Be like how snow in March makes dogs run circles. Toast friends over liters of Japanese beer, over networks and signals and interfaces for eyes to burn out on. Leave them behind. It’s been four years and at least we have these words–words to paint lives by. The dogs run circles around words down paths where the grass tastes like sun and the wind-tears we wipe on dirtied sleeves somehow make us feel less dirty. So, my island friend, my one of the seat in which I might someday sit once more, may we drink to your health and to the chance you took, no, the chance you gave, for me to be able to write these words to you four years later. It makes life even better–like snow, like running dogs.
Image via Wikipedia Why are so many people, myself included, connecting to and engaging in online communities? Are “listening to the conversation” and “sharing,” the two main reasons that many of us participate in social media? Perhaps, it’s the spreading of “personal branding” that excites us, gives us the chance to personally manage and influence our online reputation. Or, is it something different? In an essay written in 1964 entitled, “Fame: Hopes and Horrors,” E.M. Cioran writes, “If each of us were to confess his most secret desire, the one that inspires all his plans, all his actions, he would say: ‘I want to be praised.’ No one will make such a confession, for it is less shameful to commit an abomination than to proclaim so pitiable and so humiliating a weakness, looming out of a feeling of solitude and insecurity from which both the fortunate and the rejected suffer with equal intensity (107).” Is Cioran’s way of thinking relevant to today’s flux of social networking sites?
What is it about social networking sites that fuel our desire to engage, to discuss or to network with unknown others? Perhaps, for some, it is the lust for “information,” having to keep abreast of new technological developments and web applications. The rush of being the first person to blog about a new development or news story constantly flows through my Twitter feed. It is impossible to engage in a “real” conversation through the use of micromedia, all one can do is comment or summarize. However, beneath the visual interface of the application, how do we communicate through these tools and how do they serve to influence our sense of self? Before writing this article, I announced through Twitter that I was about to start this article. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time and it provided a sense of connectedness to some larger body of people. What was my purpose, though, in sending that Tweet? How strange to think about how “connected” we all are through the interface of these machines. Perhaps, “deep down” we can relate to Cioran. How wonderful it would have been, had someone thought to write back a short reply, praising my efforts or showing some interest toward the endeavor. No one did. There is a kind of self-pride that flows through the use of these sites, an inflated sense of who we think we are and who we want ourself to be. Nonetheless, having 5,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t have anything to do with any kind of “conversation,” only noise.
The wish to be praised seems such a harmless one. The validation that occurs at a live performance or after a great speech fills the performer with a sense of validation and, perhaps, with the lust for more. Why do so many people want to be on TV, even as an extra in a non-speaking role? Is it because the work is easy? Is it because the pay is decent for the amount of work done? It seems that the world of TV gives one the chance to enter into a hyper-version of reality, a reality that feels more real than real. Why does it make people so happy to watch the misfortune of others through the interface of the screen?
In a productive society, the will to be creative, the drive to create and shape things, brings happiness. The sharing of those things with others also brings happiness, but in what ways? Is it the pure giving of the creation to another, a pure selfless act? Or, is it the feeling of pride that one gets when one gives the object to the other person? In Japan, when someone gives a gift, it is common to say something like “This is a boring gift for you.” Although, in native Japanese, the expression doesn’t translate as harshly as when put into English, the meaning is basically the same. The gift is verbally degraded, although it is probably a very nice or thoughtful present. This degrading of oneself is common in this situation. The recipient of the gift should praise the gift and the gift-giver. One only needs to look at the glimmer in the eye of the giver to see the happiness that comes from giving and the happiness that comes from being praised.
Is the way out of this flux, simply to turn off the computer and disconnect from the applications? Does this need to be praised surface in all other areas of our life? Is this our lot in life? If so…
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Our bodies blend in and at the same time seem to stick out. We cover our bodies in layers of buttons, zippers, belts, beads, metals and cloths of all sorts. This strikes me as slightly odd. I can see the function of covering the body for social reasons and to protect the body from the woes of weather, but we have gone further than this. We have really entered into new territory by attaching words, brands and coordinated colors to the surface of our body. For whom? Us humans like to dress-up and down, we are on some level mutable. In fact, transformability is expected. How dare I go to work for one week wearing the exact same clothes? After around day three, especially with the blossoming of spring and its tendency to carry scents, things may start to get a little icky.
