Confection of self-image becomes self-reinforcing, on an intermittent schedule, as the likes, shares, follows, comments and reposts are awarded with seeming randomness (and attempting to divine patterns, to maximise adulation, becomes more time spent experimenting with postures, pouts, poses, outfits, scenes and settings, effects and filters). And for maximum ersatz sincerity, these heavily manipulated Insta-images are interspersed with “inspirational” pseudo-maxims that make old-style Hallmark greeting card sentiments read like Emily Dickenson.
Can any of their authors point to one, just a single one of those, which made any philosophical or aesthetic contribution to the store of all human knowledge?
Still, we expect pop-stars, Reality TV “stars” and assorted Hollywood types to be professional narcissists. We expect their starry-eyed devotees to be aspiring narcissists. Tragic, though, when academics, journalists and politicians swelled with self-regard incessantly vomit alternately effusive and catastrophizing Tweets. Witness across their Twitter feeds, incandescent adolescent anger interspersed with the cloying self-satisfaction of the juvenile narcissist. Can any of their authors point to one, just a single one of those, which made any philosophical or aesthetic contribution to the store of all human knowledge? The self-inflicted degradation of their own once-noble institutions represents an incalculable loss to the most noble avenues of cultural commitment.
So, the breakdown of commitment multiplies, inspired by the ignoble model of those who should have known better. The ubiquitous but seemingly ignored mantra “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer you’re the product” expresses to just what an extent there is no commitment from Big Tech businesses to the users of their products and platforms (and frequently, little enough commitment to their actual ad-buying clients). And ongoing deception in even the most trivial details of our everyday lives, in perpetual Insta-manipulation, is more than a deliberate erosion of our commitment to friends and acquaintances (and invitation to that curiously post-modern tech-driven relationship class of frenemy). The deliberate privileging of image (how the world sees me) over identity (how I see myself) marks a widespread breakdown of genuine commitment of everyone to themselves.
The internet is history’s greatest monument to wasted potential and opportunity cost. Its overwhelming volume of use is really little more than a vast, ever-changing billboard flashing above a heavily frequented strip-joint – targeted to and populated by users’ own freely-given personal details.
So, in becoming “data,” Eliot’s “information” becomes further epistemologically degraded while simultaneously technologically revered.
Occasion versus Event
The end of commitment is evinced in another lamentable modern phenomenon – the debasement of occasions into events.
To cite 84 Charing Cross Road once more, in its celebration of a true occasion – the coronation of Elizabeth II. This might be seen by the contemporary eye to be a great event, but it is rendered in the film more as the basis for a multitude of harmonious gatherings, each of these filled with intimate connections, and each a little more joyous than it might otherwise have been due to the gifts of their trans-Atlantic friend.
That’s what makes occasions – sharing, hospitality, sincere engagement, and co-experience. Real connection and mutuality of commitment.
We don’t have occasions these days. Not like those. We have events, and the high office of “event planner” evokes as much contemporary reverence as their counterpart in confection, the PR agent.
Events aren’t about sharing. They’re about experiencing the event with an eye to placing oneself in its epicentre in one’s inevitable Insta-chronicling. They’re an opportunity for the curation of Insta-images to be meticulously edited, filtered and Photoshop-polished prior to posting. Events are a calculated exercise in mass one-up-person-ship (excuse the neologism, not for gender-sensitivity but because both – all? – genders are equally culpable in this).
What commitment exists in such events – from their planners, publicists, players, and patrons – is only to the hollowest sort of self-promotion.
And take even the smallest and most intimate level of occasion, the once equally formidable and formative occasion of the first date. This used to be the reward for surviving the ordeal of a phone call to a family-shared home phone, navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of mother and father. Now the request more likely comes through as a text, appropriately non-committal to save face in the eventuality of rejection. If accepted, the evening is more likely eventful in the snapping and uploading of dishes and drinks – even possibly unravelling into the non-event that results in respective Tinder-swiping from opposite sides of the table.
Yet another lost rite of passage, in the passage from analogue to digital.