By Mohamed Mifdal - El Jadida
By Mohamed Mifdal – El Jadida
It can be argued that interactivity is one of the most distinguishing features of social networking sites. People join these sites to connect with others and make virtual relations. They look for intimacy, recognition and response. In brief, they want to be desirable to the other. Whatever the motives, the interaction is actually virtual, which raises the question of its relation to the real life of the people. People find it easier to make relations on Facebook than in real life situations. Besides, Social networking sites have dismantled some of the barriers that “potentially inhibit people finding a voice, facilitating a public debate or mobilizing collective political energy.” However, the sense of interactive satisfaction has supplanted actual engagement and conventional social interaction. In other words, social networking sites have made people interpassive.
Many writers have studied interpassivity, like J. Lacan , S. Zizek and R. Pfaller, and they tend to agree on defining it as the situation in which the object (or the other/ or the “big Other” in Lacan’s terminology) itself deprives me of my own passive reaction. A lot of examples are given to illustrate it; for example, Lacan reminds us of the role of the Chorus in the performance of a Greek tragedy where the Chorus gives an emotional commentary on the tragic events of the play. The Chorus experiences for us our innermost and spontaneous feelings and attitudes, inclusive of crying and laughing. Zizek gives another example of interpassivity by referring to the role played by women in some societies. They are called “weepers” as they are hired to cry at funerals, doing the spectacle of mourning for the relatives of the deceased who may be busy thinking about how to split the inheritance. Another example is the Tibetan praying wheel; you write your prayer on a paper, you put it into the wheel and turn the wheel mechanically, and the wheel is thus praying for you. One last example is given by Zizek from modern performances; it is the canned laughter in TV sitcoms. You just stare at the screen and the laughter is done for you.
The social media have been praised for their ability to open up the possibility for the masses to break out of the role of the passive observer and to participate actively by interacting with the show, the performance or the others. Nevertheless, this interactivity has impassivity as its other side; researchers claim it has negative effects on the ability of the subject to engage and interact in the real world. On Facebook, the updates of our friends are displayed continuously by its newsfeed system, but the huge number of these updates makes it difficult and even impossible for us to read or, at least, to know about them. Still, we have a feeling of satisfaction by thinking that Facebook is keeping those news and updates for us to see later. As a matter of fact, few people have time to do that. Facebook can be viewed as a symbolic registration system, similar to the example of the VCR given by Zizek. Because we never have time for TV, so instead of wasting time watching a film, we tape it and store it for a future viewing, for which there is almost no time.
We think we are active on Facebook, but we miss most of our friends’ updates; Facebook reads them on our behalf, and even gives highlights of our friends’ interactions, displayed on the right side of the page, and notifies us whenever we have a message from them. Facebook knows for us and transposes our click of admiration into an expression of “like” and notifies our friends immediately. We give expression to most of our “likes” in an automatic way even without reading or finishing the reading of the content of the update. Facebook takes care of delivering those likes and falsely shows that we are active while we are interpassive, being supplanted by a system that does everything for us, or, to put it differently, being passive in the guise of activity.
It is true that there are some people who can bridge the gap between their virtual and real life, but these are an exception. The majority of Facebookers are interpassive, being falsely active while they are actually passive in terms of the effects this situation can have on their real life. These people tend to communicate and interact less with other people in the actual physical world and prefer to let their profiles on Facebook ostensibly interact on their behalf.
Another negative effect is the lack of actual political engagement in the real world. It is true that the potential for political action has extensively increased with the emergence of social media (their seminal role during the Arab Spring as a case in point), however, I argue that these media have paradoxically made the political action they have made possible passive, for most Facebookers prefer to stay connected to friends online than go out to take part in a protest march. Habermas has warned against the detrimental role of the modern media (TV and the press), claiming that these media pacify the public by providing a vehicle for vicarious engagement in discourse, and hence subverting the need to gather in public spheres or engage in debates. I think that the same remark can also be true as to the role played by social media in making people passive in the guise of activity and interaction, both in social and political spheres.
Zizek thinks that this interpassivity has serious repercussions on the politics; he argues that “the danger is not passivity, but pseudo-activity…people intervene all the time, attempting to “do something,” (but)…we are active all the time to make sure that nothing will really change.”
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