A Parasitology of Social Media

A Parasitology of Social Media

Again, the impos­ture has suc­ceed­ed; the par­a­site is well hid­den behind his mim­ic­ry, behind his rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The oper­a­tion of col­lec­tion van­ished behind the activ­i­ty of sim­u­la­tion. Every­one sees the blind­ness of the host. Every­one is blind for see­ing only the hypocrisy, for see­ing only mim­ic­ry.

Michel Ser­res, The Par­a­site

There is some­thing insid­i­ous, nocu­ous, and par­a­sitic about social media. In a rel­a­tive­ly short time tech­no­log­i­cal advances in com­mu­ni­ca­tion have opened the world to us. It has short­ened dis­tances and allowed us to con­nect quick­er and more read­i­ly than ever before. We have entered a new era of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion. An era in which we are con­stant­ly deal­ing with the ill effects of our con­sis­tent inun­da­tion of all media forms. We have and con­tin­ue to believe in the democ­ra­tiz­ing effects of the Inter­net and her tech­nolo­gies. We hold the belief that we have cre­at­ed a vir­tu­al democ­ra­cy that we inhab­it; how­ev­er, we need to come to the under­stand­ing that it is the tech­nolo­gies behind mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion that have come to inhab­it us. We are not in con­trol here. 

 

II 

Scroll, scroll, scroll. It’s a phe­nom­e­non now so per­va­sive that it’s got a name: zom­bie scrolling syn­drome. (The secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny McAfee coined the phrase in 2016.) We are the undead of lore, sham­bling through the world, moan­ing and groan­ing with half-closed eyes. I’d like to be able to tell you this is a fan­tas­ti­cal bit of exag­ger­a­tion, that we shouldn’t be so hard on our­selves. I can do no such thing.

Matt Simon, Learn From The­se Bugs. Don’t Let Social Media Zomb­i­fy You, Wired

It is half past six in the morn­ing. The pup­py is scratch­ing at the bed­room door want­i­ng to be fed. my eyes are bare­ly open. I fall back to sleep. My wife feeds the dog. When I wake back up I awake to the din of a screen. My wife is doing her rounds on social media. I yawn and stretch one arm to grab my phone so that I too can “con­nect” to the out­side world. Ah, this is mod­ern love. We share news arti­cles and fun­ny videos or memes with­out even leav­ing the bed. As one might sus­pect: we have been infect­ed.

We tend to lump this sort of behav­ior into the cat­e­go­ry of addic­tion. I believe it is more than addic­tion. We are infect­ed by a tech­no­log­i­cal­ly born mind-con­trol­ling par­a­site. This par­a­site needs dopamine and so it pro­vides us with a form of acce­si­ble grat­i­fi­ca­tion to farm it from our brains and bod­ies.

 

III

Instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion’ is the imme­di­ate attain­abil­i­ty of sat­is­fac­tion and hap­pi­ness. It is a way of expe­ri­enc­ing plea­sure and ful­fill­ment with­out delay or patience because it pro­vides a spike in dopamine with­out effort or dis­ci­pline.

With the inter­net, twit­ter, and tex­ting, instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion of your desire to seek is avail­able at the click of a but­ton. You can talk to any­one just by send­ing a text and they’ll respond in a few sec­onds. All the infor­ma­tion you could want is read­i­ly avail­able by a google search. 

Reece Robert­son, Why You’re Addict­ed to Social Media — Dopamine, Tech­nol­o­gy, and Inequal­i­ty

Dopamine, you are deli­cious. You are a series of one night stands. You are my drug of choice. You make me feel like the belle of the ball. You give me that wham bam thank you m’am treat­ment and I love it. You leave me want­i­ng.

We play host to this par­a­site. We are the sys­tem to its sub­sys­tem. We cre­at­ed it. We gave birth to it. We gave it an envi­ron­ment to flour­ish in beneath our own skin, with­in our organs and in our brains. It pro­duces the moments for us to con­sume and pro­duce the dopamine which we both crave.

The par­a­site doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop eat­ing or drink­ing or yelling or burp­ing or mak­ing thou­sands of nois­es or fill­ing space with its swarm­ing din. The par­a­site is an expan­sion; it runs and grows. It invades and occu­pies. It over­flows, all of a sud­den, from the­se pages. Inun­da­tion, swelling waters.

