Mark Deuze has been thinking, writing, and exchanging ideas with Zygmunt Bauman about liquid modernity, ‘community’ and the Internet, and I’ve been following along with Mark as he works through his ideas. This is the latest Bauman quote, in context here:
The ‘community’ of internauts whose substitute recognition is sought does not require the chores of socializing and is thereby free from risk, that notorious and widely feared bane of the off-line battles of recognition.
Another revelation is the redundancy of the ‘Other’ in any role other than the token of endorsement and approval. In the internet game of identities, the ‘other’ (the addressee and sender of messages) is reduced to his/her hard core of the thoroughly manipulable instrument of self-confirmation, stripped of most or all unnecessary bits irrelevant to the task yet grudgingly and reluctantly tolerated in off-line interaction.
When you combine this with the theory of liquid modernity and the endless tyrannical amnesia of ‘the moment’, this seems to be an interesting restatement of the well-known problem of superficiality and benign indifference, both in ‘virtual’ communities and in the continuing fragmentation of the ‘public sphere’. These issues are highly relevant to my work on Flickr. Which reminds me (because everything I see or read comes back to my thesis at the moment) of Nick Stevenson’s more optimistic ideal of a cosmopolitan cultural citizenship, which I have begun to find very useful. And by the way, it is quite clear that there is very particular ideal of layered cosmopolitanism at work around sites of cultural participation like Flickr – just think about their newly minted mission statement, in which Ludicorp announced they want Flickr to be ‘The Eyes of the World’:
That can manifest itself as art, or using photos as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, “personal publishing” or intimate, small group sharing. It includes “memory preservation” (the de facto understanding of what drives the photo industry), but it also includes the ephemera that keeps people related to each other: do you like my new haircut? should I buy these shoes? holy smokes – look what I saw on the way to work! It let’s you know who’s gone where with whom, what the vacation was like, how much the baby grew today, all as it’s happening.
And most dramatically, Flickr gives you a window into things that you might otherwise never see, from the perspective of people that you might otherwise never encounter.