text /// Chris Rusak

One reason Ello is superior to Twitter.

Though I haven’t been on Ello very long, it’s not hard to immediately notice the things that do not exist here versus its largest competitor, Twitter. I say this because one of the reasons I’ve grown tired of the Bird was because it became such a reactionary environment. Yes, things happen quickly in the world, but Twitter also speeds up the response to events. Some think this valuable, and I don’t entirely disagree, but I found it noisy, especially in recent months.

What Ello lacks are two specific features, absences which greatly benefit the platform’s environment. First, there is no favoriting function. Similarly, there is no reposting function, also thought of as the retweet. The absence of these features forces users to create praise, disdain, or echo, instead of being able to, with one click, make a pang in the network. Liking is now a process of expression, not a numerical record of an event. Instead of accumulating 10000 favorites, we are perhaps appreciating the output of others in place of collecting stars.

It doesn’t surprise me that I’ve also noticed how creative Ello is, namely that most of the people who I have discovered work in artistic service industries, are artists themselves, or have some connection to the humanities. That’s not to say that the industrial elements aren’t here, but the technical set I’ve seen aren’t bickering as loudly as currently underway elsewhere due to recent furors. The raging over political futilities seems to be less in fashion here, too. I wonder why?

I hope that the developers of Ello consider this simplicity of UX, this “absence” of instafunctions which encourage re-activity instead of activity, as not a void to be patched, but part of the mortar that makes this structure sound. Kneejerks are easy; they never need more than one click. But, thoughtful contribution is gold on social media. Here, with the ability to post in long form (versus 140-like limits), and without the instafunctions of other networks (the like, the favorite, the etc.), a unique platform is on offer. Perhaps quieter, more reflective, more generative than recycling.

And the bread emoji is cute — but it’s a loaf we must slice up and serve on our own unlike the automats beside us. Let’s keep that a process we must bake up ourselves.

Artspeak under the influence of theory.

Drunk on its idea, an explanation or description of a work of art through the lens of a tertiary theory almost always fits. Theory bends for those who apply it. This is not to suggest that theories are somehow deceptive or necessarily dubious, rather they are important to knowledge and creativity and their pursuits. A cruise through academia or one of your more-notable scholarly journals certainly seems to suggest that, in fact, theory is crucial to the practices of art.

My thoughts and products are no strangers to theory; my bookcase looks like a pantry of possibilities in print. And admittedly many of those books prove helpful — prove indispensable — to understanding art and the world that contains it.

But after many long, quiet mornings, pencil paused between teeth and text arrested on crossed thigh, the mind gazing long upon experiences of art while questioning various celebrated critics’ chosen interpretations of art’s practice germane to such objects, the notion that interpretation under the influence of heftily attractive philosophic theories smacks of a certain parasitism just won’t shake from my sights.

Contemplating Key Metrics in Art.

While reflecting on my recent exit from Twitter, from its new endlessness of death photography and its furious, discordant commentating on the smokescreen minutiae of day-to-day analog life, I began to laser in on one feature of social media that bubbles around as some digitally divine pseudo-indicator of relevance: metrics. This is, amalgamated and sold to the masses under a crisp cellophane shell of necessity, branded sweetly as Engagement.

This carefully chosen word “engagement” can trigger many associations: an official union of two youth in love; the near-rhapsodic order of a handsome space commander; or perhaps the next livestreamed rapturous act of real military theater. As someone whose day-to-day revolves around art, most of my daily engagement with the world, a sharp staccato of curiosity and creative calculation, forages centrifugally toward its questions: what is art? how does it exist? does it have an aim? and so forth; inquiries, for better or worse, with which I am concerned as someone who chooses to identify himself socially as an artist. But without sinking into those myriad rabbit holes, a truly and often perverse intellectual picnic in hell, and instead approaching the art world from a Twitter-minded perspective, I wondered, what, superimposing the modes of Twitter across art’s analog space, constitutes its key metrics, particularly from the viewpoint of an artist: impressions, link clicks and Twitter card clicks, detail expansion, a favorite, a reply, a retweet, and a profile click?

Twitter Key Metrics

The key metrics in Twitter Analytics

First, one must draw some simple congruencies between the digital and the analog in order to create a bit of clarity for this inquiry. This requires a bit of distillation and simple-handed categorization, but done for the benefit of brevity. These correlations occur across two domains: digital Twitter and the analog art world.

