The great digital carnival: from ‘influencers’ to cryptocurrencies, the mask is everywhere

The carnival was a time of inversion, of loss, of suspension of ordinary life. The power allowed four days of masquerade, and then return to the order of things. But the ‘digital establishment’ kicks the butt of that logic: politics, economics, information, human nature itself have been ‘carnivalized’. “We are going through a process of masking of reality material and biological –observes the political scientist Enric Luján, founder of Críptica, an association for the defense of internet privacy–. We have set up a world based on radical distancing from what we are and what is given to us.”

Behind, the alliance between global finance and Silicon Valley, advances, with our consent –no one separates more than two meters from the ‘smartphone’– in the conquest of bodies and ideas. We review five great masks of reality identified by sociologists and communication experts:

Mask No. 1: Politics as a meme

The soap opera of the PP, with the mariachis at the door of Génova 13 singing the ‘Sing and don’t cry’, is carnivalesque. “We have witnessed a show in astonishment in which we do not know what is really being aired -gives as an example the professor of Audiovisual Communication of the Complutense Rafael Rodrguez Tranche, author of ‘The mask over reality’–. The starting point (an accusation of corruption) has been blurred. Neither the facts nor the causes seem to be of interest.” Even Pablo Casado himself has said (and it is not unreasonable): “I don’t understand anything of what is happening.”

It is an example of the “memetization of politics”, says Enric Luján. The public thing appears as a formless mix of looping slogans and ‘hater’ vomit. A study commissioned in 2018 by Twitter ruled that Angry content circulates on networks three times faster than calm content. So, “the digital environment, with the business model behind it, favors populist, simplistic and incendiary speeches from the right,” says the sociologist Liliana Arroyo, researcher at the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation. It was taken advantage of by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, who from his podcast ‘Bannon’s War Room’ (one of Apple’s most popular) it incited the assault on the Capitol in January 2021 and continues to fuel the total war against the democratic system. Or the disinformation campaign of the invasion of Ukraine, with false viral videos, like the one of the soldiers “speaking polish” and trying to sabotage Russian tanks which, upon analysis, have turned out to be a ‘mix’ of a current troop advance and a Finnish military exercise in 2010.

Mask number 2: The post-truth

Guy Debord warned in 1989 that what appeared in the media was a lie, unless you saw it “with your own eyes”. The Parisian philosopher there was wrong. In the society where everything must be seen, where nothing can be hidden, everything is interfered with and confused. “We don’t get to know the reality because we don’t even agree on what is true and what is a lie,” says Rodríguez Tranche.

“We don’t get to know reality because we don’t even agree on what is true and what is a lie,” says Professor Rodríguez Tranche

The ‘probullshit’ design present in the algorithms of Google, Facebook and Twitter have erased the information hierarchy. The media do not filter, they compete in the wild market for attention. So a schoolyard brawl in a match is more of a ‘talking point’ in the media than the war in Syria – “for the first time we are witnessing a disengagement from a war that is still active,” Rodríguez-Tranche laments– or, until two weeks ago, Putin’s intentions (the correspondents on the ground confessed last Friday that they did not see it coming). “We have problems interpreting reality because we don’t know which are the issues that draw the attention of public opinion and which are imported,” agrees Enric Luján, who points out that ‘fake news’ is the result of campaigns to create public opinion.

Mask nº 3: The ‘influencers’

“The imposition of perfect lives on the networks is one of the sweetest forms of violence we inflict on ourselves,” says Liliana Arroyo, author of ‘You are not your selfie’. They animate the parade ‘influencers’ in chief as Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid or Kendall Jenner, that are recommended to filters, botox and surgery, “aware that his face is actually his succulent business plan,” recalls New York journalist Jia Tolentino. Following their troupe –YouTube, Facebook and Instagram add up to 6,300 million users– goes through rewriting bodies and reorganizing faces using filters and scalpels according to ‘engagement’. “That means abstracting from your body, from your condition of being finite, to acquire a Faustian personality, where the only thing that matters is to grow in terms of impact,” notes Enric Luján, who warns of the crazy increase in addictive and depressive personalities, even among the ‘influencers’ themselves (“Al Rubius literally ate his mask”).

“Ibai Llanos is the canary in the mine of future digital content monetization strategies”, says Ekaitz Cancela, author of ‘Awakening from the technological dream’

Other gurus are responsible for ‘formatting’ the mental framework, such as Ibai Llanos, whose live shows on Twitch (on Amazon) have 9.5 million unconditional fans. Ekaitz Cancela, author of ‘Awakening from the technological dream’, points out that the Basque ‘streamer’ is like “the canary in the coal mine of future digital content monetization strategies”. From the solitude of his room, he “tests the forms of subjectivity required so that followers do not use technologies in a transformative way.”

Domination is complete, insists the philosopher Byung-Chul Han, at the moment in which it is presented as freedom (and freedom can be, according to Ayuso, “going to have a beer on a terrace” when 2,000 people died from covid). “We sacrificially offer aspects of intimacy, which at the same time make us more fragile,” adds Rodríguez Tranche.

Mask nº 4: Biometric control

Technology has achieved the fantasy of the police and criminology: that the individual cannot be invisible. We go from the ritual mask of the Neolithic to the balaclava of the Pussy Riot, from the mask of the 17th century to the handy mask of V for Vendetta as guarantors of anonymity (and dissidence) –the CCCB exhibition ‘The mask never lies’, curated by Serving Rocha–, until the biometric control software, which has put the turbo during the imposition of the anticovid surgical mask, finds out the clinical history or the skills to enter a template with the information of the iris and the retina.

Mask number 5: the metaverse

The metaverse, the ‘next big thing’ of the digital world, bills itself as the Internet domain where animated avatars of our physical selves can virtually shop, play games, play sports, and travel. While Mark Zuckerberg swears that “it will be good for politics, culture, society and the planet, because doing everything from home, we will pollute less”, the first experiments replicate harassment, insults and insecurity for female avatars. “My concern is not reality versus virtuality,” says Liliana Arroyo, “but how vulnerable it will make us when our senses are immersed in an environment that we will not control.”

“In the future we cannot bear to be in our condition as beings who get sick and die,” predicts the political scientist Enric Luján

In the near future, Luján ventures, “the universe will be brutally alternative, with positional goods (paid with cryptocurrencies); we cannot bear to be in our condition as beings who get sick and die.” Aspiration is not new, he recalls. In the late 1950s, Hanna Arendt pointed out in ‘The Human Condition’ that the launch of Sputnik represented the will to escape from Earth as if it were a prison. Only that the billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and PayPal, has achieved it and proudly wears the mask of the conqueror of space.

Easter will come

It may seem that this set of masks configure a dystopian cage from which we will not be able to get out. But no. “We are in a first stage in which we have been seduced by the allure of digital services,” observes Rodríguez Tranche. “When we see everything we report, forms of resistance will be created.”

The “subversion of the future” will pass through those who do not want to migrate to the masked universe of the metaverse

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So far, activists like Leonardo Selvaggio, an artist from Chicago, have sold for $200 a hyper-realistic mask to circumvent facial recognition; The use of VPNs and Tor, tools to circumvent control on the Internet, is gaining traction, and some administrations timidly formulate laws that protect data privacy and the right to disconnect.

“The subversion of the future will happen through those who do not want to migrate to the masked universe of the metaverse,” Luján ventures. “Two factions will be created and not precisely determined by class.” While that does not happen, the best costume for this carnival is to go bareback to the street, without the ‘smartphone’. Free of selfies and ‘stories’. Facing hypervisibility, secrecy and mystery.

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