January 4, 2008

Beyond Glib Trivia: Trifling 24/7 with “social objects”

Filed under: borg, matrix, philosophy, praxis, theory — bentrem @ 1:51 pm

*This article presumes you have at least a little bit of experience with Twitter. (Are we gonna call that constellation / complex a “social object”?)
Also: I’m writing this as I get ready to dash out the door.*

Homo ludens reduced to flocks of ADD magpies?!! If the tactical view that results in this skew produces substantial economic rewards, does that make it valid? And if valid, how about responsible? (Remembering that marketing agents are always citizens and community members.)

“[F]oundationalism tilts the attention of philosophers in the direction of ontological simples, for it is held that in relation to the latter knowledge secure against doubt is more easily attainable. Philosophers are thus shielded from any concern with the complex mesoscopic (medium-sized, middle-range, human-scale) objects of our everyday environment and of the social world, since the latter is, after all, a realm of mere opinion, not worthy of the attention of those striving after rigour.”
Social Objects“, by Barry Smith, Department of Philosophy
Center for Cognitive Science, and National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis
University at Buffalo

For example, someone tweets, “Brushing my hair and wondering about makeup”. Easy enough to dismiss that as nonsense, but is it really? Well, its a plausible sentence, even if it’s so severely self-referential. But as a communicative gesture, is it meaningful? Might be; the tweeter’s friends might be monitoring their posse’s tweets as they congregate for a party, so this would in effect communicate, “Moving in your general direction but kinda distracted; not really rushing.” That could be read into the original, rather vacuous blurt.
But let’s say there’s no such depth, let’s say it’s as self-involved as it seems to be … in its superficiality it operates as a communicative gesture none the less, in this reading indicating a painful pointlessness. Have I yet managed to reduce that person’s moment to a mere anthropological artefact? A mere datum in some sociological computation, one dot in a thick cluster of such dots, the human being as though ceases to live and breath.
(Yes of course I’m being polemical; get with the program, please … if you don’t you will likely at some point feel that I’m directing my contempt at you. Trust that I have no punitive urges, and then get a grip: we aren’t in a really really really happy time.)
The tweeter, bottom line, tweeted. Maybe only about hair brushing, and maybe only as a signal to her friends … and maybe not even for that. But s/he tweeted. So where’s the “social object”? Is it the tweet? or the whole twitter system and the tweets that comprise it, along with the software? Or maybe *where’s that damned drummer when I need a drum roll?!* the “social object” is the tweeter along with his/her friends. Now there‘s a notion that could be monetized, right?

By way of exploring my surround in this moment, let me present these extracts:

gapingvoid: “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards”: “social objects for beginners“:

“Another thing to remember is the world of Social Objects can have many layers. As with any complex creature, there can be more than one reason for us to be together. So anybody currently dating a cute girl who’s into not just Saul Bellow, but also into bowling and cellphones and Star Wars and swish Charity Balls as well, will know what I mean.
The final thing to remember is that, Social Objects by themselves don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Sure, it’s nice hanging out with Lee talking about Star Wars. But if Star Wars had never existed, you’d probably still enjoy each other’s company for other reasons, if they happened to present themselves. Human beings matter. Being with other human beings matter. And since the dawn of time until the end of time, we use whatever tools we have at hand to make it happen.

This is really fabulous. In my writings on discourse I remind that for most of our history we have passed the long evenings and nights watching Caveman TV, i.e. we’d sit around the fire sharing stories, subjective narratives that were mundane yet pithy, with most individuals connecting existentially with most of the story-tellers and their experience.

In this next one I think I detect the inversion / reduction I’ve been fearing / anticipating since I noticed the “social object” meme ricochetting through the twittosphere.

gapingvoid: “why the "social object" is the future of marketing“:

“When you and Pam met for coffee, you interacted with each other in the context of what anthropologists call “Object-Centerd Sociality”. In other words, you did not socialize in a vacuum, you socialized around objects, you socialized around things. You talked about the Cubs game last week. You talked about how Billy was doing in Third Grade. You talked about this great movie you just saw. You talked about great Pam’s coffee was. And yes, you talked, however briefly, about Brand X. All these things you talked about, an anthropologist would call “Social Objects”. And the thing is, you came over just to chew the fat with Pam. Talking about Billy or the movie or the Cubs game was not part of any pre-agenda. You could’ve talked about other things- books, records, home furnishings, it doesn’t matter- and you would’ve enjoyed your coffee with Pam just as much.”

