A trenchant analysis of Walter Benjamin's media theory as it applies to 21st-century technology (such as the maybe-too-much-talked-about Facebook--by the way check out HUP's page!) from someone who would know--former Gawker editor Emily Gould, she of the New York Times Magazine "TMI" controversy of a few months back. Her review of Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, published in the current issue of Technology Review, is square on the mark, especially in terms of updating our understanding of the connections between media and consciousness that Benjamin would have seen were he still around today:
Not exactly cheerleadery, then. And while it's easy to be distracted by Benjamin's dusty examples--Chaplin's films and Picasso's paintings--and therefore lulled into thinking he's describing a different world from Shirky's ... well, don't be. Substitute blogs and social-networking platforms and Twitter and YouTube and Wikipedia for film and photography, and the nearly century-old essay becomes a relevant, piercing alarm.
Just as the mass dissemination of works of art in the form of film and photography produced what Benjamin believed was a less-authentic relationship to what actually, physically, exists, so does a virtual friendship machine like Facebook create a distanced form of "love" and "friendship" different than that which we previously enjoyed with what Gould calls "our meat acquaintances." Indeed, as Gould points out, the digital facsimiles of basic human activities ("chatting," "befriending," even "poking") oftentimes seem poised to outmode the actual physical acts on which they were originally modeled! Now tell me, what's there to <3 about that? We daresay Benjamin would agree.