If one considers a Twitter user to be an artist and hence each of their tweets is the output of an artist, let’s consider each tweet to be the artist’s work. Similarly, if one considers a twitter user to be a critic or computer chair theorist — an explicator of art work — each of their tweets would be an explicator’s judgment. But continuing this line of sub-distinctions slowly unpacks the picnic basket into those rabbit holes; there are simply too many varied operators within the analog art world to continue such a delineation of the digital populace. So, in order to successfully gnaw a baby carrot of brevity, the disjunctive supposition that one is either an artist or one is not an artist will facilitate this analysis. As such, we will correlate those who are not artists as observers. And whether one is or is not an artist qualitatively is irrelevant here, since it can be agreed that there are self-identifying artists on Twitter whose designation therein is acknowledged in assent by observers, those Twitter users whose functions range from mere sideline observation to engaged in-your-face criticism.

A Twitter impression is the seeing of a tweet on Twitter, obviously by someone other than its author. An analog impression would be each time an artist’s work is seen within the art world by an observer, whereas “seen” is correlated as to be sensually experienced. The visual experience of a painting, the audible experience of concert solo, the olfactory experience of a chocolate-wallpapered room, the experience-in-motion of approaching a suspended boulder — any and each occasion in which an artist’s work is experienced by a person who is not the artist of such work would constitute an impression. Without an impression, there is no opportunity for any further interaction. As such, it is clear, impressions are the most important metric of the lot.

Beatific and Needy, Lari Pittman 1991

Beatific and Needy
Lari Pittman, 1991
Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

A Twitter link click is an occasion when an observer “clicks on a URL or Card in the tweet.” This requires some explication. A URL in a tweet is a visible hyperlink, which almost always but not exclusively directs the observer to something other than that tweet; this acknowledges the uncommon possibility, but historical and likely re-occurrence, of tweets which link to themselves, as some sort of slick play or meme or masturbatory annoyance, et cetera. In general, a link is an external reference. Works by an artist often contain explicitly embedded references to the world outside the work itself, many of which, with some research, deepen an understanding of the reference’s inclusion or enrich, perhaps clarify that particular or the whole experience of the work. For instance, Lari Pittman’s series of paintings variously titled …and Needy contain repeated inclusions of two images: the number 69 and owls. Whether viewed singly or in a group, it is quickly clear that these elements likely hold reference given their spatial and chromatic command of the painting. Certain observers may not need to research these links given their own browsing history throughout the art world, while, plausibly, the young or uninitiated might need to do some research before it clicks that the number 69 and owls are symbolic of intertwined fellatio and death’s harbinger, respectively. Of course, these symbols link elsewhere, too, and continued engagement with Pittman’s works link together for observers the artist’s faithful offering up through art of queer history for beautiful consumption.

Twitter Cards are specialized attachments of “rich photos, videos and media experience … that drive traffic to [one's] website,” as defined by their manufacturer. More importantly, they are meant to “drive engagement from … tweets.”

Drive Engagement

These “beautiful consumption” experiences are actually just interstices that exist between the tweet and an external reference. In essence, they are no different than a detail expansion. The mechanics of the action and the result of Twitter Cards and detail expansions are the same: an observer clicks a tweet, but not a link, the tweet expands and provides more information without bringing them to an external reference, which would require further action. These interstices are common within the art world and are usually found beside many art works, particularly in museums, where observers often find what are commonly called, in curatorspeak, headstones, printed information cards that list title, artist, date, and perhaps some chunk of explication appended underneath. The “headstone” moniker is no accident, as simple observation in the art world reveals the frequency that such cards act as nothing more than dead ends: viewed first, to gauge whether exploration of the work is warranted, or viewed last, to parse whatever data one might desire before moving on or moving out, either in rapid, unengaged fashion. This is, of course, not always the case, but is certainly a fair assessment given a day’s research in any popular museum of gallery, having witnessed endless tourists engaging with the headstones more than the art. In contrast, headstones can also be incredibly helpful for observers, providing key details in situ for an enriched impression or introducing new artists to an observer’s browsing history. Still, Twitter Cards and detail expands are often dead ends that can stop observers from researching external references unless they take further action. Given this obstructive nature, suspicion of how and for whom that nature serves, their usefulness as engagement is questionable.

