The Burden of an Exit Strategy

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The confusing scandal around Cambridge Analytica and the misuse of personal data have stirred a wide search for a coping strategy post Facebook, once the campaign #Delete started to gather momentum. Over fifty million people have become victims of an algorithm and the finger points in both directions. It points at the corporation and the guilty pact between the rich and the political class to maintain ‘the distribution of wealth’ (Chomsky). And it points at the victims too, as they gave into temptation and filled in the vilified personality test, the intelligence test, the ‘what Disney character are you’ test or ‘is the dress white or gold’ test. And the list could include other hundreds of tests and surveys which were strategically used to collect data and profile the population.

But why did people take the online tests in the first place? Was it out of curiosity, boredom, self-absorption, confusion, insecurity? Possibly, but not exhaustively, being constantly overfed information, the individual, the person behind the computer screen, started to lose the sense of identity and the fear of rejection kept on creeping in. A sign of an increasing collective anxiety.

The need for constant external validation could be a symptom of what de Botton calls ‘status anxiety’. But this is not, by far, a new philosophical discovery. In 1929, Bernays used collective anxiety in his campaign ‘Torches of Freedom’ and successfully convinced women to start smoking cigarettes. One can only see that psychological profiling started a long time ago, when Sigmund Freud clarified the notion of a dark, unconscious self. It comes as no surprise now that among my friends without online social presence there is a sense of ‘told you so’ vindication, whilst the rest is struggling to find a way out.

On a tweet published yesterday by a friend I read a stark and final confession: ‘took a while to decide, but happy I finally cleansed myself. After 11 years I am off…forever.’ But have they actually managed to escape with such ease? Is ‘deleting’ as simple as ‘liking’ or ‘accepting’ the terms and conditions of a virtual contract? There are two immediate identifiable issues here.

The first is that the Facebook license does not end upon the deactivation of your account. The content will only be released from license when all the other users (family, friends, acquaintances, nobodies) have also broken their ties with it. Online freedom will come only after successful negotiations with thousands of friends one gathered during a decade of social media use. The second issue is that Twitter, the online space the online user migrated towards, has a more insidious ‘rights’ clauses. In accepting the terms and conditions, they granted the platform editing rights. Which means the right to edit, modify, translate and format any content posted on the platform. And this can be highly problematic when the content is translated to other languages.

The society’s architecture has dramatically changed to redefine the concept of freedom within the limits of an acceptable platform. It is now symptomatic that ‘deleting’ is a form of virtual social rejection, which leads to real constrains in terms of access to information. But, a while ago, this free access used to be a fundamental attribute of a healthy democracy.

‘The concept of liberty and individual choice are nothing but a mirage’ notes an online user on Twitter who admits that ‘today, Facebook deleted my account because I did use the title DeleteFacebook in one of my paintings’ (TArt). The elite culture is openly biting back displaying the fangs of bigotry ‘as it pretends there is no other alternative’ (Berger).
What facets do we need to explore now in order to redesign our ‘spectre of hope’?

Maria Stadnicka, 1st April 2018

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Thought

Tomorrow will come with a sunny spell,

the rain will stop at the border so

we will begin the long-waited rebellion,

as they say,

at the right moment.

 

To satisfy our need for greatness,

we will politely ask the just questions and

sit on the pew

in return for the hand-written answer.

 

We will finally go home,

or so we believe,

to master the only remedy left for pain – patience.

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Photograph: @John Stadnicki, ‘Street Cafe’

Thought

In a country where all books are forbidden,

the hurricane spits out a new world

with a new legacy of destruction.

People stop by the house with a light on and a blue door,

the house with boarded-up windows where

the mandolin player keeps an eye

on his own basement revolution.

These are the days when the truth learns to

travel on cigarette papers, between prison cells,

before the police arrives

to evacuate.

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Ink on paper: ‘Fisherman’, Maria Stadnicka

Of Hats and Social Change

It might be that the Panama Papers will become as iconic in history as the fashionable Ecuadorian ‘panama hat’; a striking and a bit ostentatious item, which everybody wants but nobody knows how to properly wear it. Not in Britain. For obvious climatic restrictions.

