Fotokritik

Too Much Information

Posted in Uncategorized by JS on August 10, 2012

I don’t care who’s banging Tracey Emin

Life was good six years ago. We knew where to get things, we got things we could afford, we had our friends and we spent time doing the things we liked. And we had the internet. It wasn’t the internet we have today but it worked. Nothing was missing really. I didn’t know anyone who asked for three million more porn sites or for a platform where people could poke each other and tell everybody what they had for breakfast. Life was good six years ago.
I was in the US preparing an exhibition at a college museum, and that’s where I heard of this thing called Facebook for the first time. A funny name for a funny thing. College students spent quite a bit of time with it but I didn’t really understand the fascination. This funny thing had just opened to everyone after it had been accessible only to an elitist circle for a while. The number of users increased dramatically soon after, and it didn’t take long until a person without a Facebook account seemed as outdated as a person without an email address. I resisted for a while but in December 2007 I surrendered.
Today Facebook is the universal tool, the Swiss army knife of the internet age. You can use it for letting the world know about your whereabouts, for broadcastings your feelings and opinions, for announcing your parties, for updating absolutely everybody about your digestion, for dumping your snapshots, for chatting with your friends, for mobbing your enemies, for advertising your business, for playing games, for manipulating the stock market and for ridding the Maghreb of dictators, among others.
I joined Facebook out of professional curiosity. As a private person I use it very reluctantly, or better: not at all. After too many people requested to be my friends I created a page where I post occasional news about my professional activities. People sending friend requests are directed to the page because I don’t see why I should be friends with someone I don’t know. You can „like“ the page, or not. My well-being does not depend on the number of likes.
At this time I have 269 friends on Facebook. Some of them are real life friends. Some are people I worked with. Some are people I met once. I often wonder about friend requests. Why does someone who learned about an artwork want be on the list of friends if they never even met the artist? Why does a guy want to be my friend if he already knows I think he’s an asshole? And what about that person who used to be the willing assistant of an art dealer who turned out to be a psychotic scumbag? All of a sudden they want to be my friend? Very strange. Not so strange but strange enough are the friends of friends; or people who saw an exhibition; or people who bought a book; or people who participated in a workshop.
That’s how Sydney became my friend not long ago. Sydney has 1,214 friends as I am writing this. She’s probably the ideal Facebook user, she shares what’s on her mind and writes something several times a day. Being her friend I get to read these posts. Only a few days after Sydney became my friend, this came to my attention: „Ben is banging Tracey Emin“, followed by a link to a journal that seems to be specialized in producing society news decorated with paparazzi photos. (I think these things are called society news.)
Thanks for sharing. This is the piece of information that was missing. Life feels more complete with that additional knowledge. How often I have wondered in sleepless nights who’s banging Tracey Emin? How many magazines did I buy and how many TV shows did I watch to find out? And Ben — I didn’t even know he existed! Good to learn he’s around and enjoys a healthy sex life. Is this what Sydney had on her mind when she decided to break the sensational news? She seems to work on the assumption that this is what her friends would like to read.
She’s wrong. There’s a reason why I don’t read yellow press, and I’m not happy that this rubbish enters my brain through the back door. I don’t want to know which celebrity gets married to or divorced from which other celebrity. I’m neither interested in the royal families‘ inbreeding nor in any Hollywood parties nor in high society gossip; nor do I wish to be told which artist is being banged by whom. I simply don’t want to know.
The average Facebook user’s friends count is 234, i.e. altogether my friends have 62,946 friends, give or take a few. Supposedly most of these people are banging, bonking, shagging or wanking. So do the people without Facebook accounts my friends might know. Do I really want to be told about all the action, who’s in bed with whom? My life is perfectly ok without this knowledge. Or let’s say, my life was ok before I learned that Ben is banging Tracey Emin. Now I need to find a way to get rid of the unwanted information. The piece of rubbish sticks in my brain like a dirty chewing gum under my soles.
If anyone would ever have asked me „Do you know who’s banging Tracey Emin?“, I would have answered in all honesty „I don’t care“ — until recently, that is. Nobody ever asked and that’s the way it is supposed to be. However, if anyone will ever ask the same question one day, I’ll probably answer „I don’t know who’s doing the job right now but back in summer 2012 it was Ben, you know Ben whom Syndney went to university with. If you would like to know who Ben is banging now or who’s banging Sydney, just check Facebook. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find her, she’s friends with everybody.“
Sydney is no longer my friend. It’s not that I like her less than before, it’s just that I don’t want to read who’s banging whom. Depending on the Facebook algorithm’s mood my friends‘ emissions are being pushed into my face, and frankly, I’m tired of it. The news about Ben and Tracey was just the one line too many. If you don’t find your name on the list of my Facebook friends it’s because I do not wish to read the stuff you post on Facebook. The number of friends will be decreasing from now on. Even real life friends may be affected, and this does not mean we’re not friends any more. It just means I don’t want your Facebook posts on my mind; or I don’t wish to see the snapshots you upload.
The latter may be surprising for someone whose artwork relies heavily on other people’s photographs. Finding more or different photographs was one of my reasons for joining Facebook. I don’t find any, or to be more precise, I don’t find any I can work with. Other people’s photographs can be fascinating as long as they are anonymous. If you are familiar with the persons depicted they are something very different. Knowing the person in a photograph creates a completely different attitude. There’s no unbiased viewing. It’s like when you walk into a room and see two people banging. If they are strangers it may be seductive to have a peek but if one of them is your sister it may seem wiser to close the door, from the outside.

Joachim Schmid
August 2012

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About one year after writing the statement above I changed my mind. I surrender. Everybody can be my friend now. It doesn’t mean anything. I don’t read Facebook updates any longer. I also don’t post anything there. You can be my friend nevertheless. Feel free to mention the affiliation on your business card. Don’t forget to tell the world about it on Twitter, Tumblr, and what you have. It doesn’t mean anything. Nobody is going to read it. It’s just another bit of pollution in the world.

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