But perhaps these obstructions, Cards and expansions, lead to a user profile click, which is self-explanatory. This is a moment when an observer investigates the artist, and not the work, per se. The observer desires more information about the artist, perhaps they want to follow (or unfollow) their presence and become a fan or an opponent. Within the art world these clicks exist in myriad forms: artist statements, biographies, curricula vitae, paragraphs of press releases. These actions are not necessarily interstitial, not necessarily external, either. Their quality of engagement is questionable, too, since a profile click, like an artist’s statement perusal, does not necessarily lead to any further action.

What remains to be analyzed are the three key components to operating in the Twitter world: replies, favorites, and retweets. For artists and observers on Twitter, these actions are the most directly interpersonal.

Criticism As Retweet

Published criticism.
Art world retweet?

A reply on Twitter is generally directed toward the author of a tweet and is not only public for anyone to see, but also distributed into the feeds of anyone who follows the respondent and also follows its addressee, thus creating what can often become a rich dynamic conversation or a snarky bitchfest. Replies can generate more impressions, too, if a tertiary observer’s detail expansion presents it as a product of the action. Respondents could instead choose to initiate a private conversation through direct message, but the metrics disregards this action. Yet, isn’t this engagement? Certainly in the art world a direct message from an observer to an artist could be a very valuable engagement, even if it never becomes public. But, direct messages act as a convenience feature on Twitter, which is really a platform whose ethos is about publicity. Twitter replies are not always seen by their addressee and neither is art world explication either. So, public, published explication throughout the art world acts as a reply, and it’s safe to say many artists crave such engagement. The mechanics of art world explication also obviate the broadcast limitation to parties lacking follower simpatico and can often have a much larger reach. Generally, published explication also cites the work and re-presents it as a part of the observer’s judgment, thereby generally functioning more like a Twitter retweet.

Join Conversation on Twitter

The retweet, a proprietary action that rebroadcasts the tweet of an artist from an observer’s feed directly to their own followers, which unlike a reply might be seen by different and significantly more users than the artist’s followers. Hence, retweets can become high-volume engagement. In essence, an observer reflects an impression without comment. Alternatively, observers can sidestep the native retweet function and instead append “RT” or another conventional variant to a new, partially copied tweet, to denote that action alongside their own comment or truncation, and then broadcast that to their followers; however, Twitter certainly doesn’t count these multifarious variants in their metrics and tallies only their proprietary reflector-function. But, the edited retweet can be gold, as observers’ context can make link clicks more appealing, lead to more impressions, and encourage observers to “join the conversation.” So, while a native retweet facilitates a direct increase of impressions but cannot really be thought of as a judgment — “RT does not equal an endorsement” is a practically boilerplate, logically dispensable, yet often pathetically necessitated Twitter profile tattoo — an edited retweet often acts as a judgment and only interstitially facilitates an increase of impressions, like a Twitter card.

Please Retweet

Twitter users know the potential engagement power of a retweet — the jet fuel of social media virality, the grand slam of engagement — and, that being the case, many artists beg observers to perform the action, panhandling for publicity, organ grinders cranking the crowd. In the art world, begging for observers’ judgments can border on the pathetic, as many gallery insiders will tell you that artist-begging for attention does the artist more harm than good. Perhaps in the Twitter world, and certainly for less widely known emerging artists, there is less risk for being pathetic, and in fact there uncannily exists a lot of encouragement to be so. But, for being stupid, or a racist, or any other sort of potentially crucifiable moron significant risks exist, as everyone who has experienced Twitter knows tides of moronic tweets can be jet fuel for a moment of astonished, appalled, widespread retweeting meltdown. #ChingChong, anyone?