Michel Ser­res, The Par­a­site

IV

There seems to me too much mis­ery in the world. I can­not per­suade myself that a benef­i­cent and omnipo­tent God would have designed­ly cre­at­ed the Ich­neu­monidae [par­a­sitic wasps] with the express inten­tion of their feed­ing with­in the liv­ing bod­ies of cater­pil­lars …

Charles Dar­win

Yet here we are. Feed­ing off of one anoth­er. Being fed off of by the tech­nolo­gies we cre­at­ed. Human like sys­tems sus­pend­ed in the cor­po­re­al­i­ty of our men­tal states and neu­ro­chem­istry. Tak­ing home in our bod­ies. The psy­cho­log­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion that this has a caused. A sort of zomb­i­fi­ca­tion of the social. Sociopa­thy is the new nor­mal in a world where cap­i­tal­ism has been suc­ceed­ed by social cap­i­tal and the pure con­sump­tion of the image. The par­a­site has so per­fect­ly mim­ic­ked us, we have come to believe that we are the­se desir­ing hedo­nis­tic machi­nes; how­ev­er, it is the par­a­site adorned by our flesh as cloth­ing. We now oper­ate to ful­fill its wish­es. We feed off of the liv­ing bod­ies of each oth­er. We see the hypocrisy of the social par­a­site, yet we do noth­ing to rid our­selves of it. We lay in bed, lovers, speak­ing to each oth­er secret­ly through devices the par­a­site has given us to to obscure itself and to blind us. The world is easy. Mis­er­able, but easy. 

V

T. gondii is a com­mon pro­to­zoa (par­a­site) that once ingest­ed trav­els to the brain, where it can cause sub­tle changes over time … The results showed test­ing pos­i­tive for the par­a­site was sig­nif­i­cant­ly tied to high­er scores on the scale, which would indi­cate a high­er risk of a future sui­cide attempt.

Catharine Pad­dock, Com­mon Par­a­site Linked to Sui­cide Risk

The sub­tle­ty of lone­li­ness can eas­i­ly be seen in that soft glow of a smart­phone screen. We are alone in crowds. Always crav­ing more. My wife and I are hav­ing din­ner. I check my phone three, four, five times in half of an hour. My hand reach­es for it habit­u­al­ly. We are hav­ing a great con­ver­sa­tion. Still, some­thing inside me tells me I need more. This par­a­site is grow­ing in all of us. We like to think that we inhab­it it as if it were anoth­er com­mon space; how­ev­er, it inhab­its us, our bod­ies, and dis­torts our sense of time and space. It pro­vides the per­fect envi­ron­ment for us help it repro­duce. In the world it cre­ates for us, we are already dead. We are per­fect sim­u­la­tions of our­selves. Dream car­i­ca­tures that dan­gle in front of us like gold­en car­rots. The­se sim­u­la­tions are lures in which the par­a­site waits for anoth­er human to bite. It spreads this way. It spreads through an inau­then­tic net­work that it has cre­at­ed.

Repro­duc­tion is often crude and ugly. Social media is the per­fect envi­ron­ment in which to hide the authen­tic nature of the par­a­site. Like pornog­ra­phy, it is staged. The bet­ter the sim­u­la­tion, the more blind we are to it. We play host to each oth­ers par­a­site, to one another’s lone­li­ness. We con­sume one anoth­er, not out of bore­dom, but out of neces­si­ty. The par­a­site is always hun­gry.
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If you are a wolf – 
a car­niv­o­rous wolf 
with paws 
like fence posts, like speed bumps, like a cor­duroy road – 

or a fairy-tale wolf embar­rassed out of your mind to be caught 
wear­ing Grandmother’s dress­ing gown, frills 
down to your kick­ass knuck­les, 
knuck­les with fur on them that just now clutch 
the tan­gled strings of a pink bon­net – 
if all you want­ed was a cup of sug­ar, 
the whole thing a case of being mis­cast – 

or 

if you are a scared wolf, 
an endan­gered wolf, a 
dis­ap­peared New­found­land wolf, 

or a hun­gry, or a moth­er 
wolf who wants to feed her pups 
you must 

you must put your teeth 
into the neck and the fur of a wild ani­mal 
with hooves like fly­ing ham­mers, 
an ani­mal that bites and kicks and wants you dead, 
                                                                            and you must kill it 
with your mouth.

A girl walks into the woods and the Prus­sian-green 
trees grow togeth­er like joined eye­brows. 

Everything’s linked. 
The bend in the road has always bent – 

it is she 
who has just 
arrived, 
who’s being 
shaped – 

Cor­nelia Hoog­land, Woods Wolf Girl