The Social Web: End Of The First Cycle

December 19th, 2012 | thinking


Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.

This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).

Google+, of course, is not, strictly speaking, a social network. Most people can’t see what other people are doing there. Google, of course, sees it all. But everyone knows that going in.

It feels like the social web is going to get somewhat less interesting for a while. Less connected, less engaged.

Twitter’s going to be used for tv ratings in the States now. The clever thing about that it that it serves the same purpose as Facebook Likes: it documents media preferences. These are the things that keep a free service free, of course. But, god, there have to be less banal and creepy ways to do it.

I wonder if anyone’s been thinking twice about giving up their personal websites.

[Instagram: I said on that service earlier that I'll wait and see. Some hours later, they released an update to their TOS that I haven't had a good look at yet. But all my Instagram photos were backed up when Facebook bought them, and that backup auto-updates every time I post.]

A Hauntological Literature

December 11th, 2012 | thinking

I was re-reading a bunch of James Bridle over the last couple of days – his brain works very differently to mine, and much better, which makes his stuff a good lever to prise me off old tracks – and I tripped over this, which I bookmarked last year:

What would a hauntological literature look like? I’m not sure, and that makes me suspicious.

And, a few paragraphs further up, related:

While I understand the distinction between nostalgia and hauntology, I am unconvinced by their separation in the application of the latter to music. The two most frequently cited sonic hauntologists are Burial and Ghost Box records, and while I’m a huge fan of both, I also see them as being steeped in nostalgia.

Bridle, as you may know, coined the term New Aesthetic, which can be defined as the observation of the eruption of the digital world into the physical world.  And it occurred to me that there is already an artifact of hauntological literature that does not require or involve nostalgia.  It is, in fact, one of the historical artifacts that was such a touchstone for modern hauntology.

THE CHANGES.  A BBC TV series from 1975.  The first episode of which I recall vividly, because it was (if you were seven years old) so unsettling.  And the subject of this series was simply this:

The eruption of the historical into the present.

Which is, essentially, what Burial was doing, in the moments when he wasn’t (as in “Raver”) specifically summoning up past times through nostalgia or yearning.  The moments where the past can be heard leaking through the walls (in my head, there’s a weird linkage between Burial and Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room”).

I think my problem with hauntology is that it deals with the problem of the future by going back to the past. And that is fine: but it will not save us.

In a hauntological literature, the future isn’t the problem.  It’s that the past never stops coming to get us.  Hence the frequent Ballardian framing of hauntology: we’re so exhausted by our blind headlong run into the future that we now wander around in a confused haze, and Time (SAPPHIRE AND STEEL!) oozes in like oil all around us.  Dragging us downstream.

Georteyphobia.  Fear of history.