New Criticals

In a sense, video conferencing is the apotheosis of the various forms of social media that dominate online life. Unlike email, instant messaging or tweeting, video conferencing simulates the “real” physical encounter. It’s “live.” With other platforms I can share pictures and words; with video conferencing, I can share my self, in real time. I can be with you. We can have some “facetime."


But what does it mean to “share”? As evidenced by the new parlance that has cropped up around it, sharing via social media is different than other types of sharing: Where once I would share something with you, now I share something to you. Like a radio broadcast, it is asymmetrical – from me, to you, my “followers." In this sense, video conferencing is no different than other forms of social media: I am sharing my face, my realtime life, to you. And you are sharing yours to me. But are we together? Is what’s mine, yours?

While in retrospect the progression might seem like it was inevitable, it is not by accident or fate that social media and “sharing” has become the dominant online activity. It’s what we chose. Whether or not these types of online “sharing-to” are felicitous in the same way as the historical sense of “sharing-with,” the rapid adoption of social media’s sharing technologies, and the proliferation of the word “share” itself, are evidence of a deep collective yearning – not only to share my experience with others, but, even more vitally, to simply know that I am capable of sharing experience at all. Or, in other words, to know that I am not totally and irrevocably alone in the world. We might say we desire a third type of sharing: not sharing-to, not sharing-with, but sharing-in. A mutual immanence where our experience requires no translation. A return to the Tower of Babel, when we were one. All types of sharing are an expression of the desire to return this original state, or at least to know that such a return is possible.