Digital Vertigo

Notes from: Digital Vertigo: Our Age of Great Exhibitionism 

Andrew Keen compares today’s “digital epoch” to Bentham’s panopticon. The web was a platform for impersonal data but has now evolved into an internet of people. What was once a prison is now a playground and what was considered to be pain is today considered as pleasure.

He suggests that the internet is today’s architecture. Network of networks are now combining the world wide web of personal computers and smart social products such as gaming consoles, iPhones etc, and a quarter of the globe’s population has taken residency. In comparison to the panopticon “this rapidly expanding global network, with its two billion digitally interconnected souls and its more than five billion connected devices, can house an infinite number of rooms.” Bentham’s Inspection House has finally been realized, allowing us to be observed.

This digital architecture has been designed to transform us into exhibitionists “forever on show in our networked crystal palaces”  And because of today’s transparent online communities like Twitter and Facebook, it has now become the “default” setting on the internet. This has meant that digital technology has gone from being a tool of second life into an increasingly central part of  real life.

Keen expresses the idea that this version of real life could be what Bentham choreographed. He quotes Julian Assange who said that the internet is “the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen” and Facebook being “the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their address, their location, their communications with each other and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence”

Apart from Facebook other databases of the human race are Google Latitude, foursquare, Hotlist, as they enable us “effectively to see through walls” and know the exact locations of where our friends are, which make society more “legible” and in turn allowing us to be read like a book “in good Inspection House like fashion”

Shirky- “Facebook is a novel we are all writing”. Keen suggests that social media is also a way that we are collectively publishing information for people to read and “we are all becoming Wiki-leakers”

Social networks like Facebook have turned the celebrity culture upside down and we are “reinventing ourselves as self-styled celebrities even going as far as to deploy online services like YouCeleb that enable us to dress like twentieth century mass media stars” I agree with this as now on a lot of online shopping websites there are categories such as “celeb  style” “celeb fashion style” etc.

Dr Keith Campbell and Dr Jean Twenge- have described the “narcissism epidemic” “a self promotional madness driven… by our need to contiually manufacture our own fame to the world.”

Dr Elias Aboujaoude’s book Virtually You charts the raise of what he calls the “Self absorbed online Narcissius” I am probably going to check this book out to find out what more he has to say on this topic.

Keen also lists a other cultural historians who share the same views as Aboujaoude’s. For example Neal Gabler who says that we have become “information narcissists” and “Social network culture medicates our need of self-esteem”. Jonathan Franzen products like smart phones are “great allies and enablers of narcissism”. They have been designed to conform with our desires to be liked and reflect well on us. This technology is therefore “an extension of our narcissistic selves” He agrees with their ideas of an “endless loop of great exhibitionism.

“Network society has become a transparent love in, an orgy of oversharing, and endless digital Summer Love” Like the network self our public confessionals are public to everyone and global. Everyone around the world is sharing their private thoughts and because of this transparent network, anyone can access this information. He gives an example of a Chinese business man who posted 0n the Chinese version of Twitter that he was leaving with his wife and eloping with his mistress. And this post was shared around 60,000 times within 24 hours. I think this is an interesting point because you hear/read a lot of stories where people post things online which they think not a lot of people will take notice of, but then it goes viral overnight. The major downside of this is that once you post it on the internet it never goes away.


Keen, A. 2012, Digital vertigo: how today’s online social revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us, Constable, London.


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