Interactivity is Affectivity
(cross posted on whateverbutton.com/blog)
Over the summer I wrote an essay called ‘Interactivity is Affectivity’ for the tutorial ‘Current themes in new media’. You may like to read the following teaser, or even click pdf for the pdf.
The report of the death of interactivity comes from Mark Andrejevic (2001). He calls the initial failure of the Big Brother television format in the United States a watershed moment in the passage from interactivity to what he terms, following Slavoj Zizek, interpassivity. During its first season, viewers voted off the show’s most interesting participants, the ones most likely to fight, seduce, connive and be generally entertaining. Understanding their tactical error, executives opted for an alternative format in the second season, whereby the Big Brother participants themselves did the voting, ensuring a maximum of drama inside the house. For Andrejevic, the story highlights the incompatibility of the democratizing potential of interactivity (“power-sharing”) with its imperative from the finance departments, i.e. to offload work to the consumer. Synthesis comes in the form of ‘interpassivity’, “the unobtrusive monitoring built into the digital TV that keeps track of [the audience]” so as to offer TiVo-like recommendations.
The narrative holds that, by default, real control will always elide consumers of interactivity, and represents a necessary critique of the so-called liberating potential of new technologies. It appears to me, though, that interactivity is an exceptional target. This is no doubt due to the simple fact that one hears about interactivity all the time – the term’s overwhelming presence in everything from entertainment and education to art and politics has long set in motion backlashes in each of these areas. As Andrejevic astutely argues, the equation of interactivity with user control and empowerment generally amounts to no more than an easy selling point with little substance. But to then conclude that this is the pacification of interactivity is, perhaps, to skip a step. If the selling point is fully rejected, as it should be, then why stick to the framework that pits interactivity against control at all? What is interactivity after empowerment?