Thoughts on Social Media and Ownership

The internet seems to hold integral within it a constant tension between being watched and a supposed freedom.

Our Facebook accounts are covered in adverts which are meant to appeal to ‘people like us’, and this feeds back to YouTube, Amazon, eBay, Twitter… The internet is a partner to capitalism, giving us the supposedly one-stop solution product to whatever problem we searched for in the first place, or indeed, whatever problem could be inferred from the search.

This has a panopticon effect, causing us to police ourselves and the content we put out there, but do we? Ashamedly, my Facebook profile still has upon it many photos from drunken nights out. And whilst I might be more mindful of what I post now is anonymity ever really an option? We are told we have to have an internet presence for professional life, career opportunities, academic research, and for socialising, and I do not really see a way out.

The internet is a place where we can supposedly speak freely. ‘Pseudo-anonymity’ can give us the opportunity to post and say what we really think, but surely we wouldn’t be saying those things in the first place if we didn’t want someone to read them, validate them, and validate ourselves. And we are ultimately always aware of, if not someone watching, the potential for such surveillance that the internet not only provides but encourages. So even if we are anonymous (which ultimately seems quite appealing in such a world) we police ourselves as normal, as we do in everyday life and ordinary social situations.

In short, the internet potentially provides us with a space in which we can find community, liberation and support, particularly if we have a problem or condition that is not experienced throughout the vast population. It provides a space in which freedom of thought is a potential, but not necessarily a given, as through its tracking and panopticon affect we fear such freedom of thought which seems dangerous in a world where everything is archived and tracked and nothing is private.

However, ultimately, I do have something to say, and an “investment in the future”, and whilst I can’t control too heavily what is tracked about me whilst still taking advantage of the positive potential of the internet and social media sites, I can control what I post, write and say. And in a post-truth world where so many things can’t be controlled or trusted, I would like to take ownership of the things I say and think.

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Thoughts on Capitalism and Love

Other people are unavoidable in our understanding and experience of ourselves within the world. Humans are notoriously social creatures and so the relationships we have have shaped human existence – political, scientific, and cultural – since the beginning. Plato detailed how best we should live in political communities in The Republic. (1) Indeed, if humans had not developed relationships with one another, the species would not have continued. And we are alone in that aspect; whilst other animals have particularly violent, aggressive or just downright rare meetings and mating rituals, human sex and love (in its most typical and ‘successful’ form) has always been based, at least marginally, upon liking another human.

The relationships we have come to define us: do we like our friends because they are like ourselves, or do we become more similar as the friendship continues? I would argue that identity is always a performance and so the relationships we exist within come to ideologically shape and define who we are, not just within that relationship, but in others too. And then in turn, define the ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves in relation to others – whether preformative or authentic.

Love in particular comes to define the self – by feeling acceptance by another (at least as far as the fantasy goes) we might begin to accept the parts of ourselves we initially saw to be flaws.

But in a neoliberal and late capitalist world which, as David Harvey suggested, has meant “in short the financialisaton of everything”, has the way we consider love changed? (1)

Whilst capitalist mindsets have commodified almost everything in our lives (or tried to) – from leisure time, to internet browsing, to science, medicine, our bodies and even art – love somehow remains untouchable. Love has no ‘purpose’, no ‘value’ whilst simultaneously being a priceless ideal to which we much strive. It unites us and can bring about realisation and potential revolution – in arguably the most famous dystopian novel of them all, 1984, who opened Winston’s eyes the inequalities of society if not Julia, and what was their sex but a symbolic act of resistance? (2)

However, has technology prompted and allowed the commodification of love as the final frontier? Dating sites are advertised all over the Facebook pages of those who have an undisclosed relationship status on their profile, like a one-stop solution for a romantic relationship we are persuaded we cannot be complete, happy or fulfilled without. So Isaac Newton discovered gravity, oh but he never married? That’s so sad.

In this sense, then, has love become commodified? Our search for it is tracked, every swipe left or right logged to ‘calibrate’ future potential pairings. And adverts adorn the margins.

If the immediate satisfactions of consumer society have meant “the pleasure is in the hunting, not in the prey”, has capitalism reduced love to hunt, thrill, sex, only? (3) Removing it of its long-term aspect and instead reducing it to match after match, date after date, fuck after fuck, like the inbuilt obsolescence we have become so used to everywhere else, particularly on the smartphones upon which we do most of this potential match-making. We always need the newest product, the upgraded model, and thus, our lives are dominated by the idea that the next best thing is always just around the corner. Mr Right could finally be around that corner too.

Capitalism has persuaded us that nothing is built to last, or indeed shouldn’t be. But still as a species, we cling onto the fairy-tale impossible ideal of a happily ever after:

“Our almost-instinct almost true: / What will survive of us is love.” (4)