Affect & Social Media#4: Notifications from the Technological Nonconscious
Conference date: Wednesday, November 7th 2018
Venue: University Square Stratford Building, East London, UK
Keynote: Patricia Ticineto Clough
Keynote Panel (tbc)
Conference Information Page: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/affect-social-media4/
To mark the publication of the first Affect and Social Media book (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018) we are very pleased to announce a cfp for a special A&SM#4 one day (free registration) conference.
We welcome 250 word abstracts for 15min presentations from scholars working across disciplinary borders, theories, concepts and methodologies (arts & humanities, social sciences, psychology, computer and data science etc.).
We especially welcome contributions from postgraduate students and early career researchers.
Abstracts should ideally respond creatively (and flexibly) to one of the six conference themes set out below.
Deadline for submission of abstracts: Sept 15th 2018.
Send a 250 word abstract as an email (no attachments) including full name, affiliation and email contact address to firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted abstracts will help to frame a series of subsequent discussion points/questions that will be addressed by our keynote panel (to be announced shortly).
The exponential rise of social media in the early twenty first century has drawn much critical attention in the humanities to a seemingly paradoxical human-computer relation. On one hand, human thought is both contemporaneous with, and frequently outperformed by, the uber-cognitions of corporate computational media technology. There is, indeed, much concern expressed about the possible absence of human consciousness from the computational world it created (Hayles, 2017; Hansen, 2015). On the other hand though, it would seem that the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and experiences of social media users, far from disappearing, are, often by design, captured and nudged from here to there by an expanding yet mostly imperceptible technological nonconscious (Clough, 2000, Thrift, 2007, Grusin, 2010). What, if anything, is disappearing in the human-computer relation?
Computational media can no longer simply be defined through the operations of narrowly defined cognitive machines implicated in clandestine data harvesting and the manipulation of individual users through e.g. psychographic profiling. Social media is a “social” machine of capture that works on relations and shared felt experiences (Sampson, Maddison and Ellis, 2018), triggering habitual tendencies (Chun, 2016) that seem to produce mass media addictions (Bartlett and Bowden-Jones, 2017). As a major component part of the propagation of the technological nonconscious, social media is less defined today by the familiar ease of connection discourses of Web 2.0 than it is by the difficulty of disconnection (Karppi, 2018). Like other media of addiction (drugs, gambling, sex), social media hooks users in the event of the habit refrain, triggering subsequent emotional anxieties and contagions. Is social media addiction a problem of personal compulsion or collective masochism?
Computational social media is a feeling machine. It feels, or prehends, the event (Ellis, 2018). But this does not mean that it has feelings, in the sense in which humans feel. There are limitations imposed on the potential of affective computing to actually feel (Shaviro, 2015). Social media is constrained to the mere reading of sentiment data, and like an actor, it can feign expressions of human emotion, but cannot feel them. However, the operational level of computational media can learn, algorithmically, from emotional experiences. It can pass on, or transmit, feelings. It can plant a behavioural hook in the user experience. Social media has an affective tone or atmosphere through which the human-computer relation strives. Feeling the event is a different matter.
Always on social media never sleeps! “Prolonged awakening, work without the limit of time, excessive light, surplus information… links… attentional capture is the new Atopia” (Neyrat, 2017). But the users of social media are often positioned as vulnerable, sleepwalking user-subjects: the user unconscious (Clough, 2018), the network somnambulist (Sampson, 2012, 2016). Like Crary’s (1999) earlier rendition of attentive analogue media subjects, the users of social media are simultaneously attentive and inattentive, and attracted and distracted by the fascinations of notifications, posts, tweets, likes, shares… This technological nonconscious, or Unthought (Hayles, 2017) human-computer relation is not unconscious, as conventionally understood.
In The User Unconscious: On Affect. Media, and Measure (2018), Patricia Ticineto Clough argues that computational media networks have fundamentally affected what it means to be human. “We are both human and other-than-human.” This luminous text explains what it means to live, think, and dream from this “other-than-human perspective.” Here Clough moves to answer questions concerning the extent to which human lives are now animated in the multiple layers of these vast computational networks and how these layers radically transform our sense of self, subjectivity, sociality, and unconscious processes. How can we probe what it means to live, think, and dream through this newly animated technological nonconscious?
Who is to blame for Trump? Trump on Twitter may seem like the unpredictable personal opinions of a racist, sexist, xenophobe that infects a population, but the technological nonconscious, or thing-self of the user unconscious, as Clough points out, “transgress[es] the separation of the personal and the networked.” It is the “affective tone” of social media itself that made Trump possible! Social media has given expressive support to a kind of microfascist populism or “population racism” that is currently spreading everywhere. What will it take to out trump the collective impulse that is Trump?
Top illustration by Francesco Tacchini, 2015