In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)

In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)

by Perry Janes

 

*A version of this originally appeared as a post on the author’s Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with permission.

 

There are people on my newsfeed with posts and memes that read “Michael Brown is dead because of Michael Brown’s actions.” There are others voicing their support of the NYC police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner. There is literally no word in the English language to express the outrage I feel at these sentiments – at seeing them when I log in to my account – or to unpack the levels of racism and hatefulness implied here. Let’s set aside the fact that an armed, white police officer in a community already rife with racial tensions fired six shots into an unarmed teenager – six shots against an unarmed youth –  and, for argument’s sake, let’s set aside any perceived ambiguity about what did or did not happen on that street. Let’s also set aside the fact that Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe” at least 7 times (verifiably, on video) before he died of asphyxiation on the sidewalk, that chokeholds are not approved by the NYC police force, and that Eric Garner did not appear to be an aggressor in this situation.

Instead, let’s talk about the people on Facebook, and in the world, who default to a racist and fearful narrative with or without realizing it, who level sweeping generalizations about how black and minority cultures respond to injustice (the recent riots in Ferguson with the possibility of further unrest now in NYC and across the country) while treating the myriad riots perpetrated by white people (the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots being one small example, incited over hockey, I might add) with completely different levels of rhetoric and criticism; let’s also acknowledge that you can question and inspect this disparity in these dialogues (and the power structures informing this disparity) without approving actions you may view to be personally destructive.

Let’s talk for a second about how easy it is in too many white communities to unplug from this discussion entirely, to wave it away or disengage, and to disregard how impossible it is for other members of our community and our country to do the same.

Let’s talk, also, about the infrastructures of power and authority that exist in this country, about how these structures have been clearly abused, and what that does to a collective level of trust in the police, in government, in judicial systems; and then let’s talk about how positive and influential it would be if these same policemen and lawyers and authority figures – rather than be defensive of their colleagues – listened to public concerns, and validated them, and stood in solidarity of cultural and professional reform in order to repair this broken trust.

Let’s talk about history, too, about how short a time it’s really been since America was a country with institutionally and governmentally sanctioned policies based on skin color, a country where unsanctioned, regular, and rampant acts of racial violence were overlooked and accepted; about how that history doesn’t erase or vanish in a generation, or two, or ten, and how it persists in a variety of forms (readily seen and unseen) today.

Most of all, let’s talk about how these Facebook posts – that attempt to invalidate criticism or rigorous examination of the events in Ferguson and NYC, as elsewhere – reduce and undermine the ability to hold any conversation at all.

Let’s talk.

Part of talking means sharing. In this spirit, I’d like to share a poem. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Danez Smith – I hope to, we share a handful of wonderful friends and colleagues – but this poem, which you can see him read (masterfully) elsewhere on the web, stopped me absolutely cold the first time I read it. This poem – featured in POETRY Magazine and on poetryfoundation.org following Smith’s recent Ruth Lilly Fellowship – hits about twenty different frequencies at once. And it couldn’t be any more relevant to the conversations taking place today.

So, to the people on Facebook making these posts: my first impulse – my desire – is to delete you from my network. It is hard to imagine us belonging to the same community. But the truth is: you’re also the ones I want to read this, to stop at some point – any point – during your day and think about the historical, personal, and political frequencies that fuel your denial of the voices expressing hurt and anger in the world around you. To acknowledge and engage with these voices means, ultimately, practicing empathy. To delete you from my network would only make it is easier for you not to take in outside voices, or not to engage with them. So this is me throwing a bottle into the endless Facebook breach – filled with voices of all kinds, some of which give me great hope and others that inspire nothing but sadness – and hoping for the best.

What Would Stephanie Say?

"Microcosm 12" by Stephanie Goehring

“Microcosm 12” by Stephanie Goehring

Editor’s Note: The What Would I Say app is turning all of us into weird, self-involved robot poets. Stephanie Goehring shares some thoughts on this social media phenomenon and an in-progress poem composed entirely of her own What Would I Say results:

What Would Stephanie Say?

Probably That I’m a Narcissist (But That’s OK)

By Stephanie Goehring

A friend of mine, a fiction writer, keeps joking on Facebook about how obsessed poets are with the What Would I Say app. And it’s true: Just about all of the What Would I Say posts in my news feed have come from writers, and the poets are the ones who seem to be totally losing their minds over it.

When I first used this website, my thought process went something like this: Oh, this is hilarious. This is really interesting. This is beautiful. This is nonsense. But then I started thinking about how many people were posting results from the website that only seemed to fall into the latter category. So why were they flooding all of their friends’ news feeds with this garbage? And of course the answer is because they think their bot-self statuses are hilarious or interesting or beautiful. Even when the reality is that the particular post is bullshit. But we post it because it’s our own bullshit. In fact, it’s bullshit made of our own bullshit. It’s something we posted on Facebook (so, really, what’s the value of the initial language the bot is working with?) and then we repost it, garbled, as if that means anything.

