By this I mean poetry continually tries to give voice and form through language to the ineffable. Ultimately a successful poem will always fail to achieve this but come very close. Poetry is always at the avant garde of language, most of the great neologists were poets and phrases we quote and aphorisms we spout are often written by poets of yesteryear (Shakespeare mostly). Poetry is also a method of compression. William Goldman in his book “Which Lie Did I Tell” speaks insightfully, especially for a non-Poet, about poetry being a method of compression; Meaning that a poem’s narrative and meaning should not be able to be expressed to the same extent in less words, i.e. you cannot condense a poem. Yet despite all this and the fact that on initial reading a poem can be indecipherable, we will still revel in it and take something away from it. Well, those who like poetry do anyway… TS Eliot after reading Dante’s Inferno in its original Italian claimed “it communicated before it was understood”. This is tricky to believe but I do feel that poetry is more often than not part of an innate human gene that poets tap into and that we can all feel even if we don’t immediately understand it.

The reason I have come to this rather wild and unfounded conclusion is because I have recently got into a poet called Louis MacNeice. I say “got into”, I mean he has fast become my favourite poet of the 20th century. He is the only poet I have bought the collected works of and it was largely for this post. Reading basically all of the man’s output I noticed something rather interesting that I agree is nothing more than wild speculation and ghost connections but that may be of interest the bored nonetheless.

I posit that Louis MacNeice in his poetic output predicted the internet before his death in 1963.

I’ll let you gather up your socks that have just BLOWN OFF after that statement and then elucidate:

Whether or not you believe in a collective unconscious within the human race its pretty obvious that humanity does certain things at the same time that become a trend and there are definite societal “moods”. Traditionally at a time of great societal stress too. Say A World War for instance. MacNeice’s Autumn Journal is a poetic tour-de-force that is a magical and biting appraisal of Britain about to move in to the throes of World War II. He captures the zeitgeist brilliantly and you can practically smell the tension in the air as Europe begins to crumple. In his poems, particularly his last collection The Burning Perch written in the early 60’s, he shows an aptitude for understanding the cultural sways throughout the country (and in many ways, the world). He was also a television producer for the BBC and understanding your audience is undoubtedly a key component to that job. So having a finger on the pulse and being able to express this at a close and personal level to his reader and adding texture by being intensely specific in his imagery, MacNeice is clearly pressing forward using poetry.

He can clearly see the need society has for a closer communication, seeing the arrival of telephones in most houses as he did and living through a war that was essentially all about communication. The inception and development of computers was also no doubt apparent in his mind, what with Bletchley Park being a hub of technological development and our needs for better decryption and encryption equipment. Predictions of the future were also a constant throughout the 20th century, since Jules Verne and HG Wells began their adventures into science fiction there have been predictions of video phones and powerful computer brains until they became a reality. But it is MacNeice’s specificity that astounds with regards to the internet. Peculiar turns of phrase in some poems could now be viewed as everyday day speech despite using (at the time) very alien imagery. What do I mean? Examples:

I cannot reproduce whole poems unfortunately but I heartily recommend picking up any of MacNeice’s work and most of his collections are available online. I am referencing the collected poems for this article.

One of the theories of societal changes brought about by the internet is one of ‘Plurality’, which means the fact or state of being plural i.e. among a large number. Looking at mainly Facebook and Twitter we can see this idea in its basic form: Many existing as a hive. All knowledge, history and information about one another shared. Opinions, hopes and fears all broadcast moment to moment through 140 characters or less. In this realm of 1s and 0s we traffic in personalities and indentities at the blink of an eye the whole of human life as a plural, a group, rather than as individual. The societies and civilisations of various social networking sites have developed in very quick time and with them have brought their ‘Discontents’ as, again, Freud put it. MacNeice was already on this theory with his poem ‘Plurality’ way back in 1941. MacNeice is already resisting our urge to combine into a homogeneous collective that we seem to have arrived at in Facebook et al: “The smug philosophers lie who say the world is one” he begins, going on “postulating a dumb static identity/ of essence and existence which could not fuse without/ banishing to a distance belief with doubt/ action along with error, growth along with gaps”. He condemns the constant need for a “history” or perhaps as we would have it now a “Feed”: “a man is what it is because/ it is something that began and not what it was,/ yet is itself throughout, fluttering and unfurled,/ … the row of noughts where time is done”. The whole poem reads like an angry poet being published in the Guardian today railing against the tidal wave of modern social media. Its quite long sadly or I would type it up here but I recommend you read it in its entirety.

