Monthly Archives: June 2013

“i jus like the posi vibes and happy look”

I wanted to talk to Michael Manning about selfies so I email him. “Do you remember your first selfie?” I ask.

“Not really,” he says. He sends me a picture of himself in a room where the light seeps in through the Venetian blinds on the windows behind him. He’s sitting at a computer and holding his iPhone up to the screen—and seen through the phone’s screen the light is liquid and saturates his own image. His face is neutral and obscured by shadows and pixels. Horizontal lines cut it as light and screen striate each other. “That’s the first webcam I ever posted on dump.fm which is probably close to my first selfie,” he says. “I might have posted selfies on my twitter before that, when I first started taking selfies it was mostly for my outfits, cuz i really like clothes, and i mostly jus twitpic’d em cuz i dont think instagram existed yet lol.”

“When we were at the Microsoft Store at Columbus Circle I noticed you going to dump.fm and posting a selfie,” I say. “And since then when I look at people’s dump posts (I don’t usually go into the live chat myself) I notice lots of webcam pics. Is this a way of logging in? or why do people do it?”

“Definitely,” he says, “usually the first thing i do when i want to make people aware that i have logged onto dump is take a webcam, especially a gross one where im like licking a tub of hummus lol.”

A lot of the time in his selfies Michael sticks his tongue out or flashes the peace sign so I asked him why he does that. “for the good vibes,” he replied. “selfies were a big thing for me on dump, but we didnt call them selfies they were jus cams, and i was a pretty big camboy. i learned really early (like after i posted my second or third cam) that people on dump were going to totally do whatever the fuck they wanted with ur cam pix i.e. overlay a flapping cock on them, make ur head explode, have r.kelly piss on you, whatevz. so cuz of that i basically decided i was going to take the grossest and silliest webcams so it’d be like fun for people to use them for those things, and to also basically jus give up ANY possibility of controlling my personal image, cuz you jus can’t it’s jus not possible. below r some links of good examples of what i mean :))) so like sticking my tongue out was kind of something that developed there out of wanting to jus be silly, and i jus give the peace sign a lot so idk about that lol, now that i realized i do it so much ive kind of turned it into my thing, but ya i also jus like the posi vibes and happy look :)”

He sends me some more images. The first one is dark. His neck is bent back and his eyes are rolled up in his head, his mouth open in an expression of pain or indignation. I wonder if it’s really him taking the photo because his arms seem to be down but I guess his arms are long enough that he could be holding the right one out to hold the phone. In the second image he’s leaning against a cushion on a tiled wall, and I suppose there’s a pool or a hot tub nearby because his face is shiny with water or sweat and he’s not wearing a shirt. He’s visible from the shoulders up, eyes closed, tongue lolling out of his mouth—as if he’s overwhelmed by the heat. In the next one he’s inside, shelves of books and a flat-screen TV on adjacent walls. He’s seated at his computer (which I’m guessing is a desktop), leaning toward the webcam, eyes crossed, tongue out, fingers raised in a peace sign. His hair is mussed and spiky. In the last one he’s back in the tiled room, seated against the blue cushion and holding a laptop. This time he’s using his peace-sign fingers to pull his left eye open, yanking the lids in opposite directions and wrecking the symmetry of his crossed eyes.

“i wonder if these funny faces and gestures are ways to keep it “masc” and make it seem like you don’t care about being sexy or w/e,” I say.

“I guess it depends on how you define ‘masc’ like when i think of ‘masc’ i think of like bros in their tiny bathrooms taking pix with an old nokia phone in the mirror of themselves with their shirt off in basketball shorts and they have the most ridiculous pecs and abs u have ever seen,” he says. “I mean i think it’s pretty obvi in most of selfies that i am trying to look cute, and i do care, but idk i cared a lot less on dump, i guess a lot more cute girls follow me on twitter and insta, so im more inclined to be like ‘yo girl’ whereas dump is mostly like weird dudes and a few cool girls mixed in (not that thats bad i luv dump and my dump frans).”

“When you say ‘cam boy’ what do you mean by that?” I ask. “Is a cam boy any different from a cam girl, besides sex?”

“I don’t think I ever really associated cam girls with sex, aside from things like pay cam girls, which is actually an arena where I think a lot of dudes are present just as much now,” he says. “I mean there are implications of sex and like half of molly sodas selfie gifs are her making a sexy pouty face or lifting up her shirt (on the flipside she posts a lot of great selfies of her being jus gross), but i think girls like that are really more the exception than the rule and most of the sexualization of cam girls has more to do with guys being like ‘damn that girl fine i’d hit it’ than the girl being overtly sexually or flirtatious in her pictures. The majority of cam girls I’ve come across (and this applies to girls who frequently post selfies on insta too) are just posting kind of mundane photos of themselves where they happen to look cute. Whether or not they are trying to feed off, or solicit that male recognition I think is a case by case thing and is diff for every girl.

