12-20-2016Anastasia Davydova Lewis
PARTNERS MAGAZINE JAPAN: HANDSHAKEARBITRARY DEGREES OF SEPARATION
In the spring of this year, the research team at Facebook took upon the task of investigating whether there was much truth to the theory that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Sometimes it’s presented as the “theory of six handshakes”, introducing a specificity to what a single “degree of separation” in itself, is. If you were to measure how close the world is based on something other than handshakes, the degree of separation would either rise or fall, depending on the type of intimacy you map as connective tissue. Perhaps we’re separated by no more than six handshakes from anyone else, but how about kisses? Sent emails? People we are on a first-name basis with? What is the furthest away we can be from each other to calculate a figure of being as connected as possible? What is it to know a person, to be connected to a person?
It’s no surprise Facebook would impose the idea that being internet friends via their service is now the new connective tissue, the new handshake. They announced with excitement that the distance between any person and any other person on the planet hovers around the low figure of… 3.5. Only 3.5 degrees of separation — wow! We’re more connected today than we’ve ever been before! But how can that be exciting news when we’re still convinced of our own isolation?
Ultimately, the answer lies within our new definitions of proximity, alliance, connection, family. The fabric of a social media website is far too fine to rope people into a meaningful web of connections, but that doesn’t mean the medium can’t be redefined. We’ve been redefining the medium for as long as we’ve been on this planet. Take handshakes, for example. Originating as a symbol of peace, they transformed into the equivalent of a paper contract, and today act as hellos, goodbyes, political statements, sometimes an overlooked necessity, sometimes a coveted first moment of contact.
Did you know that a man and a woman shaking hands could be a criminal offense? The satirical cartoonist Atena Farghadani, already sentenced to 12 years on account of drawing Iran’s policymakers as animals, shook hands with her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi in prison following the trial, and was charged with an “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery”. These absurd, clearly politically motivated charges raise the question of what a handshake could possibly symbolize beyond the obvious. Atena has been since released, and the puerile antics of her sexual misconduct charges are slowly sinking into oblivion… Until they eventually re-emerge somewhere else on the planet, creating more prisoners of conscience, symbols of connection being broken down from signal to noise.
Even proper documentation of contact could not help us legally define or moralize handshakes. Body cameras on policemen, the necessity of proof for sexual abuse victims - perhaps if there was documentation of Atena’s and Mohammad’s handshake, it would be easier to argue the absurdity of the charges. But in the case with photographs of handshakes, the meaning is created not by the actual act of touching hands, but by people viewing the photograph over and over again, fetishizing the event. It becomes a symbol of it’s own, losing context any time it is reproduced, until it becomes as simple as a logo for a new startup, the two hands happily greeting each other, often still flashing their cufflinks: “it’s all about business”. But isn’t it about contact? Like the lonely nail salon client who comes not for a manicure, but for someone to hold her hand, we also sometimes search for intimacy in the wrong situations, places that used to be intimate, but are now just about business.
Handshakes became an abstract concept about touching without touching - almost in contact, but separated from actual connection by it’s own meaning, the razor-thin fabric of society. This happens to any medium - kissing, hugging, email… The research team at Facebook boiled our proximity to each other down to numbers, but we know meaning cannot be quantified. In graphing the degrees of human connection, we once again confuse elemental with the inessential.
Romantic comedy is a difficult subject for me because I see romance as pure and beautiful, only comedic when combined with narcissism or depression - you know, the funny subjects. Love is a precious subject because it involves vulnerability, and personally I have a lot of trouble becoming entirely vulnerable. This “trouble” sometimes edges into near obsession, examples being an inability to post online in accordance with my emotional state or even listen to music in an app I know is being tracked, like Spotify or Apple Music. My vulnerability today is a narcissistic fear of emotionless surveillance, that my emotions will be used against me - but this time, not by a callous boy, but a shoe company, frozen yogurt chain, or streaming service. You all saw those creepy Spotify ads, right? “Dear person who listened to “Sorry” by Justin Bieber four thousand times: what happened?”. Yeah, I didn’t feel targeted or creeped out at all! And that’s a peculiar response, especially since I had a Last.fm account from about 11 years of age to which I meticuluosly scrobbled every single track I had listened to, hoping that someday I would have a secret admirer who would go through the listening history and create a calendar of my emotional state based on what tracks I played. I never did have a secret admirer like that. Only Spotify.