 

However though, on Monday morning, Britain received such a hat, delivered by the mediatic postal service, whilst not wide awake yet, post Easter holiday, when the weather forecast was not that brilliant anyway. Would it worth the bother, for the sake of seven or eight hours of sunshine a week? Should it return to sender and have the money back?

 

The British rich and the poor found out, with some surprise, that once they had signed for the goods, the sender remained unknown. And, as the box opened, millions of other items emerged. Things which we all ‘kind of’ knew about, but wished we hadn’t. The truth.

 

The shock of discovering your master licking his honey smeared fingers in your own pantry. The shock of being discovered and still trying to say ‘sorry it won’t happen again’ type of thing.

 

In a society where the wealth and the poverty cohabit undisturbed, in their own universe, parallel with each other, it becomes increasingly difficult to formulate an opinion about social injustice, corruption, and privileged few. Almost impossible to do something about it. This explains the public opinion’s delayed reaction to the recent ‘Panama Papers’. But does it justify it? And even if, let’s say, something could be done about it, what resolution would not involve fundamental change and transformation, on both sides?

 

Given the realities of international and national politics, each of us is, to some extent, victim of conflicting demands between truth and power. Observers of social reality, rather than makers of it. Furthermore, the unfortunate circumstances, which define the current trends, deepen in a climate where radical thinking and critical debate do not address the core values on which we built our social structures and institutions.

 

With the current revelations in mind, it is rather justifiable, once more, the duty to bring in focus the possibility of change, which, ‘to some extent’, comes from our desire ‘to create the future rather than merely observe the flow of events. Given the stakes, it would be criminal to let real opportunities pass unexplored.’ (Noam Chomsky, 2014, ‘A Genuine Movement for Social Change’)

 

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Preparations

I am getting used to passing the time
in the solemn company of my wood beams.
Perhaps weeks, perhaps years
in which I have been witness to the world’s determination to name the unborn,
to possession and
to abandonment,
to preparations coming from planning uncertainty,
and to my own weakness.
I have not become better
although I lit candles and prayed
and I mattered.
I scribbled more question marks on waiting room tables than I gave answers
and
I felt the humility of a man proven wrong when
I hoped I had done enough.
Somehow,  each time I rebelled
I ended up cleaning up the wreckage,
packing, unpacking,
forgiving everything
but not myself.

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For Now, Let’s Just Talk

There is no other sign of life here,
only my fingers caught between
the wooden pages of a newspaper.

When everyone else builds
the flat packed cement houses outside,
me and the nurse behind the glass
scrutinise each other, munching dry biscuits
and maybe
saying sorry for the spoilt tea nobody drinks.
Of this I am not yet so sure.

I suppose she checks the pulse,
the nurse with a concrete face
keeps filling in the charts
with the same precision she fills in
the crossword spread open
over my legs.
I do not mind.

I say to her ‘could you please remove the batteries
from the white clock’ the time
does not matter now
what matters, I think she says, is hanging on in there.
Her own watch upside down
hanging on, just about, with her name badge.

I offer her my bed.
I could after all sit in the waiting room
by the door
or make her coffee, I suggest.
But Susan points her finger at that hole,
uncovered wound on my chest.

‘For now, let’s just talk.’
The bare wall is
the last thing I remember and
Susan watching the news.

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Photo: John Stadnicki

White Shirt

You see, it can rain with blood drops.
The proof the white shirt I’ve been wearing for the past two days
on my walks through the city.
Now ruined.
I have been saying all along that
someone died there at the top floor
but you keep reading, ask me to
sit down and drink the cup of tea
before it gets cold.
Death is not a matter of your concern, you say,
we have to hope like everyone else
for a better world and
let the justice be done.
Of course, but I
always like the tea very cold,
my hopes interrupt your thought process
as they remind you every day that
growing old means nothing.
I am the same unnecessary love,
making a spectacle of myself,
making a revolution out of silvery-grey ribbons.
In the big void, I keep standing up
with my stained shirt still on
and say no.

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Photo: Maria Butunoi