Instagram login page

Above: Instagram login page. Credit: Tofros.

Smartphone in hand

Above: Instagram app. in use on a smartphone. Credit: Fancycrave.

Social media

Above: Smartphone held up with Instagram post obscuring the view. Credit: Jeremy Levin

Dark phone

Above: Dark Phone, 2016. Credit: Deyvi Romero.

Phone in hand

Above: Person checking phone. Credit: Karolina (Kaboompics).

Phone in hand

Above: Facebook login screen. Credit: PDPics.

Social Media

Social media apps. have reduced daily life to a series of interludes and diversions between checking one's social media updates. Daily life is reduced to an "optical watch" of the screen; this vigil-vision replaces daily life--or, in French, la vue, replaces la vie (NH: 111).

The social media user drifts into an everyday rife with generic commonality and synchronized sensations, "a humanity that is not only unified but also reduced to uniformity (VW: 12)." In this dehumanized state the user is not really different from the indoctrinated automaton-like citizen of a totalitarian regime--the world of social media is a scene of "interactive communism (GA: 37)," or "globalitarianism."

Social media has insidiously become--in the Western liberal democracies at least--something like a social obligation with the loss of direct face-to-face interaction increasingly assumed, "entering the virtual community is compulsory, or very nearly, and this means living in a surrogate reality that deprives us of our tactility, the physical contact and the empathy essential to communal intersubjectivity (UD: 78)." Such an obligation is not empowering and liberating but rather debilitating, "[millions of individuals] are now all hooked, tethered by the chains--the channels--of interactive information technology (UD: 70)."

The general social impact of the Internet (and social media) on discussion-and-debate recalls and parallels, for Virilio, the story of the people of the city of Babel--and their Tower--from the Christian Bible, Book of Genesis (11:1-9). The inhabitants of Babel were punished by God for their attempts to come together to build a tower that would reach up to heaven. Their punishment was to be cursed with an explosion myriad languages--there were suddenly so many languages operational that no person was comprehended or listened to by any other (and in this way the Babelites could no longer collaborate successfully on their tower). And so it is for humans on social media today (Twitter, etc.); so many voices ranting, abusing, mishearing and exhorting--producing a mind-numbing cacophony. "The model for our world that is emerging behind the delirium of information is Babel ... the [online-virtual] megacity is Babel ... and Babel is civil war! (VW: 79)." Politicized voices on social media tend to a political inertness: the scene of social media is dominated by a chaos of dissonant, discordant voices, "an individualism that is fundamentally transpolitical (GA: 38)."

Social media apps. offer a synthetic, sanitized, and depressingly cut-down version of freedom-of-expression. The tech companies providing the software silently carry on a form of censorship that (much as freedom of expression under an authoritarian regime) is not transparent or rationalized or predictable. It is unfortunately very likely that this ersatz freedom will come to seamlessly substitute authentic freedom-of-expression due to the vast "captive audience" of social media (UD: 89).

The realized outcome of, say, Marshall McLuhan's concept of a hyper-connected "global village," is sadly not liberation but paradoxically (and perversely) confinement. For now, the recent technological advances of the digital age retain the aura of astonishing achievement and innovation because they are still novel. Daily life experienced generally as confinement, and even incarceration is really only a looming threat at this time, however, fast approaching is an era of come-down and of anti-climax. We cannot really yet estimate the full consequences of this upcoming era of disappointment "it is hard to imagine this situation of confinement for the coming generations (VW: 48/60)."