“I think there’s not really much of a difference between camboys and camgirls except perhaps that camgirls are greeted with more overwhelmingly interested male population of viewers whereas female viewers on the whole don’t really give many fucks about cute boy pics (ann hirsch does tho which is cool js). I think camboys and camgirls like to see themselves, I think there is something more interesting about the process of documenting yourself and posting it than whether or not anyone actually sees it or likes it or favs it. It’s like a self affirming ritual or something, not that getting favs doesnt stroke ur ego a bit :)”

“But don’t you think girls do like boy selfies, they just don’t fav or comment so much because they don’t want to seem thirsty?”

“i think that could be a big possibility,” he says. “it’s funny because i dont really understand why a girl would be afraid to admit she likes how a guy looks for fear of being slutty but would then like post a slutty pic of herself trying to get favs from guys u know?

“also i think lately more girls have been like open (if you calling faving cute selfies open) about it, i’ve jus noticed a lot more girls faving my selfies and like some of them are flirt favs and some are like a group of girls ive always been friends with that like selfies like jnet ALWAYS favs my selfies hahaha”

He pauses for a second, then continues. “another thing is that i don’t necessarily think about selfies or cam girls as a sex related thing because most of the pics i end up being into are really more about the attitude of the girl taking them than like her looking really hot in the photo, the fav definitely still comes attraction but its a little bit diff than jus like ‘oh damn she sooooo hot’. Best examples of this are definitely jesse darling and al bedell, they both post a lot of selfies that really don’t hinge on them looking really hot (not that they arent hot, they def are), and in some of them they look down right haggard but like jesse’s attitude is always really strong, almost as if she has jus finished kicking the shit out of someone lol, which is hot to me, and usually Al’s have this insane tinge of black humor that is just fucking amazing and unparalleled.”

“what’s the best selfie you ever took?” I ask.

He sends me an Instagram of him looking into his iPhone and taking a photo in a mirrored Ellsworth Kelly piece, a round thing with a narrow curve at the center, like a palette. Tom Moody is standing beside him, his hands on his hips as if he’s impatient, his body bisected by the indentation of the work. Michael says: “im really proud of this selfie because its def the only selfie in existence that features tom moody.”

To end, I ask: “how does your social media presence (your selfies) relate to your art? if you can think of a simple way to put it, or just some general thoughts.”

“i don’t want to be taken too seriously,” he says. “i mean i like art right, and its cool but people take it way too fucking seriously and i think my overall brand is very lighthearted and kind of jus like ‘fuck it man, lets chill and goto the beach bro’ and i think both my art and selfies reflect that”

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What Is Art 2

I don’t think games are art. I don’t think games can be art. This isn’t because I think one is “good” and one is “bad,” that one is “high” and one is “low,” or one is “elite” and the other is “popular,” etc. I really don’t care about those binaries. What I do care about is how games and art operate as social objects. I’m interested in how people engage with them, how people incorporate them in their life. And the ways in which this happens for games and for art are very different—and I don’t think it’s useful or interesting to lump them together under more general rubrics like culture or play. Understanding the distinctions between them is also important because it produces a vocabulary for discussing the special instances when a game has the properties of a work of art, or an artwork has properties of play.

Games have rules. Games are rules—the rules are what gives them form. Gameplay is what happens within the rules’ structure. A game can be repeated limitlessly, and each iteration of play is unique.

There are rules in art too, after a fashion, but they are rules in a broader sense: the rules of how perception is organized, the rules of how relationships are formed and recognized, rules that are more like the ones in grammar than the ones in a game. What makes art special as a social object is that art points to a set of rules and also to how they might be broken, to what lies beyond the domain of those rules. Art is special because it reveals many possibilities of meaning, which it does by simultaneously revealing rules and revealing how things could be otherwise, whether those rules pertain to the relationship between church and state (i.e., Pussy Riot) or to the relationship of lines to a plane (i.e., Agnes Martin).

Works of fiction that follow a set of rules are classified as genre fiction—mysteries, romance novels, thrillers. Paintings that follow a set of rules hang in hotels. Working with the genres and mediums of art while adhering to formal rules produces entertainment and/or decoration. Again, this is not a dis—it’s a distinction! People need entertainment and decoration as much as (or more than) they need art. I just want recognize the differences of those needs.

I suspect that a lot of the guys who insist that games are art (for the purpose of defending them against charges of sexism or making them seem Important or whatever) are the kind of people who think that The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings are art, when in fact those are entertainment. They’re good entertainment, because they push against the conventions of their genre (The Matrix) or invent the genre (The Lord of the Rings, though this is an invention that depends on the rules of folklore’s archetypes), but these pushes remind the audience that the rules are there and their presence gives comfort and satisfaction.

Perhaps the main distinction between a game and a work of art is in the uniqueness (or variability) of form, and how that limits (or enables) audience engagement. A game is unique in each of its iterations, whereas the artwork is unique in its creation. If not physically unique—if it is a poem or a novel or a video or a photograph that can be reproduced—it has a limited form that generates the experience of the audience’s encounter with it. A game’s rules generate the form of an iteration, and that form is unique.

