Space, presence, Instagram

When we turn back to the first internet disruption, it was one of space. The known maxima of Gertrud Stein summarizes perfectly the obvious condition: there is no there. The perfect shortcut — a shortcut to everywhere — much like the ideas of Virilio in deletion of space. The public space was gradually being evaded, due to the dangers of the city. Hermetic cars, fast highways, car-accessed malls (malls, as semi-private, semi-public spaces). Transportation, in its latest advancements (perfect connections: trains, metros, trams, scooters) are similarly in the task of deleting spaces and advancing their shortcuts. Elon Musk’s much anticipated Hyperlook is some sort of epitome of that (conversely, it might just be the great hoax of the XXI century). However, if the horizontal axis is measuring space, the second one measures presence, and they are negatively correlated. Another strange paradox unfolds: when we decide to exist everywhere — a mother snaps a photo of her toddler, crops it, applies filters, geotags it, hashtags it, uploads it to Instagram; as the image goes public, the mother exists in many places at once — and we suffer of a new condition, the half-presence. The experience of being with others is diluted throughout the many multiplied selves that exists simultaneously. Space is expanded; presence is conquered elsewhere, and real world presence is negatively correlated to the expansion. A trade off is established when both modes of existence are activated at the same time: one can exist fully, on Instagram, but only partially in the physical world. One presence is irrevocably at the expense of another. The trade off is unbalanced: not posting means being fully present in the real world, and fully absent online. Posting, means being partially present in the real world, but fully present online. The half real, full online situation, this, appears to be the most profitable outcome.

The aspect of time starts to come forth: a half-present moment is documented, and can linger on forever. It feeds the offspring, it allows the moment to be relived, it allows the slice of life to be seen again and again for the new generations to come. A fully loved moment, however, will die with us.

And a third chain of affections kick in at the anticipation of the snapshot, or to its possibility. The framing of life follows the framing of the social rule / technology rule of Instagram itself — as in the choice of scenario according to what is most instagrammable; this phenomenon of framing life according to Instagram is a most perfect fulfillment of Heidegger’s concern with technology: the all-encompassing movement of enframing [Gestell] that technology exerts over us.

Technology is the frame, yet the frame is not alone in itself, since it is the enabled social interaction that is really at play, and also framed by technology.

The moment at the park is affected beforehand, as the entire venture to the park is accompanied by the possibility of being documented — including the tension concerning the dilemma of taking or not the photo (”Should I pick my phone from the pocket?”).

If the photo is, at last, taken, there are the effects of the aftermath after posting — will it be liked? will it be purposely not liked by passive-aggressive aggressors? The posting will affect the real world of that user in a continuous roller-coaster of expectations, for whatever amount of time the half-life of that type of photograph lasts (landscapes, children, work or gold most probably have radically different half-lives and timespans). What is unclear, still, is the set of motives behind all the activity. It cannot by any means be a drive towards space, real estate conquest or scalability of the self. It is not entirely a business, for most users. It is also a documentation, but that would not be the entire truth. The undeniable repetition, however, leaves little doubt that in the least a significant crystallization of the self is going on — some sort of Greek hypomnemata [the ancient diary, which could help its author to understand one self]. And yet, under the eye of the others, in the terms and filters of technology. Can we compromise to live and take a moment to snap a picture? Please?

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©2020 by Lutav | Sérgio Tavares, ph.D.