Cleaning and Revealing
We clean ourselves with soap, apply lotions, creams, gel for our hair and what not. Most of the time we seem to be hiding the human side of us that we truly are. We want to play the games of social life, it is these games that we are almost compelled to take part in, and let’s face it, they are quite enjoyable. Sometimes, the human side of person is exposed. From a distance the person across the way pulls something out of their nose, looks at it and rolls it up in a tissue. This act of revealing is humbling while, at times, terrifying. It seems hard for us to see other people as they truly are and most of the time, I think we would prefer to keep that distance. Any way of speaking about a person changes the image of that person and shuffle the thoughts around a bit, let them go where they may and see how they might change. We all stir the waters.
Tactile and Phantom Emulation
The clothing that the other wears is not only apprehended visually, but sensually as well. The other comes to us in patterns and angles, voids of concealed exposure or well-crafted made-up faces. We seem to be hovering in some in-between plane of existence, caught up in the images seen and crafted through the tongue, carrying around the words of others and the unspoken bodies of others as well. What I mean is that even the movements of our bodies do not seem to be wholly our own. How easy it is to fall into perfect stride with others while walking in the city. Or, we may study the way a person’s hand is poised at their side only to find some time later that we, without our knowing it, have begun to poise our hand in the same way. How easy it is to rest one’s hand on the table in the same way as the person sitting across from us.
We are like walking vortexes of pulsating…something…Again, drifting in this in-betweenness, this gray space of crystal clear sociality. There are habits and routines, schedules and things that we do. There is casual conversation and posturing. It is morning and the rain has cleared, although the sky is still wet and the puddles still patch the ground. The birds are perched in perfect formation on top of the building. They don’t move. “Are they crows?” he asks. “I’m not sure.” I reply and this time I look with more intensity craning my head just a bit, just the right amount. “Swallllloooowwwsss.” He slowly states, confident and sincere. We turn around and take a few steps away as others approach.
One of my first impressions of Japan was the color green, but not just any kind of green. The green that stuck with me was the green glow of the city streets as captured through two dimensional photographs. That green like a seductive slime oozing from the streetlights catches me off-guard even now after all this time at once frightening and alluring. Two weeks ago I found this photograph by a Japanese photographer named Issey Niwa revealing to me the beauty and almost inhuman radiance of the industrial habitat.
At times, the interface becomes the medium through which we see ourselves, through which we reassemble ourselves and lose ourselves. The Japan of my neighborhood on rare occasions has glowed for me in this way, the ambient glow from the sliding-glass windows of the mansion down the street, the silent fullness of the rickety train station with its solitary stationmaster patient in uniform, the construction-infused landscape passing before the train window in the evening, the lonely back-alley behind the hospital down the way with its bags of hospital refuse and syringes, the countryside convenience store parking lot surrounded by fields of factory debris jutting from the weeds like obscene sculptures.
I don’t know what kind of industrial complex this photograph is showing, what they are creating in there, but the green glow that has stayed with me is projected back with a soft intensity amidst this mechanical network under the pink and orange sky.
On the periphery of this monster, I stand agape with wonder and from this perspective, walking the train tracks at night, one may get the feeling that this is not planet Earth, that this is not Real. The trees and weeds in their dull greenness continue to grow, flowing through the branches intaking this human project of progress and production. This photograph almost seems to merge the human and the mechanical, the human creature with legs brushing against brush, gravel, weeds and grass and minds reaching out in transformation and imagination. The veil of the industrial sits against the chaotic growth of the natural and the human sits somewhere between these two worlds, in the margins of this twisting act of development.