But it does mean something. It says something about our collective narcissism. It says something about how we are constantly recording our own lives rather than and in addition to living them, how we all repeatedly throw ourselves against the wall of the Internet so that we can hear the echo. And that’s disgusting, but it’s also amazing. Because we aren’t the only ones who hear the echo.

And for poets in particular, I think that’s part of what makes What Would I Say so enticing: It’s replicating the experience of writing a poem. Language comes from you (meaning from everywhere else, too), is ordered (or disordered) and then thrown against the wall of the world so that it can become a sound that made another sound.

I wanted to do something with that: take the Facebook Stephanie that the Internet threw against the wall of itself and try to get that Facebook Stephanie to make a sound of her own—one that might matter to someone else. And I wanted to avoid using this bot-generated language to write a poem about poetry itself because that would just be an example of this kind of narcissism: A poem that gazes at its own navel to me seems far worse than a person who does (even if that person does so while taking a selfie and then posts it on Facebook).

Narcissism

In the parking lot when photographing your own intense feelings
only you should be disgusting like the march of the national anthem.
I don’t have a state dance. We need more than my empty living.
I had a lengthy conversation with the whole world
in a sequined dress and eating cold south winds gusting to go.
I like to recognize me, squeeze the tornado threat,
watch crowds of my blood, the dancing girl who tells me
I hear someone who intimidates people like a swimsuit model.
I’ve decided to be able to be italicized.
We need to reach me. You can do it
if you are the time, all of the supermoon.
Oh I still feel like four hours ago
except that I keep rereading my phone.
I’ve decided to be the word.
Fun fact for sale:
You can make a disciple. They lay eggs
in the box, looking for creative writing like you.
I hear you, and mentally, so hot tub connected.
I’m saying a word is cheap and get the stomach flu.
You can love YouTube.
Did you know it’s a fucking universe?
A blind contour drawing of drunk girls
losing someone else’s virginity?
When I rotate my arm, everything will take forever.
I will trigger scattered thunderstorms,
break his neck in his elementary school,
eat the playground and then venture out.
Even music wouldn’t do this listening to the rest of its life.
So am I. So if you
get punched in the universe,
try to write a cute photograph
thinking about the seasons as if we need you.

*The language in this poem is bot-generated in its entirety, with only capitalization and punctuation changed.

***

Stephanie Goehring is co-author, with Jeff Griffin, of the chapbook I Miss You Very Much (Slim Princess Holdings, 2011/13) and author of the chapbook This Room Has a Ghost (dancing girl press, 2010). She is also a visual artist. Find her online here.

Loving the Cyborg and the Mushroom


Two things:  Terence Mckenna’s insistence on the human desire to “shed the monkey body”  always scared me and then paradoxically  the cybernetically enhanced Borg of  Star Trek always seemed rather sexy.

Early one morning as I trawled fakecrack I found a friend’s post: an O’Reilly webcast by Amber Case entitled “Cyborg Anthropology: A Short Introduction”. Anthropology’s subject matter has leapt a paradigm since I sat in Joel Kahn’s class watching him smoke a million cigs as I tried to grasp his Marxist analysis of pre-capitalist states but I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the discipline’s theoretic overlay: the attempt to look, without ethnocentric bias, at human societies through a pseudo- philosophical/scientific lens, identifying social phemonena and describing cultural production protocols.  Nowadays cyborg anthropologists are looking at us human cyborgs, those of us (and that’s most of us) who are organisms, “to which exogenous components have been added for the purpose of adapting to new environments.”

As far back as 1941 at the inaugural Macy Conference, cultural theorists, including luminaries like Margaret Mead, discussed the potential impact of evolving technology on cultural reality.

Fast forward to 2010  where our cyborgian reality has developed to consume many of our conscious hours interacting through our exogenous devices, not just for work but also for play. Admittedly we are low-tech cyborgs, most of us are not permanently augmented by our technology- although  many smart phone users seem unwilling  to relinquish the close physical companionship of their hand-held devices. In 1985 in an eerie and precocious essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto,”  Donna Haraway wrote that as “hybrids of machine and organism” we were creatures of both fictive and lived social reality.

This rings very true in regard to online social networking  which is reaching endemic proportions in western society and let me make this quite clear — cyberspace connectivity is intrinsically different to our previous social pathways. Cyborg anthropologists theorize that online we create a “second self”, this is an identity generated in relation to others: if our body in virtual space is appealing to others they will approve and give our second self  “gravity”, for example a status update on Facebook which is “liked” by many increases gravity while being “de-friended” takes away from gravitational credibility. In cyberspace we sample ourselves and the bytes that we report are the ones which shape our identity. We consider our social networking to be useful for promoting ourselves and seek to appeal in our network, this means that we often make decisions not to articulate negative, contentious or questionable items which might also be described as personal truths.  Research from Intel suggests that current social networking protocols don’t often initiate successful new relationships but rather make those relationships  which already exist more visible. This visibility can become problematic, being peer-judged for the opinions of one’s  ‘second self’ might also impact your social reality in the offline world. I feel lucky that I’ve made one new friend through social networking,  I saw his comments on a mutual friend’s page & sent a request to be friended,  this positively counters my overwhelming personal trend of  getting turned off by network personas . Online our second selves are immature and tendencies toward discrimination, passive-aggressiveness and narcissism are often inadvertently exposed or created through sloppy memes, either way the outcome is as obnoxious  as halitosis in real-time.

