Steve Johnson’s ‘Interface Culture’ And Going Out Of Bounds With Modern Media

In Steven Johnson’s “Interface Culture: how New Technology Transforms The Way We Create And Communicate.”, he discusses how during mid-90s, television programming began to more critical programming. That this programming was critical in and of itself was not noteworthy, but that it was programming critical of programming. He points out that many of these new pundits would use political events such as Nixon-Kennedy debates as proof of television’s unhealthy impact on public opinion. He writes:


There is something illusory about this contempt for the mass-media illusionn. You can see this most clearly in those critics who endlessly replay the Nixon-Kennedy debates the way other, more conspiratorial critics cling to the Zapruder film. (If only Nixon had worn makeup!) To be sure, the descent-into-media-purgatory narrative has its merits. No one seriously defends the deep mediation of the contemporary electoral process, with its image makers and spin doctors and sound bites, and its candidates selected more for their skill with an open mike than their legislative record. But modern imagineering should provoke more than just empty nostalgia for a kinder, less-mediated America. For the older critics of image society, the false god of television is cause for endless hand-wringing, for long, contemplative essays on the decline of the stump speech and the kissing of babies. For the new parasite forms, however, the society of the spectacle is a call to arms. Instead of muttering “the emperor has no clothes” from the sidelines, they’ve stripped naked and jumped aboard the mass-media float. What better way to call the emperor’s bluff?

pg 28


He builds his case for internet culture upon this particular vehicle continuing with:


It’s worth stressing here that the shift from story-telling to commentary–from host organism to parasite–is more than just standard-issue postmodernism. The television shows that have gravitated toward metacommentary in the past few years have done so not because they have given up on “the real,” as the French psychoanalysts like to say. They have attached themselves to the mass-media body because the mass media is now a fundamental, irreversible component of their everyday life, as inescapable as all the old inescapables–sex, death, taxes, you name it. The infosphere is now a part of our “real life”–which makes commenting on it as natural as commenting on the weather.

pg 29


This was written in late part of last century. In its keen observation of those media landscapes, his writing proves to be prescient vis-a-vis my modern media world. Even more in 2017, than even 2003 to 2008, loosely defined as “Web 2.0”. With social media projects such as “Black Lives Matter” failing to deliver any true social change victories, those who participated realize those limits of this media beyond entertainment and information sharing. That is what Johnson is referring to as metacommenting. Even in that space where projects such as Occupy might exist– where individuals like Barret Brown and Jeremy Hammond go beyond simple commentary but lifting up those curtains to reveal its lever pulling– our media landscape only allows for commentary and entertainment. It is considered out of bounds– illegal– to manipulate what now exists as lighting and mirrors attached to scaffolding providing our “real” illusions.