Do you see it? The Cubs’ game as “object”? Well, I guess, sure, for the sake of the argument, yaa. (That’s arguendo, ok?) And someone’s Billy going to 3rd grade … *cough* … school as object? Growing up as “object”? Billy as object? *Hey, you … yaa you in the back of the room, and your friends too … you wanna get into social analytics but you’re snickering and mocking cuz “Geeez, ‘object’ is juhst a wehrd, get ohvuhr it.” I won’t tell you how foolish that is. Ever hear, “Tell a fool he’s being foolish and he’ll call you a fool”? No, I thot not. STFU, k?*

So, where are we now … ok, right, that very sensitive and acute presentation. *Don’t project sarcasm!! It doesn’t work online and I don’t use it. You wanna project? Project yourself with something like rigour and an appreciation of how hubris kills.* … it really does a good job of presenting the social dimension. So what am I going on about?

The moment draws nigh when we take one more step: “you came over just to chew the fat with Pam” … right. But what happens when we use “social objects” as our lens? We see that entirely social impulse in terms of transaction … the title of the piece is “marketing” and properly so: what we’ve done here is reduced the whole to an exchange between providers and consummers. Hence the booming trade in A-list quality blog posts? The endless flurry of widgets and doodads and bobbles?

In yet another from gapingvoid (whom I enjoy and appreciate tremendously) this thing cracks me right in the forehead, viz.: more thoughts on social objects:

“Yesterday at the Darden talk I explained why geeks have become so important to marketing. My definition of a geek is, “Somebody who socializes via objects.” When you think about it, we’re all geeks. Because we’re all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves. For me, it’s marketing and cartooning. for others, it could be cellphones or Scotch Whisky or Apple computers or NASCAR or the Boston Red Sox or Bhuddism.”

Preeeeeeezactly! Right on the button wrong.

I’ve been trying to work my way around to saying, “This theoretical gambit is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far”. Clever, no? But I’m saying the opposite: this theoretical gambit is a Frankenstein.
1st: everybody might be interested in things “outside themselves”, in some sense … but how much of that interest pertains uniquely and exclusively with reference to “self”? Last time I checked we aren’t setting new records for harmony, ammity, and social justice! *Heyyyy you! STFU with “It’s those uther fohk who make all the trublz.”* Ok fine, so specific items on the Daily Me conveyor belt can be negotiated in trade with those other blobs for yet.more superficial self-esteem and yet.more superficial social standing … the social utility of narcissism and solipsism … someone tell me where there’s something new here!

Oh, right, sihly me I forgot for a moment: The objectification of transactions with others and of the others themselves … with “friends” faces adorning the MySpace or FaceBook like hunting trophies, war prizes … the shrunken heads of the living dead.
Bro’, if you want to turn “marketing” into an object, I guess I can’t really stop you. I can caution you, though, which is what I’m doing here.
And if you want to define yourself and your relations with others in terms of iPod and cellphones and DVDs, well, absolutely nothing new there. (Anybody remember reading Fromm’s “To Have or to Be”? No? Anybody remember the book? *sigh* No? *shudder* Anyone remember the author?)
And you just happened to nail me in the eye with that last one. (No diss intended here, no offense taken.) I won’t quibble you about the spelung; buddy’s name was “Buddha” … so it’s Buddhism. But more important, if there’s something in my life that constantly reminds me, in the rainbow-coloured manifold of the ever-fresh warm/moist moment, not to objectify / reify / alienate, it’s buddhadharma. (For those of you more psychologically inclined: abhidharma.)
The glorification of “more trinkets! more toys!” … the insidious flabber-gabbing of social awareness.

If I heard someone going on about “social objects” around the campfire I’d get edgy … I’d prolly form the impression that such a person was angling to take advantage of me, and of us.
Oh, right … the blog post was about “marketing”. Heh … what was I thinking?! (Ok, now that is sarcasm.)

And in case you think I’m j/k and way off the mark: just now I googled to find a few more posts from other authors, and came across this zinger … with which I will abandon this post … I’m 20 minutes late for 1PM.