Lupin Issey’s Photo Blog: http://lupinissey.blog102.fc2.com/
The Bad Robot film “Cloverfield” premiered in Japan last night (April 5th). Given the obvious Godzilla inspiration, I am surprised that it took this long to cross the Pacific and more surprising, it appears that the viral marketing campaign that had many theorizing about the story, analyzing still frames, and so on, failed to attract a large online Japanese following. Moreover, a Hollywood movie buff friend of mine mentioned that the commercial even failed to push the production team connection to the series “Lost,” which is hugely popular in Japan. That being said, I was there last night savoring this surprisingly impacting (albeit playfully shallow) film. I must say that despite the shallowness of the characters, I did admire the sound design (Merzbow must be smiling) and the impressive visual effects. Coupled with the hand-held home video aesthetic, the film ends up transporting the viewer into a nightmarish voyeur-experience or maybe it was just the fact that my brain felt gooey after exiting the theater due to the excessive vomit-vision of the camera operator.
I also admired the continuous realization that what one is watching is a situation as viewed through the interface of a camera. My friend commented that the use of the hand-held camera destroyed any semblance of reality that they were striving for. That is, it was the continuous self-referentiality of the camera that failed to draw her in, that failed to offer her a void in which to sink. In my case, it was the opposite. The continuous reminder that we are seeing this all through the interface of the camera added the self-produced grit that is perpetuated by social networking video sites. The amateurish quality of the framing coupled with the million dollar visual effects, I thought, were pulled off very successfully. In looked at this way, the movie is successful: Let’s embed the viewer in the situation by transforming the camera into a giant human eye. That is, let’s give the viewer the unsettling feeling that they are participating in this destructive event (while still maintaining some distance). However, lets start the film off with a disclaimer so that the interspersed cuts make sense (while adding a sentimental edge) and add a kind of “Area 51” vibe to the entire film (the film as secret military project). Let’s only minimally build the characters and focus on the tremendous panic of the situation, the impact of the movie not being the story per se, but the unfolding shock of the event. That is, this film is to be pure spectacle. Had this film been created in a more traditional way, I think that the horrifying reality of the monster would have been laughable, but given the home video aesthetic, the monster actually came off looking beautifully vivid and unpredictable.
Interface as Coping Device
Moreover, I like the idea of the camera person, Hud (?), I think that was his name, only being able to cope with the situation through the interface of the camera. In one scene, he almost gives up all hope, but upon returning to the interfaced reality of the camera, achieves a glint of distance from the reality of the situation. That is, by interacting through the interface of the camera, he is able to confront the situation. Perhaps his getting devoured was not so horrifying as he was spared the horror of never actually confronting the terrifying void of the monster.
Another scene that I particularly liked was Rob (our hero) searching for a new cellphone battery while a looting is happening in an electronics shop. At one point, our camera faces a TV set, a news broadcast of the destruction. Also, shortly after that, everyone in the store stops and becomes transfixed by the TV screen showing the horror of the event. In this way, we see the reality of the interface in that even though destruction was happening all around them, they were immersed in it, it was only through the interface of the TV that they were able to “see” the story that they were a part of. That is, the interface gave them the ability to get a grip on the chaos that swirled around them.
Finally, at the end of the film (if you haven’t seen the film…I will ruin it for you), shortly before Rob and Beth are killed they both address the camera directly. At this point, they are doing two things. First, they are retreating into the comfort of the interface knowing that when they die, the camera offers them a chance to remain “undead,” a chance for their story to be understood and a chance for their voices to live on for some unknown other. Second, they are using the interface, again as way to put perspective into the unbelievability of the situation. We must remember that earlier that day Rob was tossing back beers at his going-away party, while preparing for his new life in Japan. The camera allows them to see themselves in relation to the bewilderment of being under fire and under attack. In distancing themselves from the situation, they achieve a moment of peace, then they are crushed. We are left with the last remaining footage of them as happy couple.