While everyone is afforded their customary awkward lapse, their occasional moron moment in the Twitter world, the bona fide morons of Twitter are an often entertainingly favorite channel for many to observe, and select moronic tweets often receive Twitter’s most questionably purposeful engagement, the Favorite. A favorite adds a gold star icon to a tweet in the observer’s feed, increases tweets’ visible favorite tally by one, and informs the author of the action. Twitter recently shifted sails and began to use favoriting to algorithmically plug unsolicited tweets into the feeds of users who don’t follow its author, contrary to Twitter’s original, heretofore sacred ethos. The change received rancorous criticism across the platform. Before this recent change a favorite didn’t really do much except the three aforementioned results. Even after much thought it’s very hard to correlate a worthy analog of the favorite in the art world. An observer’s pat on the back at a well-received opening? That seems like a reply: it’s public, it’s directed toward the artist. But a favorite — another carefully chosen word — varyingly acts in so many capacities: like a dogear, a nod to your friend, a chuckle. Thus, the favorite really is a non-verbal (non-textual) reply, and given that, one should ponder whether observers’ purchases of an artist’s work constitutes a non-verbal reply.

The purchase of an artwork typically carries with it some assent, since the action acknowledges a sense of value in the work and performs a function of desire satisfaction. Institutions similarly assent to a work when it is acquired for a public collection, and perhaps later replies to the work with a special exhibition or a curator’s essay, and so forth. Even the practice of placing a holding deposit on a work with a gallery gestures like a favorite, a dogear to which one later returns to either complete the acquisition or, perhaps, reverse course. After all, all favorites exist impermanently and the action of a defavorite (or is it an unfavorite?) is another gesture absent from Twitter’s key metrics, which connotes engagement as an always-positive course of action and disregards its negative facets. The Favorite is a key representation of the opaquely cello-wrapped candy-like nature of social media Engagement: interactions with our products, not necessarily your (the artists and observers) work, is nutritive toward goals. Its suggested engagement value, too, is questionable.

At this juncture, let’s correlate Twitter of the Twitter world to the gallery of the art world.

Commercial galleries generally offer a space to artists to exhibit their work, facilitate its publicity, ameliorate and bear risks by representing it within their space, and share in the accolades of success, especially when a mode of success is sales. Artists on Twitter, as demonstrated, take advantage of all these correlates by continually showing their work on Twitter. Quantifying success, certainly if measured in sales, from continued engagement is nebulous, maybe just as nebulous as in the art world; Twitter doesn’t take a commission, per se, but it generates advertising revenue in the interim, so in a CPM advertising sense, Twitter’s income from continued engagement is more guaranteed than any artist’s. Not to say that sales for either party are a bad thing, but let’s face it, that detailed analysis is another intellectual picnic with Marx in Wonderland.

Maybe now we should just momentarily pause, blow up the distinction and brandish the supposition that everyone, anyone, is an artist on Twitter. Just as it is in the art world.

Twitter Wonderland

Returning to metrics, to those impressions, that which galleries, exhibitions, museums, publication, and so forth are truly all about: venues to experience artists’ work. Twitter’s recent intimation of forthcoming algorithmic feeds suggests impressions will become more of a gatekept privilege than a default, although my personal experience suggests the fix is already in. Galleries, exhibition spaces, and the like are all obviously warranted in their hand-picking of what they would like to present, and yet trepidation stirs amongst the Twitter gallery-goers that curation may become tighter. Perhaps the reality that social media engagement is much less nutritional than its cellophane label purports is coming farther into the light with each incremental tweak of the tweet. Twinkies look delicious and satisfy a craving, but after awhile… not so much. Nevertheless, the analog-digital comparison shines some light onto the attitudinal congruence between personal justifications for how we operate with digital social media inasmuch as we operate within the art world. Is social media a way of connecting with friends, staying in touch, having public conversations, as well as publicizing one’s art practice, exhibiting their work, poking the market for analog engagements, and how fair are the results of such efforts on each side? Should we keep sticking around — should I keep sticking around — in anticipation of being found? Am I just getting lost pursuing my artist’s goals through Twitter? Is it time to sober up?

Some artists are out there for the replies, some are out there for the retweets, some have wholly repurposed Twitter as a primary working medium, and still others are hoping by way of maximum engagement to monetize the platforms on which they exist. Inasmuch as I believe Twitter could go the way of Friendster, I believe the current art world platform might reach obsolescence, too. The corollary seems to solely depend on those who supply the content to the platforms exiting for elsewhere; however, given the expanse of the art world populace and its myriad users begging for various retweets and favorites, observers included, that’s going to be a hard sell without a new platform already waiting in place.

