FULL BLEED: NOT THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN
One. I haven’t deleted Twitter, but I’m back to being off it, only to monitor DMs for folks with whom that’s my primary source of contact. I’ll post to it when I have a new update here or something valuable to say or a new product to sell because the Howling Pit hungers, dig?
Two. I’m off Facebook. Don’t ask me to come back. I’d still use Instagram, but the app that let me post stuff from my desktop to Insta just puked up its guts and died and I’m in no hurry to replace it. It was nice to get likes from folks there, don’t get me wrong. But it was all hollow and it didn’t do anything to drive traffic. And sure, I like the likes, but it’s still just a Facebook company and fuck them. Their masks have come off and we know who they are.
Three. My friend Tom Spurgeon died last week. You may or may not know who he is. I’m not going to speak long on him and his work. Like, all I have to say is that Tom was the rock upon which we in comics blogging stood and we never even goddamn knew it. He died too young, but not unremembered. I’ll miss him.
Four. It’s almost the end of 2019, close enough that we can see the precipice now. The tire-fire of the decade will be left behind, only to keep smoldering for years to come. But it’s all about the arbitrary time-stop, right?
Back in 2009, I was still irregularly blogging about comics, but was pretty much done. However, I did come out to offer my thoughts on the the decade that came before. It was a weird one, as in 2000, I was hardly reading comics but got back into them. I fell hard for Grant Morrison writing a team I thought I was done with and for Jack Kirby’s comics which I’d never properly appreciated before. In 2008, I published my first comics work. But from 2002-2008, I wrote pretty regularly on comics and popcult. At the end of 2009, I’d opined that the most important comics story of the decade wasn’t any of the movies or new media interest or changes to the direct market or merch or even comics blogging. None of those stories were anywhere near the importance of one thing.
And I got some grief for bringing this up, so I relish the memory.
The most important story in the 2000s was Disney acquiring Marvel (and STAR WARS after that, but that slipped into the 2010s). That and Warner Brothers, in a fit of me-too-ism, took firmer control over DC as an intellectual property stable.
I wasn’t wrong then. I’m not wrong now.
That said, the story in the 2010s is similar but different. It’s not comics that I’ve got my eye on, but the pop(cultural) landscape. And where we talk about it, how we learn about it, where we engage with it, where we wage war over it. Not just social media, but what social media has become. By 2009, we were soaking in it, sure. But we weren’t carrying around the Howling Pit in our pockets, ready to unleash ironic likes and retweet dunks and smart swarms (or dumb ones, for that matter). I suppose saying that this is all weaponized now is a little flip and easy. But I do love that low-hanging fruit. So does Twitter.
Now this isn’t a conscious thing on Twitter’s part. Or Facebook’s. If we take them at their word, they’re neutral platforms. Of course, any sociologist or linguist will tell you that there is no such thing as platform neutrality. We can hope that these products haven’t been *designed* to enhance and drive behaviors that make Online such a hellhole at times. But you know, the people behind the algorithms look at lots and lots of data. That’s why these platforms even exist at all, right? Remember that if the platform is free, then you (and that’s the Digital You, as in your informational footprint) are the product. And they’re on 24/7, always waiting.
I’ve joked that Twitter was my favorite MMO, and I doubt I was the first to do so, since I got to Twitter pretty late in the game (though I do remember stars as opposed to hearts so I’m not that much of a new adopter). But like an MMO, it’s always there, always running, players always populating the world. Jump in anytime.
Oh, and of course Twitter is a game. Rack up followers, rack up likes, go viral, dunk and declare your allegiance. Go to war. Have an opinion on everything. Go start fights. It’s good for your rep, get boosted, dunk the motherfuckin’ president on his home turf. Feels good, man. Toss out a bad-faith opinion about how [beloved franchise] sucks and watch people take it seriously.
Now, I use Twitter as the example here, but you could do the same thing on Facebook pretty easily. Hell, you could on USEnet too. I watched folks argue over just about anything, and watch some who had no stake in it do it for the sheer blue hell of things. A good donnybrook gets the blood pumping. Just keep it brief, digestible. Feed the ego because that’s all these things are good for. What’s that? A mere college student has decided that your masterpiece isn’t good enough for an award consideration? Well damn, better call in the squad on this. That’ll show them.