I hear people offering up the platitude, “Facebook isn’t real” but I utterly disagree, it is hyperreal and what goes down on social networks can have grave implications: fifteen year old Phoebe Prince  killed herself last year after being harassed and abused on Facebook. Personally I feel that my second self and I are still very much conjoined and I don’t like exposure to haters on any platform. When I start to feel uncomfortable with an online friend I “hide” them and try and win a little distance back, after all, we have never been in such a high order of inter-connectivity as a species and while  most people are attractive at some distance, magnified and unedited they often become less appealing.  This kind of social interaction seems distorting and dangerous, the time-honored offline social etiquette which formerly mediated our social relationships is being thrown aside and emerging protocols are not yet beta-tested. Our lives online exist in an ocean of interactive sensations: ideas about time and space (we think nothing  of having multiple simultaneous conversations in different time zones), production of value (ever felt overwhelmed by opportunities to add more 99 cent apps?) social punctuation (like texting in company) or ambient online intimacy (the heady sensation of the collective now).  Offline life is changed by our increased connectivity too, public space now becomes private space when you are chatting on your mobile and places themselves can become “non-places” if we don’t have enough meaning invested in the location.

Fellow cyborgs, are we having fun yet?

It seems that we are amused and often we are engrossed: my husband’s recent edict that our house will go offline at weekends was met with a teen cyborg mutiny. We will not give up our technologically enhanced state of being but we owe it to ourselves to work on understanding what it is that we are doing and what it is we really want to do.

Terence McKenna believed that our species is evolutionarily longing for the Other – we yearn for the unseen mystery of the universe and alien playmates in particular. Our loneliness is as vast as infinity, as Heidigger  described so poignantly, “cast into matter, alone in the universe.” Connecting with each other’s second selves  24/7  helps us to feel better, we hum along to Kraftwerk’s gorgeous Computer Love while we look to artificially extend our ability to reach out into space.

McKenna’s search went off at a tangent into inner space exploration,  a place both vilified and sidelined for the last two thousand years of western culture, designated as the eccentric preserve of religious mystics. As an ethno-botanist studying plant-based shamanism McKenna researched psilocybin and became acquainted with the Other, which he calls the voice of the Logos. Psychedelic mushroom spores like stropharia cubensis can survive the harsh conditions of outer space and thus McKenna thought that maybe they came to us from distant worlds. When humans interact with the mushroom, the Logos communicates with us, drawing back the veils of dimensionality and revealing other realities, this ecstatic experience is fearful and generally undertaken by shamen, wise ones who can deal with this huge unchartered territory.  The historical importance of psychedelics has not yet been acknowledged, McKenna’s theory of human evolution into language through psilocybin use in early societies is regarded as renegade by  most academics. Times are a changing though: breaking news in the mainstream media this week tells us medical research into the treatment of  depressed, anxious, post-traumatic and dying with psychedelics is yielding positive results.   Lucky for us that adventurous McKenna and the Logos had an open bandwidth and his awareness as a scientist and theorist has enabled him to communicate the ideas and perspectives of the Other to us timid creatures in our empirically restrained culture.

In 1987 McKenna spoke of an emerging zeitgeist of hyperspace- he knew that electronic culture would add a dimension that would reverberate through our culture at every level and he saw our 21st century hyperdimensional collectivity coming. When I read Gibson, Dick, Vonnegut and M. T. Anderson  I can imagine the endgame of humanity as we know it. McKenna considered that first Neolithic age, imbued with the psilocybin experience had provided us with the essential tools which brought us to this point, and for him the re-emergence of the mushroom in contemporary times was the second Neolithic Age, the Archaic Revival: our chance to look through the hyperdimensional lens again. This opportunity could slip away from us he warned if we become too enmeshed in a hypertechnological dominator scenario.

Anderson’s  Feed is a futuristic tale of teenage cyborg-humans who have internet implants embedded borg-style in their brains, their software updates them constantly on what to buy, where to get it and who has already got it. This hypertechnological wasteland is highly imaginable and ultimately terrifying especially to those of us who seek the interconnected flipside trajectory for  our species.

It’s just a brilliant psychedelic idea that we can look out and the Other can look in when we commune with psilocybin. The fact that psilocybin  is part of our intrinsic brain chemistry should help us  little techno-monkeys understand that the mushroom  experience is valid. The dimensional envelope is awesome but like our ancestors who would have feared the wormhole of space and time that the telephone represents we stand like Tolkien’s hobbits at the border of the Shire, total scaredy cats. It is frightening to imagine the potentialities of the universe and thats reassuring: we only truly fear the real.

Amber Case “Cyborg Anthropology: A Short Introduction” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCvMWZePS8E

Donna Haraway “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology & Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” Socialist Review, 1985

Marc Auge “Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity” 1995

Terence McKenna ” The Archaic Revival” HarperSanFrancisco, 1991

M.T. Anderson “Feed” Candlewick Press, 2002