When John Cage introduced elements of chance to music and ceded some of the composer’s decisions to performers, he injected properties of the game into the composition and performance of music—he made something that had certain rules that would be unique with each iteration (to a greater extent than that to which any musical score is unique each time it is played). But by retaining the framework of the audience, the composer, and performer Cage remained within the realm of art. His artistic gesture was to indicate the rules of the artist’s control over the artwork while also indicating how it could be otherwise.

Jason Rohrer is a game designer whose games include Chain World, a modification to Minecraft that can only be played by one person at a time, and which upon completion must be passed along to another player who is willing to accept the rules, and A Game for Someone, a board game constructed from titanium and buried in a desert in Nevada that (Rohrer hopes) will only be found and played hundreds or thousands of years in the future. These games are about limiting how, when, and by whom the game can be played—Rohrer is making games but he’s imposing limitations on them that are close to the limitations inherent to the work of art. A game can played by anyone who knows the rules, and by concealing the game and the rules Rohrer indicates this truth while also indicating how it could be otherwise. As a result, these works of Rohrer circulate primarily as stories or legends among people who haven’t actually played them—and this reminds me of the performance pieces Tino Sehgal, which aren’t documented and are passed to performers verbally, without written instructions.

I admit that I don’t know a lot about the world of indie game design but from the outside it seems like more and more designers are trying to expand the idea of what a game can be in the way Cage tried to expand the idea of what art can be. Games and art fit in certain social context (i.e., the home and the museum, respectively, to name two) and so the areas that are ripe for crossover between them—the places where art can be the most like games—are performance and net art, where artist/game designers can work with the modes of bodily contact or network contact that have been used in both games and art. It will be interesting to see how these new works negotiate between the satisfaction with order that comes with gameplay and the fascination with the mysteries of meaning inherent to the experience of art.

“i really value the personal context around art provided by social media”

A Q&A with Steve Roggenbuck about selfies in anticipation of his forthcoming book, if u dont love the moon your an ass hole: poems and selfies:

Q: I don’t know if you think about things a lot when you tweet them but I’m wondering if you could look at these tweets of yours again and say a few words about why they feel true/right to you:

A: these twets are funny to me because most ppl would say that selfies are nottt providing value that makes the world a better place and are nottt the point of life. i do feel that my selfies are providing value, but its still not nearly the “main point” of lief to me, and not the main way i see myself making the world a beter place. so there mainly to be funny, which is, a form of value that makes the world a better place !!

Q: Your new book is subtitled “poems and selfies.” What do you think putting these two things (categories, genres, whatever) next to each other says about your poems? alternative question, what does it say about your selfies?

A: i really value the personal context provided around someone’s conventional Art (in this case poems) by social media. when u encounter my work online, you dont just get poems, you get my personal updates and images of me, you get my web design and all. it contextualizes the poems and enriches the whole experience, you get my whole personality or at least what i want you to perceive as my personality. you get a more holistic message about the kind of person i am, and if u are influenced by me, you get many more ideas of ways u can be like me. many of my poetry friends and followers have considered veganism more seriously because im vegan and i occasionaly post about it. so the selfies are one tool among many in the ‘personal brand’ toolbox, they help convey my style, my overall ~vibes and personality.. and as a part of that whole, they are very valuable

Q: Isn’t writing in first person basically like taking selfies? or, what can a selfie do that a poem can’t?

A: they are similar yes. selfies are a faster way to convince someone that u are cute

Q: Do you miss MySpace. Did you puts lots of selfies on your MySpace profile? were you taking selfies before you started making videos?

A: yes i miss myspace and i had selfies on myspace. i think we r blessed today with many platforms that are helpin to fill the gap tho, tumblr twitter and instagram most of all. these platforms are providing free and accessible spaces for the youth to express themselve’s holisticly as a personal brand. i think its very fun and awesome that ppl get to express themself in such rich ways.. for example a Tumblr blog, can include original content in so many formats and curated content by others in so many formats, both updated ANYTIME u want, and a visual design, an “about” page, an “ask”/message feature where people can ask u questions and u respond. such a rich space to develop a sense of who u are, what youre about, etc… and the tumblr dashboard, the content feed, is just like, kids are checkin this thing for hours every day, its like the new TV, but its not created or controlled by ad executives, its created by OTHer kids with tumblrs.. with social media we are collectively creating what our culture is… we are living in a very beautiful era in these ways

Q: I just watched your lecture on Boosting Theory & Praxis, and unless I missed it you didn’t mention selfies in it. Do selfies boost and if so, how?

A: one of the most guaranteed ways to boost someone else is to like/fave all their selfies. thats the most direct connection i can think of right now. also like i said about personal brand adding context to art works in general, a selfie could add a context needed for a different post to have more significance /boost to u maybe

Q: here’s a philosophical question for you to ponder: do you take selfies because you’re hot or are you hot because you take selfies?

