Home' Technology Review : September October 2008 Contents FROM THE EDITOR
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER
FROM THE EDITOR
"Born Originals," the 18th-century English divine and poet
Edward Young, the author of Night Thoughts, once asked,
"how comes it to Pass that we die Copies?"
I twitter---often, several times a day. Most of my 140-character
posts to the microblogging service are gnomic little mutterings,
many are telegraphic self-advertisements (the quotidian, new-
media equivalents of "THE NILE IS SETTLED STOP
SPEKE"), and some are bluntly promotional of stories on
TechnologyReview.com. You'd think no one would read such
stu , but you'd be wrong. About 900 people follow me.
I Pownce, too---sharing images, music, or videos on the file-
sharing service. I also have a Facebook profile, where more than
700 "friends," most of whom I have never met, note my status
updates, nod over the books I read, and peek at my photos. I Digg.
Occasionally, I blog. And all my social-media activities are rolled
up on FriendFeed. If you subscribed to my feed, you'd see how
often I use social technologies: 24 times on Thursday, July 31.
I am not sure why I do all this. Anything I write for Technology
Review or other publications reaches a far larger audience. I
began because I felt I shouldn't write or edit stories about social
technologies without having used them. Then, too, everyone
young seemed to use social media all the time, and I didn't want
to be generation-gapped by the little freaks. But I persisted
because social technologies allowed me to talk with readers and
sources in new, interesting ways. Also, it was fun! By now, using
social media has become habitual, like keeping a diary.
But I will never use social technologies quite as the young use
them, because I do not thrill to continuous attention and I value
my privacy. Thus, the Jason Pontin who occupies the social space
is a constructed persona, designed to be unchallengingly person-
able, humorous, and thoughtful. I am none of those things very
often. The preoccupations of that Jason Pontin are professional:
he thinks about emerging technologies all the time. And I never
broadcast the substance of my inner life, because I know it would
become insubstantial the moment I did.
Social-media Jason Pontin, in short, is a function of my busi-
ness life. I know that this identity is inauthentic, because there
is so much about which I do not post or blog. Do other habitual
users of social media, whose social identities are as carefully con-
structed to attract attention, but who blog and post about every-
thing (and thus feel no alienation), not know that those identities
are inauthentic? Bemused by the di erence between themselves
and their social-media selves, are they mere Copies, cast from a
few popular molds, endlessly reproduced among false friends?
This month in Technology Review, two authors write that they are.
Emily Gould, a penitent, formerly inauthentic editor of the
gossip site Gawker.com, reviews two books (see " 'It's Not a Revolu-
tion if No One Loses,' " p. 96): Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody
and a reprint of Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Its
Technological Reproducibility. Contrasting the living new-media
critic and the dead Marxist cultural critic, she writes, "Maybe,
in the same way that Benjamin says the di erence between
'follow[ing] with the eye, while resting on a summer afternoon,
a mountain range on the horizon' and experiencing that same
mountain at a remove (imagine a picture postcard) makes it
harder to appreciate the real thing, social-media technologies are
creating simulacra of social connection, facsimiles of friendship."
Gould urges us, as "a pointless experiment," to stop using social
media for a time and see our "world opening back up again."
Elsewhere (see "'I Just Called to Say I Love You,'" p. 88), the nov-
elist and essayist Jonathan Franzen condemns cell phones for
their power to amplify inauthentic utterances and for what he
describes as a kind of emotional coercion: "If the mother's dec-
laration of love had genuine, private emotional weight, wouldn't
she take at least a little care to guard it from public hearing?"
In Sincerity and Authenticity, a lovely collection of lectures
delivered at Harvard by Lionel Trilling in the spring of 1970, the
literary critic made a profound case for the importance of authen-
ticity, and for its newness and fragility in our culture: "If sincerity
is the avoidance of being false to any man through being true to
one's own self, we can see that this state of personal existence is
not to be attained without the most arduous e ort." What, Trilling
asks, is the enemy of authenticity? "No one has much di culty
with the answer to this question. From Rousseau we learned that
what destroys our authenticity is society---our sentiment of being
depends upon the opinion of other people."
Insofar as social technologies make us more dependent upon
the opinion of others, they may be said to increase our inauthen-
ticity and are to be deplored. But I am a technologist and an opti-
mist about technology's capacity to expand and improve our lives.
However hesitantly, I will continue to use social media. We'll
work out the kinks. I choose to think that our private selves will
survive and be enlarged by Twitter and Facebook as they were by
earlier communications technologies. In his book, Shirky says
that social technologies also increase the quantity of love in the
world. Human nature, after all, is a movable feast, continuously
evolving through technology. But write and tell me what you
think at email@example.com. ---Jason Pontin
Authenticity in the Age of Its
DO SOCIAL TECHNOLOGIES MAKE US LESS SINCERE?
Links Archive November December 2008 July August 2008 Navigation Previous Page Next Page