Another interesting piece of prediction is in his collection Springboard from 1941 in his poems The Trolls and Troll’s Courtship: “they don’t know what they are doing,/ all they can do is stutter and lurch, riding their hobby, grinding/ their hobnails into our bodies, into our brains,” or “a wrong – in the end – assumption.” Troll’s Courtship is even funnier: “I have knocked down houses and stamped my feet on people’s heart,” or  “my curses and my boasts are merely a waste of breath,/ my lusts and loneliness grunt and heave/ and blunder round among ruins that I leave” and my personal favourite “Utter negation in positive form,/ … Of dissolution and the constant pyre/ of all desirable things – that is what I desire”. I think, all in all, that is what most people define as an online ‘Troll’, isn’t it?

Or how about his poem Budgie from his last collection The Burning Perch published in 1963 which contains the alarmingly prescient line: “I Twitter Am – and peeps like a television/ actor admiring himself in the monitor.” Not to mention the hilarious mention of “A barrage of Angry Birds” in Autumn Journal XIV. But most profound perhaps his line in Autumn Journal XXIII “Humanity being more than a mechanism”.

This is a small selection, I could go on a lot longer. Reading MacNeice is like reading a poet who has written most of this today or is still writing. The very definition of being ahead of your time is that your work remains current in the future. Every form of art has this. The great painters, thinkers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, architects, writers, musicians all are referred to as ‘Poets’ if they are felt to have hit a nail on the head or are clearly portraying something not yet understood. MacNeice seems to accomplish this on a page by page basis while still referring directly to current events at the time of his writing them. All of the above quotes are taken out of context and bent to fit my means. Plurality is about Theorists and Newspapers, the Troll poems are about a bombing raid he lived through, Budgie is about preening celebrity (that one’s pretty dead on actually) and Autumn Journal is an up to the minute commentary of life in Britain during the settlement in Munich and the slow defeat in Spain but nonetheless the similarities ARE there. In an admittedly abstract form, I confess. What this could show is how language is updated to suit our times and our needs in the way TS Elliot speaks of history aligning with current art and culture as opposed to us aligning with history, but I prefer to subscribe to the idea that perhaps humans plot a course for ourselves. A course that the more attentive can perceive.

MacNeice wrote a poem called Babel referring to the Tower of Babel and the scattering of the populace by speaking in tongues. Its another classic and contains the refrain: “Can’t we ever, my love, speak the same language?” The fact seems to be: We all still do. The world has never been so connected. You are reading this very post in our own newly formed Tower of Babel but unlike an outdated and supposedly saintly scripture would have it I don’t see this as a bad thing. And apparently neither did MacNeice. We are a society of people, a mob of individuals that struggles to find common aims or enough space, we are justly saddened when this power is abused or misused but when suddenly a good cause goes “viral” within the close confines of this tower we are amazed at the results. A friend was seeking a Kidney through Vine and due to the mass communication it created she was able to gain the possibility of helping her husband where once little hope had been.

The internet is merely an extension of Humanity’s recognition of ourselves in others and our desire to communicate these individual expressions to others through a variety of mediums as we have always done, most notably and, in my opinion most successfully, in poetry.

“Have we no aims in common?”

P.S. If you liked this post please checkout my own sonnet sequence available for free over at theanatomy.co.uk