Facebook: The Virtual Panopticon

TO BEGIN:

We all know the necessities by now: Zuckerberg’s being himself in ’04 and as such taps into the narcissism of contemporary culture, something I can’t imagine was all too hard for ol’ Zuck. And thus, our beloved Facebook was created. The social media, the one that did it all, the one that got it ‘right’. LinkedIn has a sense of professionalism not in-keeping with everyday tittle-tattle, Myspace sported a clunky design and customization abilities appealing to teenagers and there was also Bebo…

2008 Sees the site hit 100 million users, 2009: 300 million, 2010: 400 million, 2011: 800 million, and on and on until this very second in which the count sits at roughly 1.79 billion members [1] (Note: There are only 7 billion people on the planet). These statistics are nothing new, nothing surprising, we all know of Facebook, of its social scope, how could we not?  I feel this introduction could be skipped entirely, I’m not here to toot Facebook’s horn, the facts are within reach- literally – everyday, Facebook is unavoidable, it seeps into everything, finding a means in all interaction. Communication and connection are its opiate and it only seeks to abuse.

 

1. FACEBOOK & PERSONALITY

In terms of one’s personality Facebook is like a secondary ego, latching onto the primary and feeding from it, a malignant narcissistic cyst that’s threatening to burst if it’s not fed. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that millennials, and well, literally anyone who isn’t a baby-boomer it seems has had the narcissist label thrown at them at some point, and there is such a thing as narcissistic personality disorder, however this section briefly concentrates on narcissism as a kind of social factor instead of any pre-determined chemical/biological factor.

Narcissist: A person who as excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with self-care, or pride in one’s achievements, however there is something wrong when a person’s entire perspective is completely solipsistic, a key characteristic of narcissists in their instrumental and often manipulative use of social relationships, friendships and communication as a means for an ego boost. What greater tool to have in your arsenal if these are your aims than a literal repository of interaction and information about everyone in your immediate and often not-so immediate surroundings: encyclopaedic manipulation. To understand someone on a material level prior to ever meeting them, to be able to list their favourite films and movies, to virtually witness the events of their last weekend, to create a means to an end for your own personal gain without ever having to get to know someone.

Why bother though, right? I mean it’s clear to see that the status you spent all of 5 minutes composing has been ‘liked’, you have been validated, a confirmation that you have done something and other people have seen it, liked it, witnessed it, you are the one, you are alive, you are here. Of course, the curve begins. It was 5 likes yesterday why not 10 today? Person X liked something akin this last week why not this week? We must be interesting always. Of course, all this activity only ends up in a sort of self-congratulatory loop:

Person X feels the need for attention so posts a status. Said status is liked and person X feels validated, thus believe what they must offer is of interest. Person X continues to post and as such more and more people feel they need to ‘get-in’ on person X’s popularity etc. etc.

This loop can be backed with data from Brunel University, which can be found here.

Also, researchers at Western Illinois University found a direct link between disruptive forms of social narcissism and high Facebook ‘friend counts: here

I think perhaps it’s all too easy to comment on the very transparent notions of narcissism and vanity in regards to social media, perhaps it would be a little more meaningful to extrapolate as to why this may be the case. In ‘reality’ when we like things we feel no need to validate our claims, unless of course we are trying to impress someone or some-company – much like you would on Facebook- perhaps one will drink something they find disgusting in an attempt to seem sophisticated, or they will tactfully place a copy of War & Peace on their dining table before their friends arrive, other than these rather silly occasions generally speaking, if you like something, you just like it and get on with it, if you think about the entirety of the things you like, it’s mind boggling, the unfathomable amount of activities and materials that are better than neutral yet we never really feel the need to comment on them, so why on Facebook? Social proof, maybe? Social status? Or perhaps these opinions and ‘likes’ are merely weapons in a virtual social game: Whoever can accumulate the most likes wins! They’re the most popular!

Of course, for those who are not part of the ‘narc’ crowd, the opposite is entirely true. They sit and witness how little friends they have, how little likes they have. A structure built to make you feel connected only makes you feel more alone and sad. Daily, you witness everyone supposedly having the time of their lives, and you believe it to be true, every meal everyone else is having is incredible, everyone’s laughing all the time. Of course, once again this is not the case, people only upload and post the best bits of their day, you’re seeing a best of reel, mundane moments filtered to make them seem divine, a shot of a salami baguette so saturated it has become neon, inspirational quotes, cute pics, uncanny smiles and in general an entire collage of the false and fake. I don’t know about the lives of those of you reading this, but I’m willing to believe that those very people who post inspirational quotes about being free are themselves very shy and work menial jobs, those who post selfies are insecure and anxious. The user’s profile is the creation of a desire, a desire which can only become reality for others, a harmful one at that. You sculpt and perfect your profile to seem as if everything in your life is going exactly how you want it to, you know it not to be true and the effort to keep up the charade becomes greater, and the anxiety and paranoia felt by those who see your ‘perfect’ life also becomes greater, and so, both sides of the same simulacrum feel empty and lost, and are left wandering “How come my lift isn’t actually like that?”

