‘Subjectivation’ and social media

A great post on Foucault’s panopticon, subjectivation and social media via Tim Rayner.

There is a self-reflexive structure to sharing content on Facebook or Twitter. Just as actors on stage know that they are being watched by the audience and tailor their behaviour to find the best effect, effective use of social media implies selecting and framing content with a view to pleasing and/or impressing a certain crowd. We may not intend to do this but it is essential to doing it well.

This process of ‘subjectivation’ – a self-reflexive subject-building not at all dissimilar to Goffman’s “dramaturgical approach” – sheds light on a host of social media quandaries. For starters, it complicates the notion of information sharing as something pure or distinct from affect.

I got to thinking about this after reading some back-and-forths over the common Twitter disclaimer of “Retweets do not equal endorsements.” This disclaimer has been called into question by legal experts. But beyond questions of law, there’s that little voice in the back of our heads before we push the “tweet” button – “Am I going to look stupid for tweeting/retweeting this?” There’s more to this self-editing than concerns for truth and fact. It also points to the suspension of subjectivation as a problematic in information ecosystems.

We implicitly recognize that we are inextricably linked in myriad ways to the links we share.


Chicago Sun-Times lays off all of its photographers

Flat, like pancakes (via Wikimedia Commons)

Flat, like pancakes (via Wikimedia Commons)

First, a link to the story.

The Sun-Times is pushing video and pushing iPhones on its reporters to snap quick pics from the scene. On one level this is a case of a craft pressured by the hyperimmediacy of the Internet.

But it’s also another example of how the low-resolution world of digital media tends to flatten out content, yoking it to metrics, and ultimately to business models that closely monetize what the audience consumes. In the digital realm, content often is made to mirror and reflect – rather than inform – as sites where reconstituted audiences are neither here nor there, to evoke Foucault’s account of what lies between utopia and heterotopia. Speed, efficiency, hyperimmediacy at the expense of craft.