This analysis is by no means sold to its readers as complete, or sufficiently thorough, or even marginally sane; the list of omissions is significant. As an artist in the internet age, it’s worthwhile to question the value of supplying your work — whether aphoristic thoughts or complimentary, perpetually licensed imagery — to a corporate gallery for worldwide distribution. No matter the case, this is personal, but intentioned, sufficiently informative, and helpfully speculative reflection on the use of a multiplayer real time computer program that emulates spheres of analog life, a grand matrix of which I am a part, a reflection of my experiences after suckling onto a “Drink Me” bottle I serendipitously found one day on the internet.

Asocial media.

Several days ago, after seeing my fourth fresh death on social media and the internet in less than a month — the second ISIS beheading of Steven Sotloff, preceded by an inadvertent click on a conflagrant, yet uncautioned link to the beheading video of James Foley, which still brings me to tears as I remember its middle images that will never be erased from my memory, which both came after staring at the endlessly wheatpasted bleeding corpse of Michael Brown and its subsequent days of astonished disbelief, that which also fueled my sobbing outrage during the video of the actual, senseless murder of Kajieme Powell on a St. Louis sidewalk — this all coupled with everything else that seems socially apocalyptic in listicles and 140-character chunks, from politics to drought to subjective journalism to everything, I decided, or rather my psychological wherewithal and its recent spat of nightmares and stress decided I had had enough.

Several years ago, after realizing the illusory nature of Facebook, which mostly seemed to keep me paying attention to its platform (constant UI changes) and not on the world around me (babies!), content which was so entirely banal or irrelevant to my life let alone living in general, I made a conscious decision to delete my account. Facebook, ever the pro-consumer company with its myriad privacy policy changes and reminders that their product is always “free,” then required me to manually delete with three clicks per post everything I had ever said or shared for four years to erase it from view. Such a friendly landlord. We all know such data isn’t deleted, it’s archived for sure, and for the longest time I could later find those old deleted posts on Google before Facebook wised up and patched that leak. But, in order to have the feeling that I removed myself from their merry-go-round, I accomplished the task over the course of several hours and deleted my account for good.

In the last half of my Twitter residency — licensing my content to them, my stream-of-consciousness that I allowed to drip through the filter of my keyboard and onto their server in lieu of rent for a “free” table at their tag sale of ideas, a space I for a long time thoroughly enjoyed and admittedly truly valued as one which had provided me a cadre of contacts and connections within the art sphere — I became a serial deleter. Although, delete is such sleight of mind in internet UI. Anyhow, with regularity I would use a third-party service to delete all of my tweets in bulk at once. I have never been able to go fully back to zero, and this was also the case recently when I had to manually delete over 8000 favorites I had accumulated in four-years time. As of this writing I have 5122 favorites of which none can now be seen, and 207 tweets of which only one was published in the last few days, on August 31st when I said “Bye.” I find it weird you can’t fully delete to true zero, it’s as if the thought is, “Look your data is here anyhow, why leave?”

Twitter Favorites

In November of last year, Twitter had its IPO and became a public company. Many Twitter users heard it as a death knell for the service. I did. I had already sensed, unlike in the early days of Twitter, that my feed was being … curated. On the night of the major earthquake in Japan that caused the tsunami responsible for major damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Twitter was a fury of information. My feed was constant. Updates never stopped coming for those first twelve hours. It was intense, and it reminded me of watching the initial attacks in Iraq that were broadcast live on CNN, in flashes of black and green, narrated from the inside by Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett, except this time it was the world reporting bit by bit from mostly the outside in. What a moment that was. And it was live. During that moment one thing was clear to everyone: Twitter was a force of information. It flowed. It wasn’t a faucet, it was a fire hydrant. And it felt free. We congregated.

I started deleting all my tweets with regularity when it became clear one day that “curation” had really kicked in. The tweets I would see in my web Twitter feed were largely different than the stream I saw on my phone at the same time, and in general I became aware that I was missing updates from pockets of people. After the IPO this phenomenon intensified, and recently it just became blatantly clear, when after DMing someone I hadn’t heard from in months to inquire what was up then received an all-good reply, and came a subsequent reappearance of their tweets, magically, in my day-to-day feed. Perhaps a large majority of Twitter users will never put two and two together, but there’s no question anymore anyhow that this will be the norm, as it was just reported that “a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not.