Yeah, that’s pure ego. The purest hit. Validation crack (apologies to William Gibson) on a permanent drip. You know why they call it dopamine, right? Yeah, because you do dopey shit in pursuit of it.
I won’t even get into the whole #amwriting thing, where you get rewarded for not actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing and instead just talking about it. Oh you know I’m guilty of that one, more than my share. But I’m wandering off-topic a bit.
Social media is a thing where we’re out there making that Good Content for no monetary consideration (unless you’re a beautiful influencer, in which case, that becomes its own reward, yeah) and all so companies can read what we write so that they can sell to us better and in turn sell our data to whoever wants to pass along that bag of money. In the 2010s we might’ve been writing on platforms that we didn’t own (Blogspot, I’m looking at you, but Livejournal and Myspace too — yeah, I remember that bit in IRON MAN). We wrote on those platforms, but at least our own work wasn’t being turned against us. This is not to say that there wasn’t plenty of ego poisoning in those days. There was. There was performative shitposting, some of it entertaining, some of it just shit.
But we weren’t being tracked. We hadn’t quite been convinced to go from turn-based to full first-person-shooter, if you can follow that metaphor. We hadn’t yet been convinced that we had to be Extremely Online to sell our work, or to engage with the people who are selling us the work we read. We hadn’t yet been turned into full-time performers on shifting stages that we would soon internalize and carry with us at all times. Or maybe that’s just me?
At any rate, the conversion of social media to a full time ad-generator and data-trap as well as product in and of itself is a thing that’s come to full flower in the 2010s. I won’t swing directly into politics in this, but we’re in a different era than we were in say, 2015. And if you say that things haven’t changed, then I’ll know that you’re either a fool or you have something to sell that depends on me being a fool.
We communicate on platforms we don’t control, and hardly understand. We purchase things with systems that we don’t control. Hell, Square made huge inroads into the independent artist/writer circles that I run in, and now that they’re the de facto standard, they’re changing up the rules, to squeeze folks who live and die by small transactions. It’ll take a little while for this to filter through, but I bet I won’t be seeing as many readers on show floors, or it’ll be from a competitor’s brand and not Square. Turning money into digits is a hell of a thing, particularly when one company can capture all that traffic. Sure, they’re still fighting over this territory right now. That’ll be a war fought and won or lost in the 2020s. Might even see the beginning of the end for cash in some circles by then. Maybe giving the control of commerce and trade to a bunch of venture capitalists will turn out to be not such a hot idea after all, y’know?
Fortunes have been diverted not by creating new businesses, but putting digital interlocutors in place over the old ones. And we’ve gotten to that point with communication.
Oh, I know. You’re still free to say whatever you want on Twitter or Facebook. Or in Gmail. Sure we can. We’re free to sell stuff there too, just as long as we pay to promote posts. Remember the days when you could put up something and have some assurance that everyone who followed you would see it? Yeah, I do, too. But that’s bad for business. Leaves money on the table. If you really want that message to get out there, you gotta hand over.
I won’t even get into the Discourse as it is. But maybe talking about a thing isn’t as good as actually enjoying the thing. Fighting over someone else’s opinion of movies you love, that’s the best, right? Especially if they’re an important somebody. Now, keep in mind that there’s thousands of these conversations on at all times.
“Oh, just don’t participate in them,” you’ll say. Sure. Except that everyone else does, so you see it whether you like it or not. There’s not enough mute filters in the world to hide from these kinds of discussions.
I realize I’ve been swapping between the personal and not-personal here, a lot. But some of this is cosmic horror territory, our communication modes hijacked and monetized and ultimately turned to someone else’s interests. Content the likes of which that Terrence McKenna never envisioned in the most burning of his Time Wave Zero fever dreams, generated by the hour, used to sell ad space and the best part? All for free. Just pay for that broadband connection and then you get more content than you could assimilate in a lifetime. Every day. And wow, you could talk about it, forever. Join the ebb and flow, rule the discourse.
Whew. Let’s take a bit of a break here.
More later. (So let's take a twelve-hour break, or not.)
So, participation in the system or don’t exist. That’s the dichotomy offered, and like most binary dichotomies, it’s a false one. My friend, who I know only as Revolt of the Apes over on Twitter would offer a meaty Buddhist aphorism in return, one that would disarm the falseness offered. As a writer, we’re told that we need to buy into this system, to be available on social media, to interact, to race down the court when you get a chance to grab the rock and get that dunk in. Writer as hero. Writer as product.
