Note — Mar 08, 2020

It Doesn’t Matter If Anyone Exists or Not

Seen in → No.116

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Ian Bogost meditating on the fake pictures of people created with generative adversarial network. Are they really that surprisingly fake? We have already been trained to ignore the strangers on the street, the models in ads, and been witness to the internet’s work of “evaporating physical bodies into digital phantoms and then pressing them into ever-denser slums of infinite scrolling.” For a point of reference, he goes back to Baudelaire’s dandy and flâneur, experimenting the flood of strangers in the mercantile cities of the Early Modern period.

One could force a parallel with Sloan’s piece above, as the early open web “village” became the “mercantile city,” and we feel the sometimes overwhelming presence of a flood of strangers.

Contemporary individuals have trained all their lives to treat people in exactly this instrumental way—not only the strangers on city streets, but also the models in the photos that grace IT-solutions banners inside airport terminals, the youth of all skin shades draped across college quads on application mailers, the baristas who hand over one-Splenda soy lattes with names misspelled on the cups. […]

Baudelaire’s solution embraced the new horror of urban life as delight. The dandy and the flâneur (a “wanderer”) became his paradigms for this process. Instead of being shocked, these “perfect spectators” would choose to “become flesh with the crowd.” They would indulge, and even manufacture, the “immense joy” of “the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.” […]

The crowd isn’t made up of people anymore, but of pictures that might be people, of corporate brands impersonating them, of young people dancing politically in TikToks, of tweets about youths in TikToks, of disputes absent referents, of bots shouting into the void.”