The HP Series showcases excerpts from excellent Honours Projects by students from the Department of English Language and Literature. [Read all entries here.]
Supervisor: Dr Jason S Polley
Borders that divide our world have largely been eliminated these days, the result of globalisation. In “The Masses: The Implosion of Social Media”, Jean Baudrillard demonstrates the dystopian cyber-realism using social media, comparing the information overflow we face nowadays with tribalism, “The new electronic tribalism is an achieved transparency of information and communication” (52). With an abundant amount of information available on the Internet, we are little more than “naked”. People can see through us, particularly with social media. The virtual social platform is presented as being “convenient” for people, and we keep uploading information to it. We are undressed layer by layer through this uploading of our information and by sharing it with the others. Baudrillard offers a deeper explanation by saying “to be more objective, one would have to say: a radical uncertainty as to our own desire, our own choice, our own opinion, our own will. This is the clearest result of the whole media environment, of the information which makes demands on us from all sides and which is as good as blackmail” (54).
With the information provided to them, these platforms make use of the data to further control our behaviour by extending the collection of data. Baudrillard likens it to opinion polls, “It produces demand and invokes needs just as opinion polls produce answers and induce future behaviour. All this would be serious if there were an objective truth of needs, an objective truth of public opinion” (53). Consider the diverse functions of Facebook today: the company is launching different applications and trying to get its hands on your data in as many ways as possible. Whenever your data is recorded, then your future behaviour is projected.
Some people may doubt the correlation between the two. Baudrillard offers a counter-argument by stating our inability to separate ourselves from media, as cyber-realism has already arrived in our world. “We will never in future be able to separate reality from its statistical, simulative projection in the media, a state of suspense and of definitive uncertainty about reality” (54). Our worry no longer comes from unknown, but being known, or knowing too much, “It is information itself which produces uncertainty, and so this uncertainty, unlike the traditional uncertainty which could always be resolved, is irreparable” (55). We are unable to re-do or undo what we have done and, hence, social media settles our record of behaviour. It will then reach a stage such as Baudrillard likens to a mirror that reflects all aspects of us as a person, “To reflect the other’s desire, to reflect its demand like a mirror, even to anticipate it: it is hard to imagine what powers of deception, of absorption, of deviation- in a word, of subtle revenge – there is in this type of response. These devices which are designed to capture them” (57). The social platform highlights a particular behaviour of ours, and then captures it, saves that in the archive and retrieves it when it is needed.
This explosion of information is inescapable. It even moves beyond the social platform to a personal level behind the scene. People start to question about the disappearance on social media. Considering the mutual benefit of paparazzi and social media as an example, people are eager to unfold what is hidden on the social platform: “It is its way of response to this device for capture, for networking, and for forced identification. To this cathodic surface of recording, the individual or the mass reply by a parodic behaviour of disappearance. What are they; what do they do; what do they become behind the scenes? It might be radically questioned without making any fundamental change to the probabilistic analysis of their behaviour” (Baudrillard, 58). The dystopian feature of cyber-realism is thus clear, we are forced to participate in it, and we have nowhere to escape from it. We are doomed to be exposed to every single person in the world.
A derivation from this is that we turn to cyborgs no matter what. Our mind is either accepted or adapted to this existing cyber-real world. Some will try to escape from it but find it inescapable. As Baudrillard states, “Not only do people certainly not want to be told what they wish, but they certainly do not want to know it, and it is not even sure they want to wish at all” (60). Our minds are corrupted with the abundant amount of information, and it cannot be undone, and thus we turn into typical cyborgs.
Baudrillard, Jean. “The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media”. Media Studies: A Reader (Third Edition). Ed. Caroline Basset, Paul Marris and Sue Thornhman. New York: New York UP (2009): 52-61. Print.
Lam Man Tsun is a graduate of the Department of English and Department of Education (Class of 2016). [Click here to read all entries by Tsun.]