Think about it: there is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real – you get the idea.” – David Foster Wallace – This is Water

 

2. PRIVACY

I’ll keep this technical stuff brief, it’s easy to research and relatively transparent.

In recent years Facebook, has been utterly scalded publicly for its privacy policy, yet…no one cares, everyone (that is 1.79 billion people) are entirely fine with the fact that their ‘private’ data and images are being being sold off to third party companies, so they can bring you personalised adverts to make you feel even more alone and anxious than you already were.

Need examples:

  1. Signing a two-year deal with MasterCard to access user data, as to uncover behavioural insights which of course can be sold on. [1]
  2. Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy [2]
  3. Third Party Platforms (apps) having the ability to connect to your Facebook account.
  4. Facebook accounts publicly listed on sites such as Yahoo and Google.
  5. Facebook literally monitors your internet browsing [3]
  6. Scanning people’s personal photos [4]

Alongside theses there’s: Buying WhatsApp and combining the data with FB, collecting data about self-censorship, ‘considering’ collecting cursor movements, automatic facial recognition, systems in place to deduce information and the list goes on and on.

Facebook is one of the primary reasons the “but I’ve got nothing to hide argument” has become so prevalent. In short, the argument is that it doesn’t really matter if we’re spied on, because we’ve got nothing to hide. I imagine the average FB user doesn’t have anything to hide, however, that doesn’t automatically give them the right to pry. Yes, pictures of cats and dinners are extremely uninteresting and are of no real concern, the problem being, they’re my pictures, or they’re your pictures and as such only you should be able to say what can and cannot be done with them, unless of course your express permission is given first.

 

3. ACTOR = AUDIENCE

Within the confines of Facebook one is simultaneously the actor and the audience, a monkey, who’s life has become a mere product for a global corporate. Your dainty trip to the beach with you dear ol’ Aunty is no longer memory, it is transformed via your own self-interest into a malignance sent against you. One cannot truly experience anything if they are doing so via a 5-inch screen. The memory you would have attained has become mere fodder for a machinic media, the wind and the breeze become pixels and likes.

You are a performer, supposedly by choice, you truly believe every action you take, everything you do people sincerely care about, to like, to like, to like, repeatedly in the hope of a return. There’ll never be enough you know? There’s never going to be a point wherein your account is done, you reached terminal likes. You wrote that status which calmed every self-centred urge in your body, the machine will feed on you until your food’s gone cold and the filters eventually fade. People who genuinely care about you would want you to experience your life. In his recent show Make Happy Bo Burnham said this:

I know very little about anything, but I do know this: that if you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.”

I believe he’s entirely correct, don’t seek validation, seek genuine experience. Seek out the possibility to enjoy something entirely on your own, or with another, seek a memory that can never be owned or bought. No amount of third party interruption, programming or algorithmic tweaking can ever replicate the feeling you had. To truly rebel against social media, one must have a wholly sincere experience independent of societal pressure

 

4. VIRTUAL PANOPTICON

A Panopticon is a type of prison or institutional building, originally designed by social theorist Jeremy Bentham. The idea being that the design allows all inmates of the prison to be observed by a single watchmen or guard, without the in mates ever building able to tell if they are being watched. Of course, a single watchman cannot observe all the cells at once, however prisoners must act as if they are being watched as it is a possibility.

The metaphor applies itself all too well to Facebook, the average user is aware of his or her 100 maybe even 1000 plus friends, aware that they are there being watched and there to be watched, always there, the possibility to act, act positively, negatively, despite something or instead of something, your opinion is no longer your own, you’re weighing it up against the communal expectations in fear of being ostracized from your immediate community. The watchman is all and you’re included. Behaviour regulated by a social body in constant flux and to act out of line is to alert the watchman.

A paranoia of sharing, we are creators, guards, watchmen and judges all in a single blow, for to judge is to create opinion, to create is to be judged, a realm of self-affirmation and virtual-schizophrenic-attitudes. Users are constantly perspiring, either figuratively or literally, status’ planned for the ‘correct’ time of day, the company you keep and the food you eat shall all be observed, the call of the lost generation was “I am here! I am here!” yet within an echo chamber no one can find each other. The cells seem entirely your own, at first they appeared exploratory, I get to experience this world with others, you loved the fact you could see other’s cells, yet in fact you could not, you could only see what they wanted you to see and you believed it to be true.

You eventually forget you ever volunteered to enter here, that’s right, it was your choice to come here and sit in the cell, dank, dark and full of perpetual, unattainable desire. The watchman is only needed as long as there are prisoners, the prisoners shall only remain as long as they believe they are being watched.

No one is watching you or your life as vehemently as you are. The only person waiting for you to make a mistake or trip up is you. Everyone is a prisoner, everyone is a guard.

One Response to Facebook: The Virtual Panopticon

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