A: i wish it was entirely the second, but i think both, and i think maybe, you take selfies because you perceive yourself to be hot. ppl are more prone to take selfies when they feel they look good. “o my hair looks good today,” boom, selfie. we are all actively creating these representations of who we are. it’s always been that way, with clothes choices and how u decorate your home, etc.. but this is on another level. i think mostly it’s positive, i think we have an ideal vision of ourselves, and we try to align reality with that vision. i think that is very powerful. this is a lot of the true power of stuff like what im doing, in my opinion.. if i can get a couple hundred/thousand more people to feel like its cool to be spiritual, like its cool to be excited about life, and i start to affect their ideal vision of who they are, then its gonna start to change who they really are. and thats gona effect positive change in the world

Catweb, Dogweb

{NOTE: I wrote this text for the zine that accompanies “The Cat Show,” an exhibition organized by Rhonda Lieberman for White Columns, on view June 14 – July 27.}

1.

I will tell you about a gif. A small dog—a wiener dog—and a cat are sitting on their hind legs, facing each other. The dog reaches out with his paw and strokes the cat’s chest. “Oh, you have such nice fur, cat!” says the dog. (The gif has captions.) “SO NICE!” The dog continues to stroke. “AND FLUFFY!” The cat lifts a paw and places it on the dog’s chest, firmly enough to push him back slightly and force him to put both his paws down for balance. “Dude,” says the cat. “Fuck off.”

Cats are hermetic. Cats observe quietly. Cats keep their distance from strangers.

Dogs want to know everyone. Dogs are joyful. The love of dogs is abundant.

Cats love but they take their time with it. The kisses and caresses of cats are rewards for intimacy and for care.

Dogs want to kiss everyone. Dogs want to know the smell of every ass.

Cats are private animals. They stay inside. Even outdoor cats of the suburbs tend to mind the boundaries of their backyard.

Dogs are public. Dogs have to go outside. Even if they have a backyard to run around in they still want to go for long walks. They want to go to the park; they want to frolic among strange people and strange dogs. They long to immerse themselves in the scents of strange asses.

2.

There are two ways of using the internet—Catweb and Dogweb.

Catweb is secretive. Catweb is password protected.

Dogweb is: “Who can see my stuff?” “Everyone”

There are hardly any people whose use of the internet is exclusively Catweb or Dogweb. Most people use both. Most people LIKE both, even if they prefer one to the other.

Catweb is email, Catweb is Gchat. Catweb is lurking on Facebook. Catweb is a locked Twitter account.

Dogweb is liking on Facebook. Dogweb is leaving comments—”great post!!!! lol”. Dogweb is #TeamFollowback

Catweb is stalking people on Facebook. Dogweb is adding them as friends. Dogweb is stalking people so openly that it’s not even stalking anymore. It’s sniffing.

3.

Cats and dogs are popular on the internet–in both Catweb and Dogweb. People love to share videos of them both by email (Catweb) and on Facebook (Dogweb). People love to follow blogs about them and look at the pictures (Catweb), and they like to make the pictures themselves, or write funny words on them, and hope a lot of other people see them (Dogweb).

A cat can become popular online by embodying the essence of Catweb. For example, Grumpy Cat. She looks like she dislikes everything she sees, observing everything with an aloof distaste. Her mouth turns down at the edges. The shape of her ears and brow suggests a permanent scowl. Grumpy Cat is not really grumpy, say her owners in the FAQ section of http://www.grumpycats.com. It’s just her face. But people love that face, because it makes Grumpy Cat, a real cat, look like how Catweb feels.

Nebula Dog is the cosmic essence of Dogweb. Nebula Dog is a variable collage by poet Steve Roggenbuck, the foundation of which is a picture of the head of a golden retriever against a background of an astral cloud. A big smile splits the dog’s face; his eyes are half-closed in stoned-looking contentment. Roggenbuck puts captions on it, and he’s made the template available so others can make Nebula Dog say different things. “I”M HIGH OFFFF LICKIN HAND”S” Nebula Dog says. “im gona pput a cats paw in your ass hole,” Nebula Dog says.

Nebula Dog is a certain kind of collage: the image macro. An image macro is a picture of a human or an animal with funny words on top, and the captions are meant to be taken as the speech of the figure in the picture. The most famous image macros are pictures of cats—lolcats. The image macro preceded the lolcat but the lolcat made it famous. The original lolcat was the gray kitten who half-turns his face upward with an expectant grin. “i can haz cheezburger?” he asks in the caption. This is a hungry cat, a cat of desire. This is not a cat of cool diffidence. This cat is totally Dogweb! Most of the cats who are popular on the internet are not ones who embody Catweb (e.g., Grumpy Cat), but rather cats who embody Dogweb. People love the thrilling friction of the Dogweb cat!

Grumpy Cat’s antithesis is Maru, a Scottish Fold from Japan with over 185 million views on YouTube. Maru is famous for sticking his head in paper bags and leaping into boxes. He sees emptiness and he wants to fill it. He sees a hole and he wants to make it whole—he longs for completion. Maru is big like a dog, with a broad, dumb dog face, and his attitude is totally Dogweb. Even in his limited domestic environment he is fascinated by all the strange things and wants to immerse himself in them. His domestic world is the whole world, and at every moment he wants to be close to every part of it, to meet every part of it and fill it with his being.

