Cohen’s Search Engine Subjectivities is another in a line of essays we’ve seen in in the past few weeks that are concerned with the object of the “encounter” over the internet, i.e. what it’s like to encounter one over a shared network connection, how are these encounters organized and structured, and to what degree do avatars (search engine queries or otherwise) stand as metonyms for an actual other. This is indeed tricky business when considering the analysis Cohen deploys when thinking about a suspended, looping, always-on project like Beacon, which I’m sure we will look at in class tomorrow.
Beacon may be a voyeuristic elegy that lets us enjoy, with some perverseness, a moment of someone else’s desire. This desire itself can hold subjective knowledge about persons, personhood, or population; indexing the ebb and flow of trends and patterns, producing forecasts fit for the collection of consumer habits, pornographic interests, DIY remedies, self-help, etc. Yet a key feature of Beacon is its reflexivity, of turning its apparatus around at us, to let us experience the dividualised, commodified, person, not unlike the one you and I become when utilizing databases. The figure of an almost-person that one encounters over the web, in a heated discussion in a comment line, or in the orchestrated and sanguine timeline of an Instagram account, appears, at some level, in the algorithmic feed of Beacon. The fact of someone’s presence rendered in such a way, works beyond what Cohen calls a “representational logic”.
This is also what makes talking about the network-oriented technology some slippery business, since the idea of personhood (today) itself oscillates between such varying definitions as economic, public vs. private, biologic and perceptive, actor or audience. This is not to say that what unfurls is a flat ontology, but certainly an atmospheric hum, a feeling of being always almost-connected.