Only Dissent: Thoughtless Kind Again

Invisible Adjunct more pithily addresses what I was trying to get at when I quoted Erving Goffman on media. She notes the sheer increase in noise that comes with the instant audiences of the web:

But our desire to “only connect,” combined with our ability to read and comment at the speed of light, argues against the humility that the distance and the vastness should recommend.

I would add that even more connect, it’s the desire to be heard speaking in a societally acceptable context, any one other than just speaking to one’s self in an empty room.

Goffman’s work, most handily summarized in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, mostly concerns itself with the often deceptive practices embodied in order to obtain a willing audience for one’s actions and words. Yet the presence and immediacy of the situation grants a consistency that paradoxically prevents the discourse from falling into several independent solipsistic streams. In the case of mass media, the listener plays catch-up with one dominant stream, attempting to find an acceptable position to receive it.

What half-detached, half-immediate forms of discourse like blogs and message boards offer is a way to obtain a responsive audience with so much less commonality between the parties. (To take an extreme case: what is the “real-life” equivalent of a troll?) “Connection” need only be restricted to like-minded thinkers, because others can be ignored. Each speaker can easily shift context to whatever is most favorable to them.

This need not be bad, but it goes a fair ways towards culturally legitimizing speech which in past times would have been kept private in the speaker’s own head. Consequently, there is a purgative nature to some of it that can be rather ugly, aesthetically speaking.

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