The following is the text supporting my video, ‘Para / Social.’ I’m inordinately proud of both the edit and the writing I’ve done in support of the piece. YouTube link: Para / Social
We are living through a long, accelerated process of change as we grapple with the technologies and systems we’ve created. Reality and the world as we experience it shapes our perception of what is possible while also defining what will follow us into the future. Para-social relationships are only one element, one point of impact on the landscape we move through in our lives.
The audio track from ‘Annihilation,’ is always present in this video. Even with the rise of ‘Just My Imagination,’ sending us into a reverie we share, briefly, an unsettling reality emerges. A perceived love relationship, presented as startling and beautiful, is revealed to be an illusion, a corrupt self-reflection. This is the nature of most para-social relationships. They exist in a parallel reality, with brief snaps, existing mainly as the creation of one another and independent of truth, depth, or any meaningful catalyst for growth.
The film ‘Annihilation,’ (and the reference to my earlier, ‘Origin Story,’) as referenced here stands in for the complex processes set in motion when all the rules change — in the world of science, in society, and in an individual’s life. In the film, an unknown organism arrives on the Earth, spreading and growing, interacting with the environment in ways that undermine the sense of order human civilization has developed to master the world. The organism — perhaps more accurately defined as a force — has no regard for the destruction it causes, appearing in some ways to behave as a child in a sandbox, exploring and building and wrecking as it chews through the world it has encountered. One character describes the affected zone, known as ‘The Shimmer,’ as refracting the material it encounters, functioning as a prism. Rapid mass networked communication has a similar effect on our psychology.
The dangers of contemporary communications and social media are difficult to fathom, and, I suspect, will prove to outweigh the benefits. Interrogating that area of thought we must look to the sources of power in human society and the ways they are consciously and unconsciously directed.
Cultural and social values forever drive societies forward in time, yet our world is being driven by increasingly anti-human values. The world is shiny and clean, or narrow and gritty, or maybe bubble gum scented — as long as it’s mediated, controlled, and providing whatever it is you think you need from it, it’s saleable. Personal relationships, especially those managed through the filter of modern technology, are not immune to commodification and a sort of transactional superficiality built on little moments of transmitted emotion.
The experience of finding someone bright, someone who stands out, and experiencing them reveal themselves, gradually, can be magical. That experience is not built only on their personality, their loves, their talents or interests. What’s magical is the interplay, the tension, the force and transformation of perception, thought and idea, as a shared reality. These are not what curation offers. These elements may germinate in a snapshot, but they die, untended, in the real world. Beyond that moment, when something conjured out of notes of light and shadow is revealed as gossamer, can define a universe of possibilities, narrowing to a singular outcome. For some, it’s the illusion itself they love. For others, it’s the drama, the angst of something forever just out of reach.
In the realm of para-social connection, it is commonplace to find a game of seduction drawn out, flattening the experience into a two-dimensional caricature of life. Here, momentary interruptions in the natural rhythm of arousal and response are filled with silence, or advice on how to better appeal to the vanity, the ego of the other. In a real-world setting, these are cues. In a mediated elicitation, they are something else. When the power dynamic is wrong, it becomes a strange kind of expectation of service. At best, from any perspective, a para-social-transactional relationship results not in connection, but in something more akin to mutual self-absorption.
In some para-social relationships a moment arrives, delicate and swollen with uncertain promise, when transformation is possible. It’s a beginning-again in a flawed and over-bright realm where nuance and shadow are more substantial and less easily marshaled. Failure is possible in ways not imaginable in a fantasy. Perhaps it is the danger of real consequences that make such a transition worth the attempt.
Part of the difficulty here communicating in brief is translating the language which I constructed this idea into language that is understandable to others. I make an effort to stick very much to my own vocabulary, but I cannot entirely abandon standard English if I expect to communicate the ideas which I spend time thinking on.
Sometimes I forget most people don’t have access to my frame of reference, my process, and my set of beliefs. Which, in some ways is an important part of what this video represents. Until you take a step in one direction or another and view its themes as something apart from what I have written about explicitly…