Of content creators and survivalists
What follows is an excerpt from my journal.
As an Internet stranger, how do you demonstrate without showing off? How do you state how things are without having to say “this is not a performance”? And how can such a statement be taken at face value, given that a show can be all about pretending there is no show?
I feel we are conditioned to decouple that which we consume from what goes into its production. Someone brags that their computer’s uptime is N days. Such a resilient system! Okay, but what does that mean in terms of energy consumption? Is that cost absolutely necessary? Another wants to buy a new phone to replace the one they got last year. Sure, it is just a purchase at the store. But what is actually required for this transaction to be possible? Watermelon in winter? Whatever you ask for—the customer is always right. But at what [non-monetary] cost will you get it?
Our economic structures are designed in such a way as to distance us from what we use. This is done through increasingly narrow fields of specialisation combined with ever expanding complexity in the arrangements of knowledge and capital. Each of us knows a snippet of information and simply powers through for yet another day. We do not ask questions that concern the intersection between different compartments of knowledge. We do not have the intuitions for them. Why would, for example, anyone associate how pretty a webpage looks, with all those fancy drop shadows, and environmental considerations? To us, all this is just how things work. They are normal.
The normal in human affairs is that which happens the most. It also is what implicitly comes as a prescription: this is how things should work. The reason behind it is entirely forgotten through force of habit. Whatever underlying values are thus obscured and that which was once instituted is now impressed in the conscience as a natural constant. To inquire upon its specifics is to be a weirdo because you are questioning the ordinary. Why would you do that when it is obviously there?
The decoupling among the magnitudes of production, consumption, and ownership which we witness on the economic front also spills over to cultural affairs. Our quotidian life unfolds in much the same way. We are becoming ever absorbed in a hyper connected world whose pace is dictated by algorithms that operate in the service of a corporate elite. We lose, for example, any sense of reasonableness when we join in the chorus of outrage each time some overblown story breaks out. It is not that we are happy to pull the trigger. It’s just that the environment we are in is actively contributing to such propensities. Social media is biased in favour of controversy as it drives up “engagement”. News outlets, once the bastion of journalistic integrity, are specialists in the business of clickbait and, by extension, the proliferation of fake news at the level of the headline. It is what business demands: put something incendiary out there to keep the people going. The cumulative effect for each of us is a warped perception of reality. Simply put, we are losing touch with the basics.
Against this backdrop, it is normal to market yourself in certain ways and to be a brand. You cannot just do what you feel like. No! You must think as a “content creator”. Find a niche and continuously spoonfeed your followers what they want to get. Do it for the spectacle and make sure to keep a constant flow of updates. This is the mindset that robotises a person. It engenders the incentive to pursue some vanity project and exploit others in the process. Moreover, it reinforces the sense of normalcy—“everybody” is doing it!—and invigorates the cycle.
I have been told time and again that I am shooting myself in the foot for not focusing exclusively on the production of Emacs-related videos. “The algorithm cannot promote you this way” is what I am being told. To which I say: “Imagine! Imagine you conduct yourself in accordance with the dictates of some algorithm!” The salient point is that I want to remain honest with myself and do what I feel like. Today is philosophy, tomorrow is some Emacs package I wrote, the morning after I may be performing some rain-making dance. Who knows? But I will not be the happy video-making Emacsbot. Sorry!
I do not fault the person issuing those statements. It is not their mistake. This is the normal. We are used to operate in accordance with algorithms. Some are embedded in new and emerging technologies. Others trace their roots back to aeons of tradition. How we assign value to social status, for example, and what we think of gender roles, are matters of cultural conditioning. Indoctrination: the kind of programming that we all know about yet seldom bring to the foreground of our attention.
These programs that normalise patterns of behaviour combine with the aforementioned “decoupling” (another program) to create a state of affairs where everything is presumed to be a show. I posted an update about how I plan to resolve my housing situation and got enthusiastic suggestions to become a survivalist content creator. It was a strange experience to realise the disconnect or, rather, to acknowledge that I am powerless to prevent others from seeing my actions as yet another spectacle. It is all content, after all, and we merely plug in to keep ourselves busy. That is the current normal.
What is this survivalism trend, anyway? I watched a few videos where it was clear from the super-duper production quality alone that this is not about someone brutishly clinging on to dear life at the fringes of civilisation. Nope! It is a show for the big screen. Make no mistake: there are bona fide survivalists out there. Though they are too busy actually trying to make ends, pinching every penny at the end of the month to buy a loaf of bread and drinking that disgusting tap water because—fuck it!—water is mighty expensive.
How do we change this? I do not know. Right now I think the best course of action is to not contribute anymore to this cycle. Though I understand withdrawal does nothing to fix things. It never saves the world. It does at least protect one person. Is that right though? I have my doubts. What I do know is that this instituted reality changes through concerted action and that some memes should be left to die.