A Twitter thread, slightly expanded, for those of you with the good sense not to be on Twitter.
Thesis: Many of our present social, political, personal disorders are rooted in or related to disorders of attention. But … disorders of attention are themselves rooted in an earlier disorderd state: that of the anonymous individual of mass society.
The desire for attention is itself a good and perfectly human desire. In Arendt’s terms, it is the desire to appear and act before others and to be noted in our particularity. It is the desire to be seen and to be acknowledged for who we are.
For Arendt this appearing and acting happened in the public realm as opposed to the private realm or the social realm. The political arena of the ancient Greek polis was her model for this public space. The private realm was the realm of the household. The social realm was a more recent development, it was the realm of mass society. It was not a private realm, but neither was it a realm in which the individual could meaningfully appear in the integrity of her particularity.
The scale and structures of mass society denied individuals this space of appearing. Most individuals no longer had access to a realm wherein they could be meaningfully noted by others. (Aside: celebrity culture is a vicarious satisfaction of this unsatisfiable desire. See also Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer.)
Social media appeared to satisfy this need through platforms designed ostensibly to satisfy this desire for what was now termed “connection.” But what actually appeared was an increasingly compulsive because never fully satisfied desire for attention.
In part, this is because, like mass society, social media does not operate at a scale or in a space conducive to meaningful human appearing and action.
Rather than reconstituting human-scaled spaces of embodied appearance and action, social media generated mass-scaled spaces where our disembodied avatars competed for attention on platforms explicitly designed to generate this compulsive seeking after attention.
Also, where pre-mass society spaces were delimited and distinct from private spheres, the new public constituted by social media colonized private life, making it, too, fodder for the new quasi-public sphere of competitive attention.
Social media thus amounts to an apparent avenue for assuaging the disorders of mass society but fails and makes matters worse by doubling down on and exacerbating the original problem: the elimination of human-scaled spaces for individual appearance and action.