Nebula Dog is a Dogweb dog but the best dogs to look at online are Catweb dogs. Catweb dogs are cool, aloof, self-contained. Tillman the Skateboarding Bulldog—crouching on a skateboard, propelling himself forward with a hind paw, deftly avoiding the pedestrians on the boardwalk and otherwise ignoring them—is totally in control. He’s focused on the task of the present and doesn’t care about anything else. He’s a Catweb dog. Eyebrow Dog—his face pulled back so folds of skin gather at the neck, his nose slightly upturned, his brows drawn on to exaggerate a smug expression—is a Catweb dog. Golden the Guitar Dog listens to a man playing guitar. He bobs his head in time with the rhythm. His tongue is out and he’s smiling. When the guitar stops Golden abruptly shuts his mouth in a frown and goes still. But when the music starts up again he grooves again. Golden is chilling but he knows what he likes and he doesn’t put up with nonsense. Very Catweb!

These dogs are great. But there is no dog equivalent of Maru.

Dog memes are popular but not nearly as beloved as lolcats.

Dogweb cat > Catweb dog

Why?

4.

The cat sits on the keyboard when I’m trying to type. The cat sits on a magazine when I’m trying to read it. These surfaces are filled with meaningful signs for me but they’re nothing but surfaces for the cat.

Pets live in a human world, withdrawn from nature, but the definitive essence of our world’s artifice is invisible to them. The surfaces marked with the signs that fascinate humans are blank to them. Pets can’t read surfaces. But we love to see them on surfaces—on screens, on calendars, on greeting cards. And we love to see videos of the rare pets who respond to surfaces—the dogs who watch cars moving on TV, or the cats who bat at animated fish swimming in an iPad pond.

Mira Gonzalez, a poet, tweeted: “i want to pee on a lot of things, which would be problematic if i was a dog bc dogs pee on things for ownership & i don’t like owning things” I actually don’t think it would be problematic. Dogs don’t think of owning things like we do. Maybe for dogs peeing is like writing. For dogs, peeing is like sharing something on Facebook. It marks an affinity to the peed-on object but what matters more to the dog is that the affinity is public, the affinity is known to other dogs. Gonzalez doesn’t want to own her tweets; she just wants to make them appear on other people’s screens, where people will read her words and recognize her affinity to them. She wants to emit her words in public space of Twitter, like a dog that shits and pisses in a public park.

Dogweb language is abject language.

The language of comments and tweets, the teen language of texting… This is writing that it is an immediate ejaculation from the body. It is writing that doesn’t have to be subjected to the strictures of editing or the mechanisms of the public sphere that safeguard the purity of written language.

Kitty Pidgin—the language of lolcats, the language of Dogweb cats—is poorly spelled, poorly punctuated, unsophisticated. It’s a writing as sloppy and as ephemeral as speech. Like comments, tweets, and text messages, it’s a kind of writing that occurs and recurs like the gestures of bodies, the movements of bowels. It leaves traces in a public space, but on a screen rather than a fire hydrant. It happens in the intimacy between a person and her computer, a person and her phone, but spreads to all the other surfaces of signs. It is like a cat that becomes like a dog.

The Dogweb cat is privacy that empties into publicness.

The Dogweb cat signifies letting go of a private world. The Dogweb cat signifies releasing the self from the safety of privacy and from privacy’s limits. It erases the significance of the bifurcation of public and private, internal and external. It relieves itself of worry and immerses itself in social being.

If cats can do this then humans can too.

 

 

Thanks to: Bea Fremderman, Mira Gonzalez, Ann Hirsch, Faith Holland, Alexandria McCrosky, Gene McHugh, Steve Roggenbuck, Stephen Squibb, Monica Yi

8==>

I don’t have a LinkedIn page but if I did it would be filled with dick jokes.

When you get a LinkedIn page you get a LinkedIn Body—it’s you, reconstituted as a linear aggregate of achievement. A LinkedIn Body is made of the ways in which you’ve made money. A LinkedIn Body makes you into money—the contacts and connections are the lubricants of your professional mobility, and you, as a LinkedIn Body and a product on a networked market, are easily exchangeable, measurable in value. LinkedIn contacts aren’t people; people on LinkedIn are contacts. The LinkedIn Body doesn’t sweat or piss but it does shoot out bots—via email—to invite more contacts. The LinkedIn Body is a vessel that incubates new connections in the big collective networked body of LinkedIn.

The LinkedIn Body is promiscuous, and its promiscuity is purely professional—professionally pure. The LinkedIn Body is clear and flowing, transparent, flat, eager to link in to networking opportunities, to register presence in the mobile zones of white-collar labor. The LinkedIn Body is shaped like a slender strip of netting—the more connections it has, the longer and stronger it gets. Its health is measured by its number of contacts. Its orifices are hermetically sealed but its fingers branch out, offering a slim handshake in all directions. Its arms flex the clout of its connections. Its mouth is impenetrable; it shows a tight mesh of white teeth that circles the whole head, its gleam pinging back the query—Are we connecting?

