How often do you reach in your pocket, certain your phone is vibrating, only to realize you fell victim to a “phantom buzz?” What about the inner pull to look at your phone, leading to hours caught up in a social media scroll, left with no recollection of why you picked up your phone in the first place?
Our attachments to the digital devices we carry have become increasingly normalized. We peek into the daily lives of loved ones and acquaintances while commuting on the train. We put ourselves through filters as we share inner monologues and self portraits. Sometimes we regret what we’ve said, or we feel we’ve been too vulnerable and so we make things disappear. We use these tools to find each other, to lift each other up, to hurt each other, and to push each other away.
Since the internet began many people, primarily women of color, regularly put in hours of (often unpaid) labor so that we might experience justice and liberation in digital space. Actions such as: moderating comment sections, repealing acts of censorship, and fighting to protect net neutrality are just a few examples of such activism (if you have not listened to or read the transcript of Mignon Clyburn’s speech from 2017, you must listen to her call for dissent).
Sometimes it feels like the tools live and breath as much as we do. We put up with oppressive algorithms , hyper-surveillance and abusive interactions in exchange for the access we are given to connection and information.
What does it mean to hold someone accountable for behavior in a digital space? How do you protect your self mentally, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically while you scroll? What remnants do you carry with you when you leave these worlds and are IRL again?
Below is a video interview of an artist’s account, navigating questions like these, at Nictitation, a fictional social virtual world, but close to the ones we know. The transcript exists below, with accompanying hyperlinks to help guide your way.
This hybrid speculative fiction piece is adapted from a conversation with multi-disciplinary artist, The Uhuruverse, about some of the struggles of existing on social media.
Voiced by Tianna Nicole
Edited, produced, story and concept by: Rhea Tepp
Some of the dialogue are direct quotes from: The Uhuruverse
All found images sourced from the Moving Image Archive
“I am not aware of how much time is passing when I’m in these social virtual rooms at all. When you step in there, you never know what feeling you’re gonna get. It depends who you see, what you see, what you went in there to do. Basically….you enter at your own risk. If I see something in there, it can trigger me sometimes, you know? It can be triggering.
Today I put on my headset to attend a studio visit. I entered a room to see my friend sharing work-in-progress inside her personal virtual space, you know the ones the company paid us artists to create? Well anyways, I noticed, standing right there in the middle of this virtual room is another artist who is a rape apologist…this man was held accountable in other virtual rooms where he is not allowed but someone must have invited him to this one and there he is, slipping through the cracks, smiling at me when he knows he is not welcome. I walked up to him and started telling him to leave but since we all agreed to this cyber-empathy terms and regulations, my words came out silent. I wasn’t following protocol when engaging in conflict resolution or call-out so I was silenced.
Well I got so upset that I left. I went into my personal virtual room to calm down. When you enter social virtual rooms you have to almost do like a cleanse afterwards just like you would when you engage with other spirits. If that interaction is something that affects me, I have to cleanse my self of it inside my sacred virtual room and leave that other energy to this world like, this is not my burden to carry.”