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June 30, 2015


Pat Kane

Fascinating as ever, William. The "creative/flexible self watched over by apps/algos of loving grace" is close to developmental framings of the value of play. We are rough-and-tumble children potentiating our life options, in grounds of play which support and nurture us, like the best-ever parents. The digital-behavourial as a lifetime kindergarten (the fat lazies in Wall-E their ultimate instantiation). However, what happens if we want to grow up and leave the playground? Can we? The old situationists would say that trying to find wriggle room in a "post-liberal, always-on, high surveillance future" is just about "bigger cages, longer chains". Their idea of "play" or "creativity" - or Deleuze's, or Virno's - draws on whatever power is needed to create an event or situation. Sometime that blasts people into a place where they *know* they're fashioning the social rules (that's a great argument for civic mobilisation as a consciousness raiser, or at least a way to shake off the omnipresent nudgers). Then (my experience from the Scottish Yes movement) the same social-media platforms that ask you "what's on your mind?" get a very engaged answer. I guess I just consistently hold out much more hope for what the evolved urge to play/creative can generate, in terms of imaginative public agency, than most people - and probably you. But as ever, kudos to you for trying to maintain a Frankfurt-School-like vigilance over the sneakier, more incorporative forms of digital network society.

Will Davies

Thanks, Pat. I don't mean to sound hopeless (and, in any case, the Benjaminian mantra is 'only to the hopeless is hope given'). There is no reason why the question "what's on your mind?" has to be met with a positivistic, psychological response. The mind is a slippery entity, that can be conceived of from various perspectives, including a political one. I have no doubt that social media can (and does, as in 'Yes') give rise to new and transformative 'structures of feeling'.

But the idea that the mind contains a 'truth' that will be revealed via expert technique is also a way of blocking the consciousness-raising view of psychology that you refer to. And it is this view of the mental realm, as a realm of natural facts, that has so much political authority right now.

Dave Timoney

It's always worth remembering that very few people conceive of themselves as living in a liberal society, beyond the anodynes of "minding one's own business" and "not hurting anyone". The anxiety of liberalism - constant competition, self-improvement, maximising assets - is a class characteristic, just like psychotherapy.

There is a vast, cross-class market for social media like Facebook, but there is a much smaller market for personal surveillance, the smart home and the exploitation of one's own data. What's on you mind? Quite possibly cake.


A great post, thanks.
Psychoanalysis as a method and philosophy aimed, as you note, at helping us live with mystery and frustration ('ordinary misery' was Freud's goal). In that sense it drew on Christian self-testing and wrestling with sin and doubt, while secularising it. I'd guess that religious people and anyone resistant to neoliberal economics and a positivist view of the world would be reluctant to embrace the project of the always-on quantifiable self. The latter is surely the ideal neoliberal subject: not only competing with others in endless mimetic struggle but competing with her/himself - and persuadable that there is an an app out there that will make him/her get ahead, of others and of the old, less competitive, less smart self.


I'd add that many of the apps are explicitly projects of self-reinvention - the step counter, the sleep analyser. Project - make a healthier/fitter/more productive self...

The usual reasons might apply for that kind of project...

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