Bye

Only two favorites.
Such poor engagement.

On September 1st, the day after tweeting goodbye, I had buyer’s remorse of the adieu, and thought to myself, “well, let’s just use it for art.” How many times have I said this to myself? I began a series of “…is dead.” posts that listed some bullshit of the day preceding that phrase, an attached link to a complementary picture and/or quote, and swore to do this till the new year, limiting myself to one tweet a day, as an experiment. No more retweeting, no more favoriting, no more rage du jour, no more interactions with the people I had grown to care about through the medium of social media.

Joan Rivers is dead. Nope, too ironic. Too soon.

Sympathy is dead, with a picture of Joan Rivers and a quote from her recent caustic diatribe about Palestinians. Nope, not enough.

Twitter is dead, with a picture of Joan Rivers and a quote about the … aw, fuck it.

I lasted four days.

I found myself perusing Twitter earlier, reading people debate Joan Rivers’ death — debating the deservedness of a celebrity’s death — and watching videos of homosexual, African-American CNN anchor Don Lemon deadpannedly pose racist questions about Islam to a panel of experts, surrounded by tweets of more pictures of the recently beheaded journalists, Gaza, Kanye man of the year, Koons. Did you know James Franco was recently roasted on Comedy Central? Endless. Even small doses of Twitter inject more “news” than one should handle in fifteen minutes. Twitter has become the Headline News Network of yore, now the home of Nancy Grace. Perhaps Twitter’s soon-to-come full-on curation is a good idea. It’ll probably save some customers and raise their engagement numbers, which is now all the rage with Twitter Analytics becoming the thing for users to watch. That the internet has convinced everyday people who do not own corporations that daily engagement rates are something we should even look at is a testament to how perverse social media has become. “Shucks, no one retweeted that.” I said that to myself this morning and then laughed as if it matters.

So, this customer is checking out. What does that mean? Will my web traffic go down? Will I lose invitations to pay-to-enter juried exhibitions? Will I not find out about shows? Will I see less art? Will the people with whom I’ve made connections slowly forget I exist? Does that matter?

Apparently it does because I’m announcing my departure with a blog post diatribe. Blogs — they’re still around, and that’s amazing. But, I guess it is because I do care about people. I care about all the art people I’ve connected with who live elsewhere, none of whom I’d likely know as a Californian without social media. I care about all my diffuse analog friends who I know more through face-to-face interaction, and now they’ve moved on to bigger cities or better things. And I care about people throughout society, insofar as I get enraged when I witness a murder of a black man 2000 miles away or I feel a wave of concern as I watch a livestream of an earthquake’s aftermath. Nevertheless, the endless stream of social media has just become too much. And my participation in social media during these endless moments does nothing to better any of those situations. Nothing. Getting the word out? Nothing. Rage! Nothing.

When I worked in the casino industry, a very long eight years in a business with an extremely high turnover rate due to its inhumane lifestyle and demands, I took a total of six medical leaves due to stress and injury during that time. Over the last eight years of social media I can count a greater number of “vacations” from its usage in order to “get away” from its addicting insanity. The constant reportage of everything happening in the world twenty-four hours a day. The constant sine wave between rage and unicorns, flip-flopping between the absurd and the absurder as if the latter sets of unicorns and kittens and retro were made to trump the often absurd unbelievability of life itself. Commercial messages advertising nothing, usually, or nothing beyond the trivial.

These words are nothing new to the world, there are plenty of other writers who have said them before. “It’s all about my usage, how I use social media,” it can be said. I sit on the bus and barely anyone acknowledges their surroundings. The past fifteen years have led us to become lost in white headphones and then some of us come home and get lost in white backlit keyboards. We’ve become asocial. We’re not anti-social, we’re not against being social, we’ve just — I just convinced myself I was being social in a different way, through a different medium. These platforms may be a utility but I’m afraid they’re not social.