“Whether you realize it or not, you are a marketer. The thing you are marketing to the world is yourself.”
Adam Goucher, “Social Objects and Testing”

#matrix #borg

Let’s all ponder “reification” for a moment now and again. Okay? *Dewwwwwd! Settle down! No biggie! Don’t sweat it! “Google is our friend”, remember?*


*this is incomplete*

Something like a motto I’ve come up with through my years on LiveJournal: “Even when you don’t care, it still matters.”
What is more characteristic and indicative of hubris than the sadly mistaken and dangerously deluded notion that an individual’s whimsical and often ill-considered preference and/or opinion determines the nature of “objective reality”? As Sam Johnson said concerning Bishop Berkeley’s esse est percipi, “I refute him thusly!”, giving a rock a good kick.

p.s. I sometimes describe my Gnodal “participatory deliberation” system as “operationalizing discourse” … but I do that with reference to Habermas … and I consciously strive to avoid technocatic dehumanization, whatever the commercial ramifications.
Like Huckabee said just last night, “People are more important than purse.” …
… there’s more to life than commerce, and I resent constantly being seen as a customer, and constantly being “sold”. !j/k … get it?

p.s.2 Remember the way Wiley Coyote could step off a cliff and stay suspended til the nature of his situation dawned on him? Do we really believe that blithe ignorance or some sophistic gambit actualizes as altered reality?
Let me put it this way: if you were in ER or OR for good reason, and you came to know that the staff their related to you as a “social object”, would that be reassuring? Do you feel better as an “object of attention”? How about being a “unit of consumption”, you feeling demeaned yet?


Epilogue: I admit to not having been entirely forthright; my point in this whole has been to set the stage for one single charge, that is, the world being as the world is no citizen has a right to contrived naivete; that form of free-ridership is just plain feckles. (There’s often reason goof and plenty for fear; what vigorous society entertains, indulges, and / or condones cowardice? If we aren’t stupid then we cannot take shelter behind acts of stupidity; to do so is merely dishonest and manipulating, deceptive and intentionally false.)
Greeting the world with all and everyone in it … that’s maturity. It doesn’t mean leaving your wallet on your desk when you walk down the hall to get coffee. To be reasonable is not to be hard-hearted and paranoid. It’s all about balance, don’t you agree?
So one of my balance points is this: there will always be snake-oil salesmen and charlatans to take “honest folk” for their money, hard-earned or otherwise. And those types will always latch on to the newest techniques of *cough* motivation.
Not to put a fine point on it: jingoistic sophists study the ways of manipulation. And when some dandy phrase arises out of academe into public usage, bet a buck or two on them twisting it to their own use.
The simplest form of distortion is to over-simplify. And that’s what’s happening here: “social object” used blithely with folk who ought know better by instinct … makes my skin creep, that does.
Here’s one scholarly presentation of how the phrase is meant to capture the depth of things, rather than suck the life blood of whatever its pressed upon:

“Searle’s answer is that social objects are higher order objects whose inferiora are constituted by physical objects, which account for their apparent concreteness. The price, for instance, is that of 25 centiliters of a particular kind of liquid, namely beer; the citizen of the United States in question weighs roughly 73 kilos (and the waiter has a weight too, even if we don’t know his exact weight); money typically consists of pieces of metal and paper. When we enter the social world, then, we are not entering some sort of spiritual sphere, but rather a mixture of physical objects and psychological acts often associated with speech acts (but this is not always required, given that sometimes a simple handshake may suffice, for instance, to come to an agreement).”
1. – “A Huge Invisible Ontology”; 1.1. Searle’s Beer
“Outlines of A Theory of Social Objects”, by Maurizio Ferraris, (February 2005)
Festschrift Rodolfo Sacco
accessed 18:45MST 04JAN08


BTW: as with EMS/SR (“Hurry, but never rush!”) so with politics … “SlowFlying” – 2008

1 Comment »

  1. […] posts here and here, one of the commenters, Bernard Tremblay voices a valid, if strongly worded, objection on his blog to the use of the term "Social Object". Bernard laments that the term seems […]

    Pingback by Social objects and the observer’s paradox | alex de carvalho — June 17, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

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