Fear and Loathing of the Online Self
A SAVAGE JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF DIGITAL CULTURES
Call for Participation
Conference, Rome, May 22-23, 2017
We would like to invite artists and researchers to submit proposals to join this event hosted by John Cabot University and Università degli Studi RomaTre in Rome, and organized in collaboration with the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam.
The conference aims at exploring the state of the online self by raising questions about its status as a focal point of contemporary power/networks. Is the online self merely a product of software predictability and viral marketing? Is there any space left for self-determination? Or should we search elsewhere for new forms of resistance by changing our political categories and perspectives? Which contradictions are at play? How and where can we locate the spaces of performativity of the online self?
Critical political-economic readings of platform capitalism do not explain nor grasp new forms of (visual) online subjectivity. There is a growing gap between the obsessive quest for measurability, big data and algorithmic regimes (such as AI/bots) and critical investigations of an emerging variety of compulsive forms taken by the online self. We need to fill this gap and bring them back together. If a humanities approach of Internet studies nurtured by artistic and activist practices aims to survive the ‘big data’ onslaught from the social sciences, then it is vital to ask what the citizen-as-user wants. To portray the population as (innocent or guilty) victims of the data monopolies is, politically speaking, a dead-end street.
The cynical condition rules: we know we’re under surveillance, yet we continue to click, like, love and share ourselves online as usual. We are told by concerned experts and libertarians that our privacy “matters” and we want to believe it; yet it silently confers a guilty stigma upon another vital need, that of engaging socially and culturally with others. While some preach the offline escape as a way out, most of us are so deeply invested in the everyday social media life that it is inconceivable to leave Facebook and the like. And this not only out of desire but necessity: networking and self-sharing have become imperative for successfully managing the double binds of the immaterial labour economy. Instead, we’d rather deal with peculiar pathologies, such as addiction, depression and solitude generated by hyper-connection and lack of connections.
Abstracts and proposals are welcome to contribute to the following sections:
1. ONLINE SUBJECTIVITY THEORY
How much free room do we have to design new identities? What aesthetic and philosophic paths and patterns does meme distribution hint at? What is the role of theory and criticism, if any, in the ever changing yet endless production of the latest user affordances, from dating sites, Tinder swipes and Snapchat lenses, to Pokemon-Go? Can we still attempt to design new modes of subjectivity, or has our role withdrawn to a mere Cassandra-like gloom and doom prediction of digital catastrophes, while start-ups (read: future monopolies) have all taken over the cool business of designing and shaping the online self?
2. BEHIND AND BEYOND SELFIES
It is easy to diagnose the selfie as a symptom of a growing narcissism of our daily digital obsessions. But how do we get beyond the predictable split between the politically correct assessment of empowerment (of young girls) against the nihilist reading of self-promotion and despair? Does criticism of today’s photography of the everyday life always have to end up giving medical prescriptions and recipes of wellbeing? What could a materialist reading of large databases and facial recognition techniques (including protection) that goes beyond media archaeology (the historical approach) and the ever-changing pop gestures involve and say? Can we still talk about the liberation of the self in the age of digital self-generation of the images?
3. ARTISTIC PRACTICES OF THE ONLINE SELF
Artists play an important role in the anticipation, and critique, of new modes of the self. What role does the artistic imagination play beyond the creative industries paradigm? How can artistic and creative avant-garde practices help disrupt the trite quantitative approach and the dogma of the algorithm in defining modes and moods of the online self? What separates a (properly) artistic imagination and the aesthetic imagination of the online curators of selfie-constructed personas and are contemporary critical paradigms merely reproducing an understanding of online practices that are aligned with the requirements of corporation?
4. POLITICS AND AESTHETICS OF MASK DESIGN
Masks and selfies should not be seen as opposites as they both represent different modes (and moods) of being of the self. Masks create spaces of performance; they are playful and seductive (or scary) forms of self-representation that ultimately do not protect us against the computational repression of the security apparatus. What are the lessons learned from the Anonymous movement? We should come to a new social contract between the individuals, groups and the cybernetic machine. In the meanwhile, how can we make sure to protect us, and what premises are hidden in the numerous crypto-design projects that circulate?
Confirmed speakers: Wendy Chun, Ana Peraica, Jodi Dean, Marco Deseriis, Gabriella Coleman, Daniel de Zeeuw, Rebecca Stein, Vito Campanelli, Franco Berardi.
Editorial Team: Donatella Della Ratta (John Cabot University), Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA), Teresa Numerico (Università degli Studi RomaTre), Peter Sarram (John Cabot University).
Please send your proposal (max 500 words in word/pdf format), a short bio and any other material that could support your idea visually (artwork, film links, etc) to selfieconference [at] johncabot [dot] edu. Deadline: March 15, 2017.