Diary April 2016 (Same breakup as above playlist was made for)
When Dylan and I were seeing each other, I had a fixation of sorts on visiting grocery stores together. Really, I romanticized any kind of superstore at the time, marveling at the sheer insanity of it all - arbitrary-seeming price stickers floating from product to product, goofy package design, suggesting long freelancer nights in some faraway Midwestern studio apartment, coupons referencing pop culture, elevator music curation, marketing buzzwords. How could you not feel fortunate to witness the hilarious, absurd existence of an American superstore? I’d lure him into the pet care aisle, squeezing plastic chickens and embarrassing him with loud toy noises and my own childlike excitement.
Eventually, I stopped trying to force my excitement of grocery shopping on him, since he often appeared somewhat annoyed with it, and eventually, our relationship came to a lull. At some point after our emotions settled, he asked if I wanted to come along with him on a short trip to the supermarket. I found the idea of someone else driving me practical, and agreed. We both shopped separately, looking for needed staples. There was no arm-in-arm giggling at turkey-shaped butter, or attempts to splash each other with the produce sprinkler. At one point, we bumped into each other at the hummus stand, and he played up some excitement about a large tub of garlic hummus being an excellent deal. And then I saw it. Here he was, at a grocery store, being excited about it. About a good deal on hummus. Here he was, grocery shopping with me and being excited, and I realized that I walked through the whole square footage of the place without the worldview I was overwhelmed with just a few months prior.
I feel frustrated that this reads like a story about how I fell out of love with Dylan, since it’s really a story about how I fell out of love with superstores, or perhaps something even larger than that. Somehow, this large building that used to feel like a cinematic and dreamlike joke, a psychological amusement ride where everything just seems so unreal, as if I could grab into the air and it would all dissolve - somehow, it just became the place where I knew I could find some sustenance.
THE SUPERMARKET DOESN'T LOVE YOU
the grocery store is the cyborg’s forestit is a forest controlled physically by other cyborgs, yet ideologically by neoliberalism.
we have dreamed of a cybernetic ecology where we are free of our labors and joined back to nature, watched over by machines of loving grace. we are today watched over by much more than just ugly cctvs (those being a crude banksyist representation of the reality of surveillance), but is there that loving grace behind each boundary pushing technology?
without loving grace… a machine is just a machine. a machine is separated from good and evil by nothing more than sheer coincidence.
a car becomes an object that can scream and hit things, rather than something that transports.
when we use technology, we are throwing blades at each other, laughing, because to us it’s a entertaining game of frisbee
w e a r e p l a y i n g w i t h f i r e
the modern supermarket is a physical space always playing with a virtual space tracking your ‘consumer behaviour’, the floor plan is ‘enhanced’, essentiallymorphing into a gigantic sea monster that knows more about youthan you do yourself
the online environment is already an individualistic, isolated experience despite the promise of “being connected”does our physical cybernetic ecology have to be the same way?
you go to the grocery store and you’re somewhere else : without you, its not the same
5’10 Russian girl seeking someone to make out with in a health food store wearing fitbits. If ur gonna get off to power dynamics why go for the patriarchy and do bdsm when the surveillance state is way more daddy?
Facebook post poem
I love that moment when technology becomes imperfect, and immediately more sentient. when humans scold it as if it were another beingthat physical momenthitting the TVpulling on your earbudstilting the touch ID just rightkeeping the throttle openturning the router on and offbecoming one with the machineknowing the machine intimately being intimate with the machine