The internalization of these platforms and *their* needs is the big media story for the decade. Bending our viewing habits or discourse strategies or even down to the *enjoyment* of all forms of art (and is that not the very purpose of art?) is the primary product of the social media discourse now. Binge before everyone else has moved on. Join the conversation. Put up those likes. Join the swarm. It hungers.
Facebook is only interested in things that get more engagement on Facebook. That means more money. Same with Twitter. This is the purpose of these platforms. Netflix, at least, doesn’t pretend a social component, but Letterboxd does. Netflix just wants you to binge and move on to the the next one. They’ve got their black box and they can read the numbers and decide whether their strategies are working or not. Same with Amazon. HBO Go. Hulu. And now Disney. Remember them? They bought Marvel. Then they bought STAR WARS. They bought the childhoods of a generation, one whom they previously haven’t captured.
These platforms have become interlocutors for social reality. For our modes of consumption. Yes, I buy most of my new music off Bandcamp, for instance. I listen to music while playing it off of iTunes to organize my tunes. I don’t listen to CDs any longer (and vinyl decays at my touch.) I enjoy movies and then think about how I want to write them up in 240 characters or less. Same with art that I take pictures of and post, for instance. Don’t get me started on the insanity of our political reality, for which social media is like a napalm mist sprayed over a tire fire. It’s a battlefront, and I was gleefully sniping from my safest place thinking that it meant a goddamn thing other than that dopamine rush. Remember that “dope” is a phoenetic component of “dopamine.”
I’d let my play in social media become internalized. I’m positive I’m not alone. It’s what Facebook wants. It’s what social media wants. And dammit, it’s what I wanted.
It’s the big story. Not just in media but wider even than that.
And I think I know when it really started. A few years back, I was being run through a years-running and exhausting life process/event. It was a slow-rolling catastrophe with no good end. Until there was a shot at not a good end, but a substantial improvement of things. Again, that sub-process in itself was going to be a slow-rolling big change and series of minor catastrophes and triumphs. As I was going through the low points in this, I turned to the ephemeral comforts of social media, in this case Twitter. I also used writing as a balance to that. Only I stopped pretending to balance awhile ago.
As I said in my last entry LINK (whoops, forgot to include the link, but it's the post preceding this one) where I was talking about difficulty in writing my second (really tenth or so) novel, talking about how it was easier to worry about how it was impossible or even just difficult than it was to do the thing. To open up and reach around in whatever place that is that makes the work possible for me. It’s, shamefully, easier to do that than to do the work that hasn’t done more than pay for a couple months of mortgage when you look at the balance sheets. That kinda means the work isn’t real, right? Look at the dollars. Look at the engagements.
It was easier to run away and believe that it didn’t matter, dig? Yeah, it’s sad.
Oh shoot. I kept it on the personal, not the universal, or at least the platform-wide.
We live, increasingly, in a world and on planes that are not of our own design. That are there for the financial benefit of others. Sure, some folks spin that podcast into a second line of income. That’s the promise, right? Just keep plugging away. You’ll make it.
I stopped reviewing books and comics because I decided that it was better to create the work talked about than to submit to the discourse (aside from say, in-person conversation where you’re buying the first round, but I promise I’ll reciprocate) where the stakes are weirdly unreal (but don’t tell that to the college student who dared reject that author’s work for award consideration, or for a woman online, or a sex worker, or anyone who gets the fact that they’re not in the current hegemony). That’s the battlefield. I’ve luckily been insulated. I’m well aware of that.
Anyways, I guess you can throw me in the pile with Neil Postman and Gerry Mander and those other cranks who dare study the water that we’re all swimming around in. The platform isn’t neutral. The platforms aren’t neutral. And where I’ve allowed them to steer me hasn’t been a healthy one. I understand I’ll have little choice but to interact with it at some time. Maybe I’ll join the sideshow as the last dude who refuses to put an Alexa in his house or to refuse of that little cell phone and intra-retinal display like Gibson put into THE PERIPHERAL. Or I’ll be a sell-out because I can’t walk away 100%. Or I’ll just rejoin it when I can keep it to my terms. But I’m not there right now.
And I’m not interested in having the platform dictate terms to me.
I thank you for indulging me should you have read this far. I can only hope to continue to earn such confidence on your part in the future.