BREAK FREE

In today’s world, social media is utterly impossible to escape. Not only is social media addicting and multiplying in importance, it is subject to intense debate over just how social it makes us and what we potentially lose the closer we come to define our offline social life based on our online network. In Joe Fassler’s article he remarks on the culture that is social media as it fits into Arcade Fire’s (AF) anti-internet message made apparent by their latest song “Reflektor” and its two accompanying videos namely the interactive one.  Although the article mentions the web as a whole it focuses in on a message that ties most neatly with social media: we feel we need to stay connected but at what price? Fassler does not simply take the route that we are in a social media world in which each person is getting this great experience, but he is more or less aligning with the AF message of us being subservient to our technology and our online persona.

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The debate surrounding social media is made evident by opposing terms like technological determinism and social construction of technology as defined in Nancy Baym‘s Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Fassler’s discussion of technology is his piece exemplifies a technodeterminism theme about how social media is shaping how we behave and our inability to keep it from changing our society. Meanwhile, Fassler points out the inherent contradiction in AF’s approach: you have to use google chrome and your smartdevice to even partake in the “virtual projection” and it is only through utilizing that connection that they can urge you to “break free.” In fact, it’s an intentional contradiction, a stroke of evil genius if you may because they make your smartdevice a tool to play around with light fixtures throughout the video then suddenly they shatter the connection and your device is rendered useless. AF’s method therefore points to what I believe to be the best situation: the middle ground that is social shaping of technology. In this view, it is not that we are simply indebted to technology nor does it give us the false bravado that we can completely shape technology but that it is a partnership. The relationship is constant and so easily domesticated that we have become immune to the changes. The tradeoff between privacy and access has become routine. It is as Fassler says a bargain, it cannot be either or, we have to consistently be willing to compromise, understand that there are consequences for our online presence and be prepared for that tradeoff.

“Reflektor” is a song about getting off the Internet. “We’re so connected, but are we even friends?” Win Butler sings, puncturing the notion that social media sites like Facebook bring us together. […] “We fell in love when I was 19, and now we’re staring at a screen” sounds like a lament, expressing skepticism at the notion that two people in separate rooms, typing or Skyping, can be a worthwhile kind of love.

AF is nostalgic for the days when unmediated communication as explained by Judith Donath was the rule of the land and social media didn’t give us a synthetic sense of relationships. We are too immersed in social media to see it as a shackle so we become happily shackled prisoners. Here’s the twist though, social media’s also the most amazing way to stay connected ever imagined. Social media’s problem lies in its promise to connect us because it creates complacency. The song plays with the artificiality that comes along with the territory of social media and how little we wish to reflect on our dependence on these platforms because we have the scary sense that we could no longer function without them. We can make promises to ourselves to be out there and do stuff but we love our screens. I devote so much of myself to technology that I don’t know how to break free or that I would ever want to. At the same time, I yearn to see my friends in person, to really “lol” and make eye contact with something other than my screen. I love my computer and phone but lets be real I just said I loved them.

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Fassler did not intend for this article to be an attack on social media relationships but through his discussion of AF, he offers up a weary presentation of what social media has done to us. The blaring reality is that our relationships have become our social media connections. Whether it be what Caroline Haythornwhaite calls our weak and strong ties, we have come to know that it is no longer enough to be friends in person, we have to take advantage of these social media platforms and engage in what Boyd and Ellison refer to as “public displays of connection.” We can show these connections off through media multiplicity that entails us building connections with a host of people on different networks making us believe that somehow we have won and have become the best version of ourselves, yet we haven’t built something necessarily substantial. The whole point of “Reflektor” is that we imagine we are connecting but when you look at that screen it’s just your reflection that stares back at you. That screen cannot touch you back. The article doesn’t try to see the other side such as looking into how weak ties can be beneficial because they can open the doors to new and exciting experiences. Moreover, because Fassler is playing with such important themes, it would be useful for him to provide some sort of solution so that he is not just making us feel guilty for our internet reliance but demonstrating how it can be assuaged. Lastly, since Fassler has a stake in his analysis he should aim to bring to fruition his argument and flesh it out in a way that is all his own and not simply an analysis of how AF interprets it.

As we know, technology connects people, but we have to come to terms with whether we are really connecting with another person or simply with the idea of what that connection is.  It is so easy to make an argument for what makes face to face communication so great as well as how revolutionary social media has become, but the point is that they both have their tradeoffs. We as users must strive to be active and conscious. Lets not be a reflection, lets be reflective.

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screenshot from the interactive video for Reflektor taken by me

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