The thirst for response as a fuel for the Internet

Over lunch one day an acquaintance of mine criticised my theory of response.

“Not everyone writing on the Internet is doing so in order to get a response,” he said. “Take me, for example – I have a blog about New Zealand. I don’t need a response. I do it for myself, because I’m interested in it. I have about 20 visitors a day… well, sometimes 50… and once even Tatiana Lazareva (a famous Russian TV presenter) visited the site…” And with these words he looked into the distance with a dreamy, coy expression on his face.

Can you imagine a user composing something on the Internet without hoping that someone, some day, will take an interest in it, that it will touch somebody? Without hoping for a response? Without hoping that someone will like it, repost it, comment on it? No, we don’t need an Internet like that. There should always be a reaction from someone. At the very least, someone should see it.

According to Clay Shirky, no one creates a funny picture of a cat just for themselves. Here he’s referring to the website Lolcats. It’s sharing that guarantees fun. “Making-and-sharing” (to use Shirky’s words) has replaced simple usage of content. [1] Emancipation of authorship has made this new form of information activity accessible to all of us: we can create (recreate) and circulate information, not only among our family and friends, but also to a public audience.

Marshall McLuhan bases his concept of media on some rather interesting psychological foundations. He uses the myth of Narcissus to explain the psychological motives behind man’s “extension” via technology. According to him, “men at once become fascinated by any extension of themselves in any material other than themselves.” [2]

According to this logic, the best, ultimate material for man’s “extension” is not worth seeking in technology. Technology is an intermediary, an instrument for creating a superficial reflection of the self.

The best and most challenging material for creating an “extension” of oneself is other people.

To get a response means to be somehow reflected in someone else.

***

The narcissistic adulation of oneself in others is not just a mark of boundless vanity. It is not vanity, or at least not only vanity, but something far deeper.

In the world of social animals, reflection and repetition are the foundations of education and interaction. Reacting to each other’s signals is essential for enrollment, as well as being the basis for both individual and group survival. Accordingly, it is critically important to react and to secure reaction from others. To this end, one needs to be active, often even playfully so, exclusively to develop the “signal-response” dynamic.

Communication on the Internet often appears to be senseless, to lead nowhere. The majority of the time, content is inconsequential, vanishing into the air, like ether. No one can remember what was being discussed a month ago. And what is really happening, what is accumulating, is an ongoing practice in mutual enrollment, a constant affirmation of one’s part in the social organism.

The thirst for response helps human being to be a social being.

***

In order to get a response, people choose to share the best of what they come across. This raises the question of what is the best. What is it made of? What do people react to with comments, reposts and likes?

If we consider this question in terms of the likelihood that other users will react, the “best” content consists of the most conventional themes and meanings, those capable of attracting:

  1. a) reactions from the largest number of other people;
  2. b) reactions from the most important people.

This gives us some understanding of the quantitative and qualitative nature of response.

The quantitative nature of response explains the relationship between response and convention. The greater the number of people who agree with the author, the stronger his or her social connections are. This is something to strive for.

The qualitative nature of response (response from the “right” people) facilitates society’s delineation into groups. Those who respond to my authorial initiative are in agreement with me, they are like me. This is how I find people similar to myself; this is how communities take shape in society.

The thirst for response, which compels one to filter content for each post or comment, is based on each author’s personal understanding of social convention.

***

To explain social interaction, Hegel coined the term “struggle for recognition,” which is often interpreted as “demand for recognition” or “appetite for recognition.” [3] But in order to be recognised, technically all that is needed is a response. Recognition is the substance of response.

People experience the thirst for response on a physical level. It is the sixth sense – the social sense. Sufficient or insufficient satiation of this thirst can prompt action and bring about stress or pleasure.

The Internet provides new, quick and inexpensive opportunities to satisfy this thirst. However, it is a thirst that is never fully satiated, because socialisation is not a product, but a process.

***

The quality and quantity of reactions depend on the quality of the signal. Thus, in addition to coherence, a hierarchy emerges. Strong personalities produce a strong signal and are capable of receiving a response from a large number of people. The person who is capable of receiving a resounding reaction from large groups of people becomes a leader.

You can see the signs of this mechanism, as it shapes the social hierarchy, in the rush to share. Why, having received a piece of potentially interesting information, does the consumer hurry to share it with people in his or her own name?

Sharing is not simply the publication of information, but also a way of exhibiting one’s status of awareness.

The closer (earlier) you are to the source of information, the cooler you are. The informed have higher status than the uninformed. The informative is above the informed. I share, therefore I am significant. If you don’t yet know something that has meaning for everyone, you’re a loser.

In the old institutions, to maintain status it is sufficient simply to know; it is not necessary to communicate what you know. Sometimes what is important is precisely not to communicate, but to symbolise knowledge or create the illusion that you know. This is how the traditional institutional hierarchy is held together. Status is not determined by current activity, but by previously conferred ranks. Ranks, in turn, represent your level of access to important information.

In the old institutional world, power was built on a lack of information. This informational deficit is critically important to the development of the institutional hierarchy. This is how the ruling circles, in distributing information, acquire special significance and power.

This thesis applies just as well to old media. Their worth is determined not by the value of their information, but by the absence of such information among their audience. They are interested not in the circulation of information, but in the shortage of it, because an information shortage in society represents the basis of old media prosperity. It is a simple equation: the value of media is not based on content, but on lack of content.

In the mobile atmosphere of the web, everything works differently. The previous ranks don’t interest anyone. In order to show that you are significant to other people, you need to show you possess some kind of content. And there is only one way to demonstrate that you possess content: by communicating it.

In the world of emancipated authorship, it is impossible to have information and not communicate it.

This is an essential condition of online society. The circulation of significant information becomes not only possible, but compulsory. According to this logic, in just a few steps we come to the idea that meaningful content will inevitably reach those for whom it is meaningful. A few more links in the discussion chain bring us to the conclusion that, in this ecosystem, content becomes free, because it finds its own way to the consumer. Content literally searches for the people for whom it is relevant.

<…>

________________________

[1] Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. 2010. p.19.

[2] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding media. The Extension of Man, 1964. Chapter 4.

[3] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807.

 

Andrey Miroshnichenko

Extracted from: Human as media. The emancipation of authorship – by Andrey Miroshnichenko
Available now on Amazon

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Categories: Emancipation of Authorship, Human as media book, Media ecology

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