There used to be all sorts of criticisms of the old “culture industries” like Hollywood and the top 40, which entertained us with stories or songs that always ended on an upbeat note, no matter how false. But at least the culture industries went to the bother of entertaining us. Their replacements don’t even bother. They expect us to entertain each other, and pay a tax for it. Facebook or Google’s YouTube are not the culture industries so much as the vulture industries, taking an information surcharge from us while we amuse each other, and selling us to advertisers. Like do-it-yourself commercial TV.
These are all elements of what I call the “spectacle of disintegration”. The old spectacle of television and radio papered the world with images of what the lovely soul of the commodity was supposed to look like. We were at least still free to daydream while we sat idly watching.
But in the spectacle of disintegration, all that breaks apart. The big screen decays into so many little screens. Our leisure time is now to be spent producing information for the vulture industries of Google and co, in an unequal exchange of information. In exchange for the poll tax of personal data, we get to watch each other’s cat videos, while Google becomes some new version of the state, presiding over all our bitty lives, master of all our data, in aggregate.
Like any state, Google has its patriots. But there are also those who think this latest version of the spectacle offers some quirky avenues for having fun at its expense. Its time for a certain opacity, a certain glamour of obscurity. Not all the information we offer up has to be even remotely true.