Can you see me? The selfishness of difference

Relationships, work, lifestyle, development. Technology has ups and downs, and each of these areas have been affected. But it’s not about that. Today, we might think that everything’s connected to your Facebook activity log. They also have copies of your WhatsApp conversations on Drive. They have apps to save your passwords, they have paid services to retrieve all information from a person, how to track down the device you’re using, and we’re opting in because we think we can’t miss the opportunities of buying — even though a majority doesn’t make minimum wage, yet they still choose tailored content, sharing data with business partners, and so on. But let’s go beyond tech, shall we?

I’ve met a few people from Russia. The first was a girl who works as a pet shop assistant, taking care of and rescuing dogs from the street. Her dad recently passed away. She called me on Skype from the hospital, on a different occasion. She sends me pictures of landscapes, snow, dogs and her hair. Also, posts a lot of crazy songs. Kind of a punk fan. Russian, beautiful. First time we talked, we were on camera, showing our copies of Russian literature; I had a few from 34, the publishing company. She had originals with that writing I can’t really understand. Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. I remember telling her I imagined myself walking the Nevsky Avenue. She said: “interesting”. I mean, she never talked about me installing Kaspesky, a company that makes nearly a billion in profits. We talked about music, mostly. And she’s been a friend since the eventful year of 2012, my graduation year (from college, kids). But let’s fast forward. The other girl I met from Russia was because I was on YouTube, obssessing about Opeth, the Swedish band — which you can watch on this great channel, if you’re curious. Her name is Marjana Semkina, a very talented person, to say the very least. Her latest albums with iamthemorning are masterpieces, and if you click the link you’ll probably agree. I think she realized I also came from a progressive music fanbase, the likes of Angra, but absolutely, King Crimson, late listens to Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a little bit of Dream Theater when I was younger, and lots of Pink Floyd, not to mention Anathema, Pineapple Thief and Steven Wilson, including Porcupine Tree — but mainly, Opeth. You can just Google them all. More recently, I got hooked on Karnivool. But what we talked about, after a few compliments here and there, was how much she looked like my ex. She gracefully took the compliment — then went on tours. But the funny thing is, she was comfortable enough to comment about her relationship with the pianist. And I was a complete stranger. Now the third person, well, it’s complicated. She was from a small city, worked as a translator. Mentioned to me this site dedicated to translators and jobs needed to be done with rigor and a careful analysis. But my point is the careful analysis, which I’ll talk about in a minute. We met on a site called Faceflow, an alternative to Omegle, the controversial window to open communication with the world. People have profiles on this site — most of them should get banned, but what do we know? In fact, content moderation seems to be getting a little tougher (whatever that means). One day, after a few Skype calls with her, I asked her if she considered me “a friend” or just “a person she knew”. The latter, she stated. I wasn’t surprised — not exactly. But what happened after and why she thought that isn’t going to be discussed in this blog, whether it’s an expectation people have or not. There were two Russian girls, once, that were following Pornhub’s Instagram account. I started following them on my spam, the famous “finsta“; we talked for a bit, they were in school. It lasted a few hours and there were 30-40 messages exchanged. Nothing out of normality.

Now enough about Russia. Or not. I wanna talk philosophy here: not Pavlov, and you can click that if you’re Brazilian, but Mikhail Bakhtin. My friend Inti Queiroz, who studied in depth the Bakhtin Circle, went beyond the quote that stuck with me: “the multiplicity of meaning is what makes the word a word” (and you can get the source on Amazon or a Brazilian version, with Estante Virtual). I was still very new to semiotics. The “meaning of meaning”, as my friend (and boss) told me at the time. Gunther Kress was still alive — and God, was he brilliant. I hadn’t gone through Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope’s work — dropped their course, thought the whole seven afordances thing was interesting, just didn’t see an opportunity to comment. But back to the quote:

“The multiplicity of meaning is what makes the word a word”

Let’s be real. How many people do you talk to, on a daily basis? How many people do you think others talk to, on a daily basis? That’s a shock of reality — but that’s normal, that’s today’s state of relationships, as well as trust, love and commitment. Then you have family values. Then you have international contexts. And that is the discussion I want to have. If just a single word can have a multiplicity of meanings, imagine 200 texts from strangers on your snap at the same time. Am I wrong? Well, it’s good to have proof. Some people focus on why people can’t stop sending pictures (culture); others will treat it as cold data, and how the platform works (context). But what few people notice is that the Bloomberg ads are all over Snapchat.

My bigger question is this: do we know everyone’s context? If we talk to multiple people every day, are we being good friends, or, like a high school dude used to say, we don’t have friends, but rather, contacts? And I guess I should say that if we dismiss the possibility of long-distance friendship, we also dismiss the concept of relationship with technology as an intermediary. I’m not exactly chugging on Zuckerberg juice, but I do think connecting the world sounds like a good idea. Because what we see today is a great disconnect. And the context? Well, that is, in my view, history of media. And let’s not forget that the term “social media” is cringe. In other words, put Sasha Grey and Malala Yousafzai in the same room. There’s different approaches, but I don’t think people even care about a critical analysis of image representation, semiotics aside, identity enforced, and how things work today. A lot of people would say the unsolicited is the problem, some of them will demand quality. A paradox. But did you ever change someone’s day for the better?

While the great Hegel asks us to consider the other side, it’s hard to be in a situation where we just can’t see it. Can you imagine 3 million people wanting to escape their nation to live in the land of the free — and being successful? Americans, and not only them, might have to think about the fact that, in so called “real life”, we speak a different language, and the challenges and daily struggles are completely out of sight — invisible, if you will. The chance to succeed is a myth. The question of merit is mere discursive deliruim: you hear the word, you think it might be about you. It’s not. Unless you make every effort possible. And the effort, among text messages, images, quality content and content we want to hide, is finding someone who understands. Please, try to. Please, see me. On the other side, though, we have people who say: “you can’t possibly not like this”. And that’s where we are: an imposed order of things, ignoring every tangencial approach, but secretly thinking about them. The context? Nobody really knows. But we keep going, who knows where, until we get reassurance in the form of a click — or a nice joke at the breakfast table, while we know the day is just starting, and we’ll have to endure, until we’re too sleepy to think about afterhours freedom.

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