The utopian online dreams of liberation from “the Californian ideology” (essay in Mute Magazine) counter-culture helped pave the way for the matrix of phenomena we now know as social media. How liberating, however, is it to be under constant watch?
Jacob Silverman’s Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Communication (2015) examines the effects of invasive and evasive of commercial influences on identity. People who live under observation are required to make constant negotiations of identity and privacy. Silverman shows “how these acts help to create a culture in which to watch and be watched has become not just a matter of law enforcement or intelligence work but also a social practice. Through it, we become conditioned to want surveillance, not only for paternalistic protection but also for self-expression.”
Facebook promises to make us more authentic through exhibition. “Sharing becomes person-hood” because one’s identity and existence, as we photo our life events, are affirmed and “liked.”
“When our sense of ourselves depends on being seen,” Silverman says, “on being visible and circulating through the network, then when someone chooses to opt out, the whole enterprise can be called into question.” The whole enterprise here is a culture of surveillance that reaches beyond our browsing habits into our very souls, shaping our identity more than we may realize. Therefore, I find the questions Silverman calls to it profound.