Private transparency

I have a thought, unformed, recorded here to await the fingers of an overenthusiastic evening class, manipulations I am sure that will be distinguished more for their earnestness than their deft nature or sureness of direction, yet still the thought stays here, and if I haven’t handcuffed it to the side of the burning page and left a hacksaw it should count itself lucky. Here it is.

Internet language, by which I mean hip internet language, the sort used by twenty-four-year-olds who have been twenty-four for long enough now to understand tax returns and how to make money from selling t-shirts that carefully mean nothing, the sort of approach to communication that thinks “i have an extra controller do you want to play as luigi i know that’s not much but this is my house” is a good sort of a thing to say on a masthead, the kind of speech that reckons that, if ordinary metaphor is two kinds of meaning and intertextual metaphor is three and that’s better, then metaphor which is likely shorn of any referent for your audience is NONE times THRIFTEEN better which is win, this kind of language is, I intend to propose once I’ve thought this through a bit better and the flashing lights have gone from my peripheral vision, this kind of language is a perfectly good response to the problem of having a thousand and two billion people at risk of reading your words.

By which I mean, analysing memey language (the language of lol and of fail and having all of things belong us, not specifically memetic language that copies and replicates extant modes of communication) according to computing history, or the affordances of the technology present when a certain kind of speech was established, or the prevalent youth codes active in the populations that propagate these ways of talking online might not be as elegant a way of approaching this indefinable (really) but instantly recognisable (honestly) internet trait as coming to see it as a way of preserving self through obscurity, a tacitly recognised capitulation to the need to remain unknown to most people (this is normal and healthy) while still being available to all. If I use a metaphor that makes no sense (“scratch and sniff” for “have a look at the archives”) then maybe what I’m really doing is looking for the least (not most) relevant yet meaningful connection I can make, in a signal that, if you understand, even inarticulately, my reasons for doing that, then you will understand.

My god it’s hideous, this thought, so different from the pure and snowy notion that drifted in just two paragraphs earlier. The class have been cruel in their passion, stubby and unco-ordinated fingers blurring essential features, warping what were harmonious qualities into the kind of ghastly shape I hope never has a pulse. Obviously, understanding the need for obscurity through language has been a hallmark of youth talk since things were copacetic, and the imperative to say things to be got rather than have them contain things to get is what makes cool things cool (if you have to ask, then…). But it seems to me that in this lies a possible defence against the relentless flaying of our social skins by the sharp demand for transparency issued by the web, that in defying Wittgenstein and making languages private we might find a way to wriggle out of the riddle posed by socially-targeted ads and Amazon recommendations, by googling new employees and only posting our good shots on flickr, and that maybe the development of the notion of ‘cool’ in the twentieth century is what will help us hang on to the concept of ‘self’ in the twenty-first.

That, and rooting bare-fingered through the slime and detritus of flooded cities for anything we can burn for fuel, or course. This might be a worry only for a very short time. But still: it’s an idea I’d like to record, to leave in its various stunted forms on the shelves of my inner art store, to wander about and reconstruct in its Platonic glory from the absences present in these muddled sentences. It says “notebook” up there for a reason, after all.

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