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Escape from the BUMMER Machine

(read on Medium)

(A long overdue review of Jaron Laniers’ “10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now“)

In 1978 a former public relations and advertising exec, Jerry Mander wrote “Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television”. Mander in essence argued that “the problems with television are inherent in the medium and technology itself, and thus cannot be reformed.” In his preface (“The Belly of the Beast”), Mander spoke of:

“learn[ing] that it is possible to speak through media directly into people’s heads and then, like some otherworldly magician, leave images inside that can cause people to do what they might otherwise never have thought to do.”

That was television. At the time it was the killer app of mass manipulation in the tradition of Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud who created the art and science of “public relations” in the first place. As I’ve observed in a much earlier writing, it was Bernays who was among the first figures in modernity to fully grasp the the power of using the technology of the day to create all-pervasive narratives to shape public opinion. He embraced the term “propaganda”:

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Should You Delete Your Facebook Page?

In 1994 Wired magazine ran a short story entitled “Hack the spew” . This was back when Wired was actually cutting edge and not the insufferable Silicon Valley stroke job it became after Conde Naste acquired it. In it our antihero “Stark” finds himself inexplicably recruited as a kind of data scout, looking for viable consumer trends emerging from the fully immersive, all encompassing data field known as “The Spew”.

“When a schmo buys something on the I-way it goes into his Profile, and if it happens to be something that he recently saw advertised there, we call that interesting, and when he uses the I-way to phone his friends and family, we Profile Auditors can navigate his social web out to a gazillion fractal iterations, the friends of his friends of his friends of his friends, what they buy and what they watch and if there’s a correlation.”

The Spew of course, was the near future analogy of where the internet was headed, and when I went looking to link to it for this post, the piece turned out to be written by none other than Neal Stephenson. That means I read “Hack The Spew” and it made an impression on me before I even knew who Stephenson was or perhaps was on his way to becoming. Few would argue that Stephenson has a gift for seeing the general ambience of our oncoming future.  Cryptonomiconuncannily anticipated the impetus toward crypto-currencies; the current systemic dysfunction of national sovereignty worldwide was foretold in Snow Crash; so it follows that all this will likely culminate in something that resembles The Diamond Age.