I don’t want to have a LinkedIn Body and this is why I don’t have a page on LinkedIn. This is why, if I did have a page, it would be filled with dick jokes—to poke holes in the fabric of the LinkedIn Body, to peek through its undone flies, to be reminders of the real, pissing body beyond bloodless LinkedIn one: 8==> HI !!

The LinkedIn Body’s look persuades follow professionals that it never has funny thoughts about dicks. Or if it does it keeps them hidden, just as—on the streets or in the office—it conceals its dick in khakis. The LinkedIn Body’s dick fucks its wife and doesn’t try anything funny. The LinkedIn dick—encased in pleated khakis—only shares its funny dick thoughts in an AFK location like a men’s room where the only ones who can hear them are a couple other LinkedIn dicks who can be trusted not to perforate the condom of integrity encasing their LinkedIn dick buddy.

What does Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, have to say about this? “You have one identity,” says Zuckerberg. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

What Zuckerberg is saying here is that he thinks we should all have LinkedIn Bodies. No—he thinks the LinkedIn Body should be the only body we have. Co-workers—no, “work friends”—might as well be the only people you know. LinkedIn makes everyone a “contact”; Facebook treats people the same way but makes them “friends.” Friends are friends, kin are friends—you can identify husbands, wives, siblings, cousins on your profile to single a few people out as more than friends but they still count toward your total number of friends. And Facebook connects you to hundreds of friends. Facebook dresses up the strangeness of LinkedIn Bodies in the gooey warmth of friendship. But in spite of that it still shapes bodies as flat, grasping, eager—monstrous.

What does Chris Poole, founder of 4Chan, have to say about this? “Google and Facebook would have you believe that you’re a mirror,” says Poole. “But in fact, we’re more like diamonds.” He means we have a body that’s not a LinkedIn Body—but we have to hide parts of it at times. We’re like diamonds, he says, but Poole’s diamonds oddly reflect light from only one facet at a time: a facet for Facebook, a facet for 4Chan, more facets for other places. “Anonymity is authenticity,” says Poole. “It allows you to share in an unvarnished, unfiltered, raw and real way.”  The truest facet is the hidden one—the dark side of the moon.

4Chan is a community of affinities of what the LinkedIn Body holds in privacy—a water cooler in the dark. 4Chan lives in symbiosis with the LinkedIn Body. It is the private parts of social media, or a glory hole for them. On 4Chan the dicks aren’t in the khakis. They’re out there! It’s the faces that are clad—in Guy Fawkes-type masks.

Both Zuckerberg and Poole are interested in preserving the social status quo through online communities. If one of them is radical it’s Zuckerberg, who wants to eradicate privacy and make public life—professional life—the whole life.

Zuckerberg’s “integrity” and Poole’s raw and real authenticity are spatial conceptions of selfhood derived from the liberal ideal of the subject—an autonomous agent within a bounding line, acting consciously and consistently as the embodiment of principles. Mirrors or diamonds, the pictures of the self that Zuckerberg and Poole like have hard, definite edges—inorganic and discrete.

A LinkedIn identity—Zuckerberg’s integrity—accommodates growth and change but only along a linear path. The change allowed is change in the sense of professional development, or the stepwise movement down the drop-down menu’s options from “single” to “in a relationship” to “engaged” to “married”—it’s better not to muck around in the grab bag below! Facebook’s Timeline tracks life as a chronicle where, when viewed retrospectively, one thing led to another with the inevitability of linear progression. It disposes with the narrative possibilities of biography that can be open to contingencies and the past possibility of other stories, other paths. The Timeline, like the pruned achievements of the LinkedIn page, is a bounding line, delineating people as agents within a nicely rounded public sphere.

But the remarkable thing about social media is its potential to undermine old conceptions of selfhood, by making space for a record of utterances and images of the body that are immediately public and visible, revealing change and the contingency of selfhood is an unvarnished, unfiltered way, as Poole might say. Social media turns the public sphere inside out, collapses and deflates it—the private mingles with the public in the leftover mess. Zuckerburg would clean up that mess by vacuuming the private parts—my dick jokes!—and discarding them; Poole would like to sift the public from the private and glue them to facets of diamonds to keep them apart. But what’s wrong with being real and raw without anonymity? What’s wrong with the real and raw abject dreck of bodies (selves) being with and changing with one another? “You have one identity,” Zuckerberg says, and he’s right—what he’s wrong about is the shape of it; what he misses is its shapelessness.

You only live once. You have one self, one body—and the contact of your self with the world is bound the position of its body in space in time. But singularity shouldn’t be mistaken for stability or solidity. Positions in space and time are always changing, and the self and the body—though one—are always changing with them, always changing with others. Authenticity is bound up in ideals of stability and consistency, but real and raw authenticity is the truth of change, the reality of multiplicity within singularity, the contingency of life.

