Wojak’s Lament: Excess and Voyeurism under Platform Capitalism

Those of us with faint memories of the early internet may remember it making a different appeal: nobody needed to know who you were if you didn’t want them to. This memory is made all the fainter with every login to a platform and the uncan- ny accompaniment of feeling watched by an unseen specter. But to call it being watched isn’t entirely accurate: barring traumatic malfunction, human watching leaves an impression on a negentropic memory, one retained over time through its relations and contingencies and callable based on these unknowable strata. Plat- forms, meanwhile, must account for these memories through bits, electricity, and power bills: hence what begins as negentropy fuels the entropic decay produced by the bunker hoards, hoards that make up the traces of action we undertake in surveillance media. Thus, what appears to the patrons of computational prosthe- sis as Turing’s hypothesis fulfilled—the congruence of data storage and human memory—in reality leads to a homogeneity that, paradoxically, extinguishes this very dream of capture and reenactment. These bunkers contain the data and, in turn, the empirical objects, network configurations, and algorithms that provide the infrastructural basis of the contemporary web, and the fast-twitch access to these bits in stasis is the backbone of platforms’ phantasmagoric liveliness. But the algorithmic workings on this well of data present to each of us a highly customized experience with the warmth of a dark cave: frozen images of the other comprise this ostensibly personalized existence.

What political possibilities are foreclosed, and in turn, what possibilities are opened up by the contrast between this datafied memory and human memory? While plat- forms engineer a custom loneliness in order to generate the activity upon which their economic models are based, there exists a paradoxical means by which this valori- zation machine is confounded: memes, particularly those that articulate common experience through representation. By leaving an affective impression that exceeds their circulation, memes like Wojak and NPCs open the possibility for the articulation of belonging and political subjectivity that exceeds the capture, extraction, and frozen identities of platform capitalism.

On one hand, these extractive processes are the primary engine by which the cir- culation that makes up platformed experience functions, and their infrastructures shape both the possibility of what can be said, how one can reply, and what contentis fit for circulation. On the other hand, there is a trace left over by those memes that articulate something beyond homophilic formatting and data capture. There is the impression of there being someone else out there, someone who is like me but not me. Instead of being reified into the commodity form through the capture, extraction, and storage of information, the circulation of memes articulates the presence of an other. This other goes beyond the cardboard cutout version of the social world and leaves the affective impression of belonging. By exceeding its capture, memery points to a potential avenue for transcending the formatting and freezing of digital life into mere bunker data.

This article continues in INC Reader #15: Critical Meme Reader: Global Mutations of the Viral Image. Download or order it for free here: https://networkcultures.org/blog/publication/critical-meme-reader-global-mutations-of-the-viral-image/