hauntology

of the social web.


an application by
Jake Cowan

A spectre is haunting the World Wide Web
—the spectre of virtual community. From MySpace to Ello, Friendster to Foursquare, every social media platform constitutes in the end a cemetery. Here, there, everywhere are planted the crumbling tombstones of forgotten profiles, greened by a mess of moss and missed messages. Walls have gone endless, have become the ground, ground to a stop. Updates like epitaphs for the six feet under and unplugged; comments like emoji flowers from those followers remaining upon the remains of the formerly vital, the viral-loving once living, priorly posting now prostrate personality. Feeds devour, digest, but they do not pass—they have passed.

The thirsty dirt over these graves is cold, but it is undisturbed: No bodies lay in these coffins, the cairns cover no corpses, of course. There is an empty vault to see, its fullness a fantasy—whose but the vault’s very own? Here so many traces untouched, links still blue, to the ‘Likes’ no added ‘You’. This, that, everything is as it was, will be as it is: “Time is a flat circle,” growled Rust; yet what is on these sites never will. Nor will these mutterings disappear, no matter what anyone musters. (In 1876, a company of counterfeiters attempted to remove for ransom the remains of President Lincoln; today, any corpse itself is a counterfeit.) Robbers shall never come to steal our steely selfies, to heist our #hashtags, to purloin our private messages meant for the queen. Dupin is out of the job due to Facebook. Quoth the Zuckerberg: Nevermore. More. More, ever more.

Social media consist of organs without bodies, player organs pumping out specifically the BWV 565. A toccata: We produce on every account in rapid, free, digital form. A fugue: We interact between avatars in counterpoint, retrograde, metaphor. At this clip, through these curves, one will never step in the same brook twice, as Heraclitus already told us. It comes as no surprise, then, that Blume and Stephen doubt the attribution of the famous piece; thus, by no means does it R.I.P. These are notes without an author, which just might account for the uncanny character of the work.

“Whenever I take up a newspaper,” wrote Ibsen, “I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines.” Today he would say Newsfeed instead. The faces of former hook-ups, the voices of forgotten classmates, the noisome politics and annoying faux pas of Uncle D and Aunt E: Yours is a crowded bed as your thumb scrolls, even though you bought the queen-sized. When at home we are not alone. And there, in the top corner or beneath every update, a constant reminder of silent ever and over presence: Your cheshire smile, your non-profile profile picture. Was that your phone buzzing in your pocket or just a phantom vibration?

The question to put to contemporary media is not just what is lost when we gain such instantaneous presence, but also what is gained in the presence of the instant lost? In its purest form, this would be a macabre network of empty signifiers, of social media accounts across multiple platforms, linking only to each other, revealing nothing and/but the hinges of their immanence. Ghosts are part of the future,” said Derrida, “and the modern technology of images, like cinematography or telecommunication, enhances the power of ghosts and their ability to haunt us.”