Life is what happens around LinkedIn but LinkedIn makes it look like the bit of life it records is the one that matters. Facebook adds a film of friendliness to make it feel like LinkedIn living is all there is to life.

Lots of people feel good about their LinkedIn Bodies; lots of people are fine with Facebook.

Lots of people out there hate Life.

***

APPENDIX: Sample CV

1984: Made applesauce in pre-school; teacher said not to put plastic knife in mouth; put plastic knife in mouth to eat a tiny bit of apple; cried, not because cut self but because disobeyed. Skills utilized: Yielding to temptation, crying

1994: Viewed mother’s emaciated corpse. Skills acquired: Skepticism toward medical knowledge, indifference regarding death

1997: Saw therapist weekly; therapist said I only had to talk to him if I wanted to; sat through all sessions in silence; therapist said I didn’t have to keep coming. Skills utilized: Skepticism toward medical knowledge

2000: Did not have sex in twentieth century. Skills acquired: None

2005: Slept with friend’s ex; made people angry. Skills acquired: Rudimentary understanding of emotions associated with romantic relationships

2006: Invited friends over for a small gathering; three guests arrived early and proceeded to have threesome in my bed; tried to get them to stop but could not until other guests rang the buzzer; one of the sex guys ran into bathroom naked and vomited in tub. Skills utilized: None (someone else cleaned the tub for me)

2007: Black eye obtained when beaten by Miami Beach police officer. Skills acquired: Don’t spit at cops even when repeatedly asked: “Do you have AIDS?”

2012-present: Took many selfies. Skills utilized: Social media optimization

Look Away

Last year Constant Dullaart made a video, Crystal Pillars, about leaving Facebook behind. It was edited from footage he’d taken with his phone over the previous few years, with a voiceover that mixed introspection regarding his own feelings about Facebook with some found texts: the prospectus from Facebook’s IPO, a statement by Mark Zuckerberg, the “About” section from Klout’s web site, tweets by Lil B. Crystal Pillars was shown in 2013 at the Rotterdam Film Festival and at bubblebyte.org, an online exhibition series. I didn’t see it in either of these contexts but Constant had sent me the video by email in the fall of 2012 and I watched it then.

For the most part I liked it. I liked the imagery and the editing. I also liked the open, confessional nature of the first-person text and the strangeness of its contrast to the found excerpts collaged with it. I was excited by the personal turn in Constant’s work, which has always tried to identify the traces of human presence in information technologies, but usually does so in an aloof, generalizing way. Take his series of “internets,” the tweaks of the Google homepage—the default gateway to the internet for so many people—that remind us that even though the page is white and blank as if it came out of nowhere, the default is not nothing; it’s a setting that someone chose to put there, and as such there is a flexibility and vulnerability to it. The Revolving Internet spins end over end as users try to navigate it. The Disagreeing Internet waggles in the browser window as if shaking its head no. The Censored Internet changes every character to an X. The Sleeping Internet dims and brightens to the rhythm of a sleeper’s breath, suffusing the coolly empty site with a human warmth. These give a personality to a web site, they make it weird in ways that only people can be weird. The default is already designed to be open and understandable to everyone, and Constant gives them traits that anyone can imagine—though more human than the default, they still have the generalness of the default. There is nothing particular about them.

In other works Constant has featured his own body, if not himself (his self)—like his performances that mimic the DVD screensaver, where he moves the logo to the edges of his webcam’s frame, and Poser, where he adds himself to group photos of strangers that he found on Facebook—but even then the work is not about him, it’s about his transformation into a generalized human presence.

I like Poser a lot and it’s probably my favorite of the landmark net-art works that address social media group photography (others worth mentioning: Guthrie Lonergan’s Internet Group Shot and Daniel Chew’s Cropped). The aloofness feels right in it because it means he’s not putting himself above the strangers in the found photos—he’s embodying the distance felt when encountering pictures of strangers and it’s something that’s easy to relate to. As in the series of internets, feeling is generalized, yet it’s still more effecting and vital than a template or a software setting. But in Crystal Pillars the generalizing feels wrong, because the video is largely about Constant’s personal experience, and the attempt to generalize obscures that. The voiceover text is read aloud by Henna Hyvarinnen, who was his intern at the time. She wrote parts of the text, based on interviews with Constant; Constant wrote the rest himself, and compiled the collage. The single voice partially smooths the differences between the cut excerpts—but not fully, because besides the various styles of writing the voice itself is ragged, with awkward pauses, sniffles, stumbles, and mispronunciations. I liked how the audio track included mistakes. It was unlike videos by Constant’s peers (Oliver Laric or Harm Van den Dorpel) where the text is read by text-to-speech robots or hired voice actors. But I didn’t like how it was a woman who carried the burden of the voice in its abject, imperfect physicality. It seemed sexist, especially when all the texts were written by men, except for one that the voice itself—the intern—had to written to vocalize for Constant.

