August 18, 2007

On Technoshamans and the Rise of Neotribalism

Asked to attempt a summation of the online social networking community known as, I have taken to replying with the single phrase, "technoshamanism". It seems the word has not yet been taken up by many, so I'll attempt a definition here.

(For a little background information, you'd be keen to check out a term project I worked on for my Anthropology of Dance class, entitled "The Trance Dance Experience".)

A technoshaman is one who integrates modern technology into primordial practices in order to induce transcendent experiences. Now, such a description evokes remnants of that anthropological black mark- the noble savage- and thus I proceed with caution, unwilling to romanticize:

Technoshamanism seeks to rediscover the roots of human experience while utilizing modern tools. Such tools can range from repetitive electronic music, to synthetic drugs, to new technologies such as biofeedback. The states thus induced might range from supersensory to meditative. Modern "rave" culture (and I use this term with caution as well, for the rave scene has become inundated by the mainstream, thus necessitating an emergent subculture(s)) incorporates just such tools to achieve just such states, and where site and ideology merge, we have our subculture.

Regardless of terminology, the essence of such subcultures is the pursuit of the collective unconscious, consciously realized and enacted. When I say "neotribal," I refer to the tribal experience as it is recreated in the modern day. Safe spaces are created through collective artistic action; drugs consumed that serve to enhance feelings of empathy, community, clairvoyance, and/or transcendence; music played that serves to enhance said feelings and provide the collective pulse. This occurs with varying degrees of success, depending on whether individuals collaborate effectively to achieve the same goals.

The Internet is, quite naturally, one of those modern technologies that is utilized by technoshamans as a means of tapping into the collective neural network. As it exists apart (or, at the very least, disjointed) from time and space, the shape and texture of the Internet resembles that of technoshamanism itself. That's all I've got for now.

August 13, 2007

My Dad's Checked Me Out on Facebook, GAH!

It was bound to happen eventually. Last week, I received a Facebook friend request from my dad. When I followed the link, however, the friend request had disappeared. Apparently my father wised up pretty quickly- it was much easier to log into my sister's account (she uses his laptop all the time), and check me out from the inside. Last night, my sister was showing me some pictures on Facebook- we showed one to my dad, who commented, "oh, I've seen those." We looked up, startled. "Oh, what's the matter? There's nothing bad on there," he recovered quickly. We stared at one another for a long minute.

Later that night, relaxing in our nifty new hot tub, I broached the subject once more. "So, I got a friend request from you last week, but you'd disappeared. I guess you caught on to the personal nature of Facebook?" He nodded imperceptibly. "So, tell me if this is what happened- you joined the site, realized you couldn't simply view people's profiles without adding them as friends, and decided to stalk us through Kelly's account instead?" He smiled sheepishly, confirming my suspicions. I felt, and not for the first time, worried and exposed. But only for a moment... with relief I remembered that both my brother and sister have access only to my Limited Profile, which prevents them from viewing my "Friends Only" photo albums. Three cheers for conscientiousness!

Two New Ones: Multiply and Yuwie

A few days ago, at an outdoor psytrance party in Boston, I caught up with a friend I had made at another party- a German cardiac surgeon-in-training. I asked how we could keep in touch, and he responded instantly, "e-mail is best". I agreed, and the next day received an invitation to join the social networking site Multiply. I liked it instantly: utterly content-based, Multiply "is all about user powered, relationship-relevant content. Every post in your news feed is shared and discussed by people you know, either directly or indirectly through friends of friends." Multiple blogs can be uploaded, video and photo archives shared, mp3s uploaded, reviews and events posted, and personal messages sent.

A new SNC startup, Yuwie, pays its users 50 cents for every 1,000 page views. Each time content is uploaded, a message is sent, content is viewed (including pictures) or a friend accepts an invitation to the site, it counts as a page view. I find it a pretty blatant example of the increasing commodification of social life through new technologies. However, it is slightly comforting that at least someone out there is seeking to grant users their rightful profit for the "work" they do to keep the founders of SNCs rich and popular.