Dirt: Forbidden desires
It is forbidden to see photos of your friends.
Daisy Alioto on the blue-balling of Instagram’s userbase.
It is forbidden to see posts from people you follow
It is forbidden for the png to actually be transparent
It is forbidden to save the jpeg as anything but a webpage
It is forbidden to unsubscribe
It is forbidden to download your analytics as a CSV
It is forbidden to ctrl + F in the PDF
It is forbidden to edit the tweet
It is forbidden to see who viewed your LinkedIn
It is forbidden to keep scrolling for “way too long”
It is forbidden to BeReal really really late
It is forbidden to see photos of your friends
The Internet is at war with itself. At stake is nothing less than a single source of truth, but the “truth” is not a sequence of references leading back to a unit of data or information, the “truth” is desire. What do we really want? Do we move through structures that allow us to articulate what we want without first being told?
The war came to a head this week with Instagram chief Adam Mosseri as the poster boy for thwarted desire. Instagram users have become increasingly frustrated with their lack of choice–especially around features like sponsored content, suggested posts and the intrusion of TikTok-inspired Reels. Mosseri’s “we here for you” moment seemed to portray these changes outside of, and even independent from, Instagram’s own desires. “I'd love for there to be more friend content in-feed, but all the growth in photos and videos from friends has been in stories and in DMs,” he tweeted.
It is one thing to feel that your own desires aren’t being met, it is the prerogative of the business to fulfill their desires over yours. But for the business to seem unable to locate their desires—as if they misplaced their libido in the folds of their own algorithm—was unacceptable. Indeed, the response to the Desire Broker who can’t fulfill his own desires wasn’t pity, it was a primal scream. “I want to be clear — we design the app, and that means that we can affect how the app is used,” Mosseri was ultimately forced to admit.
“One way to view the irritating state of things is as a kind of collective sexual frustration,” wrote Haley Nahman in her essay the death of sex. “In the sexy panopticon of social media, we’re all socialized more like how women have always been: Our goal is to appear desirable to others rather than feel desire ourselves,” Dean Kissick wrote last year in Document Journal.
How frustrating, to have been told you want to see pictures of family and friends, and to come to desire that, and then to have it taken from you. To have fought through the ambiguity and infinite, mediocre offerings of your iPhone to place the tip of your finger on the photos of babies and dogs you used to maybe hate? And make fun of? To say “this, I want this,” only to be rejected by the man behind the curtain. It’s like rewiring your brain for someone else’s kink (sure I’ll try pegging just this once) only to be told “you must be confusing me with somebody else.” Right, the person in charge.
The last NFT boom market was a good way to observe the speedrunning of desire, once-removed. In one collection of beautiful cartoon women, it was the balaclava-clad ones that quickly became the most expensive and thus, desirable. They didn’t look like their buyers because they didn’t look like anyone. Investors tried to predict which special traits would become the most sought-after, not because they wanted them, but because they thought others would.
Reproducing the financial speculation of others means reproducing their desires: The pump and dump as a form of virtual pornography. In a derivative of NFT project Blitmap, majority-male buyers gravitated not to images of a nude woman or phallic eggplant but a teddy bear and a rose. (RIP Freud, you would have loved Discord.)
It’s embarrassing to want things, especially on the internet, where you don’t really want things until you do. The push and pull between digital sentimentality, age regression, gamified adulting and expensive Beanie Babies vs. surveillance and algorithmically juiced misinformation feels like the push and pull between the Freudian tendency and the Fascist one. If those are our only options, I’m out!
I recently watched Closer, which feels like a time capsule from a less sexless era. I was sort of reveling in the perfect 2004ness of it–post 9/11, pre-social media. When voyeurism still had the thrill of voyeurism, and not just stuffing another Cheez-It in your mouth.
If entertainment in 2022 is Freudians vs. Fascists, in the early 2000s it was Bobos vs. Brutes. Closer has the DNA of a 90s rom-com, that sort of clumsy anonymity1 …white tulips as the height of interior decorating and little cardigans. Closer subverted Sliding Doors (1998) and now there is nothing in the rom-com to subvert anymore. But I digress.
“I hate retro, I hate the future, where does that leave me?” says dermatologist Larry Gray (the brute). At this point in the film, he is the one that has been left, by his partner, for writer Dan Woolf (the bobo). What do you do with a guy like Gray? In Patrick Marber’s case, you give him the line “everything is a version of something else” and then you temporarily replace him. The brute gets all the profundity, the bobo ends up alone.
Is there anything more thoroughly washed than following your heart’s desire?
One hypothesis of the internet, writes Sam Kriss, is that it is made of demons, and maybe that is why Adam Mosseri is having such a difficult time taming it:
This theory is—probably—a joke. It is not a serious analysis. But still, there’s something there; there are ways in which the internet really does seem to work like a possessing demon. We tend to think that the internet is a communications network we use to speak to one another—but in a sense, we’re not doing anything of the sort. Instead, we are the ones being spoken through.
I have been reading Barbara Rosenwein’s Love: A History in Five Fantasies (2022, Polity Press) in which she talks about Eros. According to Socrates, (as told to by the priestess Diotima) Eros was a daemon2 and not a god, his mother was Need and his father was Resourcefulness.
If the compulsion of the internet is to be frictionless (need), it is also to overcome that which is forbidden (resourcefulness). If the internet is made of demons, it is also made of desires. The remaining question is, whose? — Daisy Alioto
The Dirt: Don’t protect me from what I want.
Here is a short list of things people do in these movies that they don’t do in real life: they wear short pink wigs, go to the opera, have a friend who makes large format black and white photography, and slap each other across the face. To quote Grace Paley: “What? What life? No life of mine.”
“In multitasking computer operating systems, a daemon is a computer program that runs as a background process, rather than being under the direct control of an interactive user.” (Wikipedia)