Besides the phoniness of personal branding and the affective labor that goes with it, Constant’s criticisms of Facebook targeted the atmosphere of the “perpetual high-school classroom” and the feelings of jealousy and competitiveness that it exacerbates. I identified these as Constant’s personal experience of using the site, based on conversations when he’d told me about this. I suppose it’s a common experience but it’s not something I personally feel so I can—personally—attest that it’s not universal. And that’s the source of the contradiction that I think undermines Crystal Pillars. On the one hand, Constant is trying to deliver a critique of ironic distance and packaged personal connections. Yet the artistic methods used in the creation of the audio track replicated the social media conventions of the commodified self that mask vulnerability, weakness, doubt. I think it could have been more honest and effecting if he had recognized the particularity of his own experience and related it in his own voice—and let his audience chose how to identify (or sympathize) with him.

I’ve never given artists suggestions on changing a work but I wrote him an email to tell him all this and urged him to re-record the audio track with his own voice. Constant defended his choices and argued for them and left the video as it was, which is what any artist should do.

Notes on Books and Ebooks

{NOTE: On May 30, 2013, I participated in a panel discussion at Eyebeam on books and ebooks, titled “Maker and Destroyer of Books.” This is a revised version of the notes I prepared for the discussion.}

The written word was invented as a way of communicating with people who aren’t in earshot—such as god(s).

That means that books are substitute people.

Just like people, books have ways of persuading you that they’re worth spending time with, worth listening to, worth talking to. They have ways of establishing their authority and trustworthiness. Their methods aren’t as organic or spontaneous as those of real people, because they’re objects—but they’re social objects, rooted in relations and personalities.

My sense of how books work as social objects comes from my experience of editorial work—from working on making books and thinking about them in comparison to the newspaper and the magazine that I’d worked on. In the mid-2000s I was living and working in Moscow, mainly as a translator, but I also had a part-time job as a copy editor at a newspaper. After that I started doing freelance copy-editing work at a magazine and then for a book publisher. Newspapers and books have different rhythms—the paper is made for tomorrow, the book is made for a longer future—and this difference is established in ways more subtle than their obvious difference as objects—the flimsy disposability of the newspaper vs. the weighty solidity of the hardcover book. It’s expressed in little things; the Associated Press Stylebook, which we used at the newspaper, tells you to write numbers as numerals, whereas the Chicago Manual of Style, which I referred to when editing books, tells you to write them out as words. It’s a minor difference but I remember first learning about it and feeling a sense of the gravity of books. Then there’s the way that different kinds of printed matter refer to things outside themselves. The newspaper gives quotes and names sources within the story, and relies on the reader’s trust in the standards of journalism and the reputation of the newspaper to assert their veracity. The book has footnotes. The books has a bibliography. It uses references to establish its place within in a network of other books—it doesn’t just make a record of the day (so members of a society know what’s happening in it without personal contact), it lodges an assertion of truth in the firmament of culture (so people can know about it without living in the same time).

The publisher of the book is responsible for asserting the book’s authority—it places the front matter and end matter there to give a sense of the work of many people that went into the production of the book; it distributes the book and places it in the network of readers. Ebooks are distinct from books in that the manufacturer of the device (the e-reader: the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad) assumes many of the functions of the publisher, as well as the functions of the bookseller, and even the functions of the public sphere. Apple is notorious for its strict control over what can and can’t be sold in the iTunes store; Amazon wants every reader to rate every book, to participate in its work of promoting the book and asserting its value. These processes and procedures make the social objecthood of the book visible even as the physical objecthood of it diminishes, eclipsed by the e-reader. Books are substitute people, but the e-reader also becomes a substitute person: it’s a reader like me. It has a way of processing the text—reading it—so that I can read it and process it, too. Identification with the book gives way to identification with the device. (I like my Kindle Fire HD; I spend a lot of time with it. In the daytime I hold it on the subway and read Russian novels, and at night I curl up in bed with it and watch TV shows.)

This year I started on working on a series of artists’ ebooks (called Klaus_eBooks, because the publisher is Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery) and all of these thoughts about the book and the ebook went into my decisions regarding what kinds of ebooks I wanted to include in the series.

First, I should say a few things about the artist’s book. It’s not like other books. The artist abdicates claims to authority that the non-fiction hardcover (or even the novel) needs in its social life. The artist’s book abandons authority but keeps authorship; the reader (the viewer) is invited to see how the artist arranges images and text within the form of the book. The artist’s book is about the physical properties of the book—the pages, the covers, the way they organize information—in the way that a painting is about surface and pigment, or poetry is about sound and meaning.

An artist’s ebook, then, would have to address how the ebook organizes information and how that relates to the device. When the e-reader processes text it changes its size and shape, for readability; the book loses its hermetic solidity, its integrity as an object—and it loses authority, too, as authority gets leeched by the device’s maker.

I’m interested in artists’ ebooks that are less about the properties of the book or the device than about the properties of digital media. The identification with digits (rather than with a device, as in my experience with my Kindle) suggests an understanding of bodies and people not as integral wholes but as fluid, shifting, flexible entities.

What does it mean for digits to be substitute people? What would that say about people?