"It may be a gross distortion of what Baudrillard actually was trying to say, but I find it useful to think of Big Data and predictive analytics every time Baudrillard starts talking about simulation and deterrence. We are “deterred” or steered into certain ranges of behavior by the way reality is mediated to us (“simulation”) based on predictive analytics, recommendation engines, filter bubbles, and so on. In “The Masses: The Implosion of the Social” Baudrillard describes this with unusual clarity:
This is our destiny, subjected to opinion polls, information, publicity, statistics: constantly confronted with the anticipated statistical verification of our behavior, absorbed by this permanent refraction of our least movements, we are no longer confronted with our own will. We are no longer even alienated, because for that it is necessary for the subject to be divided in itself, confronted with the other, contradictory. Now, where there is no other, the scene of the other, like that of politics and society, has disappeared. Each individual is forced despite himself into the undivided coherency of statistics. There is in this a positive absorption into the transparency of computers, which is something worse than alienation.
To me that sounds a lot like the combination of social media and Big Data: surveillance and quantification produce the self as a set of statistics, a manipulatable data object. Baudrillard says this is “worse than alienation”; in the past, I’ve called this condition “postauthenticity.” Rather than capturing “our own will,” it circumvents it; it predicts what we want without our willing anything. Even if the prediction is initially wrong, preferential placement in the platform, and the efficacy of the subsequent feedback loops can make it so, as David Auerbach points out in this essay on the recent Facebook and OKCupid experiments. Postauthenticity (social media plus Big Data) makes our will superfluous.”
During my comps reading (especially while looking at Franco Berardi and Tiziana Terranova) I started to realize how important certain under-regarded Baudrillard texts are, especially In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, which Horning re-examines here in terms of social media.
Anecdotally, I remember that I initially joined Facebook in 2006 in order to better communicate with people in a seminar class I was taking about art in the 80s. In that class, we read Baudrillard’s “The Ecstasy of Communication,” (which remains astonishing, IMO) and it seemed impossible to me that he could be talking about anything other than the internet, especially the phenomenon of the FB Newsfeed that I had just been introduced to.