In closing, what I liked about “Cloverfield” was the gap between knowing that what one is seeing has already been retrieved by the military and knowing that what is seeing is unfolding before one’s eyes. It is in this wiggly line of panic and security that we are able to comfortably watch as all hope is lost and as characters continue to be devoured before our interfaced eyes.
Between the person and the interface of social media, there is a human or humans. In this medium of the blog, I present the reader with static yet increasing snippets from my side of existence and from the zone of other networked friends, bloggers, writers, musicians, designers, critics and thinkers that are blended as a part of me and projected through me into this particular interface. This interface is likely to be one that is quickly passed over in the “stumbling” search for interesting (read: instantly consumable and sharable) web content, or aggregated into a syndicated reader of which one can skim the title for potential after-dinner relevancy. Perhaps this page will appear in a “Google” search for such oddities as “man in mini-skirt” or “Japanese character.” Or, the interface between myself and you could share some kind of interaction in the form of the comment, the email, the mutual subscription to our Twitter feeds.
The New Sky
The human body weakens with time spent sitting in front of one’s computer. Legs become restless, throats parched, yet the fingers and the eyes remain alert, remain active, irking out some yelp to be heard by a random passerby. Although, perhaps the yelp is felt in a close friend who is interfacing with the Web at the same time. Your legs, still growing restless for communication with the Earth outside, disappear from your consciousness, the power of the fingers taking control, the imagined presence of the close friend being delivered to your interface via a network, across multiple networks achieves some kind of satisfaction which stirs within you. Outside, there is the sky and the wind, but the Web has created a new kind of outside for you: the Web is not like gazing into the vast emptiness of the sky, but akin to strolling through the labyrinthine streets of Tokyo. Around this corner, a small restaurant located next to a contemporary art museum. Your options have expanded…you feel connected, but you are merely connected to the symbolic, the imaginary, to the interface of the other, a responsible interface nonetheless.
Psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan coined the word “extimacy,” to express the intersubjective workings of the subject and of the unconscious. For Lacan, the subject is not only within him or herself, but also realized in the other. We could look at the interface of the Web and, moreover, Web 2.0 as a mode of exercising extimacy with other people. A social networking profile is created and within that profile is a blending of various symbols from film, TV, art, others’ photography and so on. Contacting others and “friending” others based on similar web-surfing habits expands one’s online self and entwines within one, the interests and symbolization of another person. Moreover, when looking at the interface of the computer screen, one experiences the decentering of one’s self-image, a fragmented mirroring back of oneself occurs. Desires that are posted by other people, become one’s own desires, desires that one did not even know existed. By expanding one’s network, one comes to see oneself as projected by these other people. Again, there is an intertwining, a conjoining of self and other and in this conjoining, an extimate self is realized.
Meanwhile, you are brought back to your physical body, the body that wishes to move, to temporarily suspend time with this interface. You cannot see your own face, the reflection from the interface is put on “sleep mode” and you step away, into another interface.
This is my original translation of the first two paragraphs from Kiyokazu Washida’s essay “The Plastics” as published in Nature Interface magazine. I believe this to be the first time this is being presented in English.
It is far from normal to say that human beings are natural. Inside the body, humans are carried away by metal bolts, that is to say, the attachment of an artificial limb or a heart with an artificial valve…Artificiality is supporting the activities of the human body. There is the injection of nutrients or the ingestion of medicinal capsules that are passed through the internal organs. Contact lenses and false teeth are also examples of things equipped to the body’s surface.
There is the hole of a cavity or the application of a white filling for a cracked tooth. One’s teeth are not completely pure white because of the excess of food or tobacco stains which prominently lessen the whiteness of one’s teeth. Especially in X-ray photography, even though one’s teeth turn to gray, the whiteness of the filling completely stands out. From an objective perspective, the identity of attacks on one’s “foreign body” are passed along in this way.
This is a translation from Nature Interface Vol. 6. The original essay can be read in its entirety (in Japanese) here: Nature Interface Vol. 6 (Washida, Kiyokazu – The Plastics)
Photo by LiminalMike