Am I Using Content or Is Content Using Me?
Raime’s EP, Am I Using Content Or Is Content Using Me? released on Different Circles, expresses the distinct aesthetic of user-driven content that is ubiquitous with our cultural moment and general engagement with social media. Developing themes within the record's title, Raime articulates the acute sense of doubt and confusion that is endemic to our time, both politically and socially - a phenomenon that is influenced largely by the data generated from ‘our’ content.
Despite being comprised of four instrumental tracks, Ramie provide a platform for these themes to be explored on both an emotional and critical level. Encouraging attentiveness is an essential utility of art, especially in a moment when nuanced discourse is commonly sacrificed for reductive arguments that conform to polarising absolutes.
AM I USING CONTENT OR IS CONTENT USING ME?
It could hardly be a more poignant title for something released in 2018. We are standing knee deep in the next technological revolution, the full consequences of which will remain unknown for some time. We are more connected now than ever before and are perhaps even too connected to the social standing of our digital selves and online avatars. In a relatively short space of time, this platform has become interlinked with how we communicate; the type of information we share, the parameters for defining privacy and how we relate to one another. The outcome of this has led to social media becoming a powerful tool for shaping opinions, whether that be about products or political causes.
The equity of distribution afforded by social media has given everyone a (theoretically) even platform to produce content. Through the prism of our culture, much of the content created by people on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook is emblematic of our consumer landscape. It adopts the mode of a brand on both the conscious and sub-conscious level with the
aim of expanding ones reach socially. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s worth saying that people are probably doing what they are supposed to - after all, making friends and creating new opportunities is essential to any social species.
It is, however, the combination of the culture and technology that make the effectiveness of the method both engaging and addictive whilst producing questionable results. In essence, people are now their own PR manager, both knowingly and subconsciously treating themselves as a brand and their lives as a long-form ad campaign - all of which comes with the pressure to produce engaging content that will achieve optimal impact. In answer to why we willingly engage with platforms that liberally distort the truth and sell our content - it is perhaps because we now have a platform to do the same with our truths. As we continue to explore this frontier - both as consumers and creators of content - we are able to grasp inherently the amorphous relationship that social media takes with the truth and subsequently our sense of 'real'.
The evasion of an outcome or a clearly defined goal as a result of using social media is perhaps its greatest achievement. Witnessing a commuter on a morning train, stony-faced, writing a short Instagram message accompanied by three emoji’s expressing hysterical laughter served as an example of the obligatory workmanship that social media takes in peoples lives. She was fulfilling a social task that was now divorced from the memory she was expressing - the question of function or motive underpinning this act obviously existed elsewhere (in the past or in fantasy). It could be considered on one hand a selfless act to go through the motions of such a task - preparing the image and constructing a narrative to perhaps bring joy to her ‘followers’.
Another view could be that she was in PR mode, managing her personal brand, producing content worthy of engaging her audience. It raises a question as to what percentage of social media posts constructed by its billions of users could be considered, in part, fiction - a sort of parochial fake news. We are in some respects locked into a digital obligation that requires continuous maintenance - the idea of a private life that contains a holiday, a celebration or an anniversary is slowly fading as we are absorbed by the online echo chamber of ‘good news’ that constitutes our newsfeeds and timelines. A good experience is too important to not document - it is valuable content.
Our engagement and consequently our ‘data’ is a commodity worth billions to the global economy and in particular the social media services that collect it, as well as the political and consumer-driven causes that harvest it. In this respect, we work for free to produce content for organisations that aim to gain an edge in their field by analysing the data and then using it to more effectively form our opinions. When framed in this way it is hard to find a comparable analogy that
accurately captures this level of willing compliance. The full scope of its power isn’t wholly quantifiable but recent events suggest that it is growing rapidly through the dissemination of falsehoods and psychologically tailored content designed specifically to consolidate bias or generally confuse.
Investigations into the work of Cambridge Analytica revealed a successful electoral campaign in Nigeria as the result of an artificially constructed grass-root movement targeted specifically at manipulating youth culture. With implications closer to home, there is Russia’s suggested involvement in Brexit and the U.S Presidential Elections. With the advent of artificial intelligence and its move into the realm of communication through the guise of human personas and user profiles, it will only strengthen the platforms ability to construct misleading narratives on scales never seen before. In this sense, the question of whether ‘Am I using content or is content using me?’ will only grow more profound as our measure of 'real' opinions becomes impossible to gauge.
In Laurence Scott’s latest book Picnic Comma Lighning, he references Henri Bergson’s theories on our experience of reality and it’s artificial nature, ‘the movement of our perceptions from one snapshot to the next imitates the ceaseless changing of reality itself to become different things over time.’ He continues to explain: ‘We don’t live inside the flow of real movement but instead reconstitute it just as a camera-person is to some extent always outside the scene they are filming.’
Viewed through the lens of social media, the masses of content that we consume compared to any other moment in history goes somewhere to highlighting the fragility of our perception of ‘real’ and coherent narratives. The aesthetic of these themes, when expressed musically, finds form within the artificial and self-perpetuating algorithms of synthesis - rooted somewhere heavily in the hyperreal. It is the sounds most analogous with technological developments and the dystopian narratives we are so familiar with - we are able to feel something of ourselves being lost in these worlds whilst being drawn to their forever changing lights. AG