Whether anyone hears this or not on the internet I suppose is indifferent. Some of you will certainly sigh and others have already closed this window in relief. I recognize that these corporate platforms demand presence to provide a repackaged society, and they’re not going anywhere, and that’s fine. The problems is, though, that I desire to live in a society uncensored by a central entity, one of the reasons I became so enraged during the astonishment of #Ferguson. To continue to yell on a platform about the very thing it outwardly does itself now just seems foolish. This was the same spirit of why I left Facebook. Curation (or censorship or algorithm, whatever you want to call it) of freely offered speech in a once-unfettered town square is actually anti-social, hypocritical to communication. I’m also not going to just sit there and be silent. And the fact that such platforms aggregate with speed all of the perils of the world in one funnel, especially given the internet’s recent obsession with freely posting pictures of vicious deaths — and have they come less in the past four years? — just lessens its allure.

I’m pretty sure one can thrive without the utility of the social media world and still find success, whatever that may actually be.

So, bye, asocial media. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Addendum:

Since writing this I’ve come across several others with similar feelings, yet taken different routes to address the state of affairs. Erin Kissane recently published her thoughts, Ditching Twitter, and the essay is worth a read. (Hat tip to Paul Soulellis.)

Social Pool and the Desperate Swimmers

Soon after my review of Alfred Barsuglia’s Social Pool was published at San Francisco Arts Quarterly, I began to receive poorly written emails lamenting the inability to get the key, or now a reservation, to visit the pool, appended with some plea to reveal its location — ahem, share its location — and an accompanying justification of why I should oblige. This strikes me as odd, considering my opinion of the pool was quite negative (and remains one of the only negative critical reviews out there), having noted its whole disregard for the sensitive desert environment and the fact that visiting the pool is a poorly fabricated waste of natural resources. But, I’m not really surprised, either. People salivate under the allure of masterfully branded experiences.

To save anyone else the trouble of having to outline a plea, type it out formally, and click send, I’ll just answer you all here instead: No.

My recommended alternative is to contact the artist, directly complain about the restrictions of the project since he is the director of a private pool with a strictly controlled membership offered only to a privileged minority, detail your grievances in full, and please stop bothering members of this special club, like myself, with your desperate thirsts for art.

Or just go to the Y.

Followup: This morning I received an email from the unannounced guests I encountered when I visited Social Pool, with whom I’ve stayed in touch about the issues of military occupations in the Johnson Valley. My contact informed me of two things:

First, Social Pool was broken into. These photos show how someone wedged apart the track from the lid and frame, presumably to jimmy it open, cracking the structure in the process. This damage was not there during my visit. The pool is reportedly in poor condition, according to my contact:

lid was not open, but it was pushed up & not centered. We did push it back & it’s totally jacked up. I’m sure it used to open smoothly, now its crooked. Water was super dirty. It’s like they forced it open and took a bath.

Alfredo Barsuglia Social Pool damaged

Alfredo Barsuglia Social Pool damaged

Alfredo Barsuglia Social Pool damaged, dirtied and with muddy water

Photos courtesy anonymous source.

In this last picture you can see the two compartments of Social Pool: the upper empty side which was kept empty as a conceptual part of the project, and the lower side which depicts dirtied, almost greenish-muddy water. This is in high contrast to the mostly clean pool I visited.

Given the hysterically viral response to the project and its heavily controlled access policies, the fact that someone broke into it is as unsurprising as the pleas for directions to its location.

More importantly in the email, though, was my contact alerting me to an upcoming meeting where public comment of the military’s usage of the precious Johnson Valley will be sought. This is from an alert sent by the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a grassroots organization trying to preserve open land for public use:

Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management and the Marine Corps will host a Resource Management Group meeting about the changes in land use in the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area at the Lucerne Valley Community Center on August 16, 2014 from 1-3 PM.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the future locations of the Marine’s company objective areas within the Shared Use Area for military training in accordance with Military Land Withdrawals Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-66).

Input from State agencies, Off-Highway Vehicle and other recreation interest groups, and environmental advocacy groups as well as the public in general are encouraged and welcomed to attend.

The Lucerne Valley Community Center is located at 33187 Old Woman Springs Road, Lucerne Valley, CA. For additional information, contact the Bureau of Land Management, Barstow Field Manager, at 760-252-6004; email: ksymons@blm.gov; or the MCAGCC Public Affairs Office at 760-830-6213; email: SMBPLMSWEBPAO@usmc.mil.

Give ‘em hell.