Group B: McPherson and the “Illusion” of Liveness

In Tara McPherson’s “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the web” there exists a section entitled “Tara’s Phenomenology of Web Surfing.” Within this section, she writes:

Of course, as with television, this much touted liveness  is actually the illusion of liveness: though the weather conditions may indeed be up to date, most of the “breaking news” I access via my personalized MSNBC front page is no more instant than the news I watch at 6:00 p.m. on KTLA. Indeed, many Web sites display a marked inability to keep up with the present, recycling older stories in order to take advantage of the vast databases which underwrite the Web, old content repackaged as newness. But, as with television, what is crucial is not so much the fact of liveness as the feel of it. Many TV-centric Web sites capitalize on television’s historic ties to liveness as a given, as an essential element of the medium (202).

For McPherson, liveness is not exclusively about immediacy. It pertains to a conversation on redistribution of information and perceived immediacy between the physical events upon which that information is based and the access to it. This “old content repackaged as newness” is not unique to the Web, but has propagated in television for decades at the time of her writing. In ages of shifts in media and shifts in the production of media, I believe there always exists this question of repackaging. In many cases, it is about representing old media through new media, but in this case it is more about the consistent re-telling of the same tales, represented as new ones. I personally value the repackaging of old stories to be represented through new tools and media highly. It is my personal opinion that this kind of repackaging is useful for the purpose of providing new insight which may only become available through untraditional means.

Thus, unlike television which parades its presence before us, the Web structures a sense of causality in relation to liveness, a liveness which we navigate and move through, often structuring a feeling that our own desire drives its movement (202).

This movement is a phenomenon which instantiates a kind of decision-making. McPherson calls this volitional mobility. She maintains that “our choices, perhaps our need to know, our epistemophilia, seem to move us through the space and time of the Web, and this volitional mobility implies our transformation, shimmering with the possibility of change difference, the new and the now.” The implication is that the human desire to make human desires have worth is a major motivation here. We explore and “surf” the Web perhaps because we want to feel like our desires, and therefore the choices we make based on them, have worth. The Web makes available an excellent resource to provide ourselves with precisely that sensation.

The simultaneous coordination of physical and digital infrastructures specifically exists to fulfill this purpose. So many sites exist to create the “illusion” of liveness, and many employ the conscious decision to make it appear so. Even with Google, you are reminded of just how quickly you are being served your results. It provides a sense of individual worth of decisions, immediacy, and especially the current worth of that inquiry. “With the Web, we feel we create the sequences rather than being programmed into them” (204). Indeed, the desire to be the decision-maker empowers and reaffirms self-worth.

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