If you have spent eighty years on Instagram, you would only have time to see all the messages posted on this network for seven minutes. This example to show how the continuous effervescence of the creation of images made available to us reaches unimaginable proportions. Everything happens as if nothing could be invisible anymore, neither secret nor discreet, in a world dominated by a technology without eyes but eager to capture our ocular attention without interruption. Because it is indeed the free visual merchandise that constitutes the dominant business model on the web, to the point of overdose, of monstrosity, of the loss of user sovereignty. Monstrosity – as indicated by the etymology of the word tetra – the tetrabyte being today the unit of measurement for storing photos.
This distributive culture of the image, this imaginative tsunami that pours over us morning, noon and evening, and whose content seems to matter less than its effective propagation, is what Annie Le Brun and Juri Armanda displaced in their essay This will kill that. Especially in a pandemic period where to exist many have contented themselves with existing on social networks. “This will kill that” was the expression once used by Victor Hugo to signify the seizure of power of thought, which has become indelible thanks to the developments in printing, over the grandeur of architectural masterpieces like Notre-Dame. , themselves subject to the vagaries of time. But with our two contemporaries, there is no reason to rejoice over this immense wall of images which, by capturing our attention, reduces our availability to the world, to others and to ourselves.
The authors specify that the eye tracking technologies used by the major players in this surge now allow us to measure precisely where we are looking. Associated with web beacons, which none of us of course perceive because all of this is invisible, these techniques mobilize our visual capacities and in fact indicate our perceptual horizon. “For the first time, our future is behind us,” they write. “For the first time, man no longer writes his story. (p. 135). From this worrying observation, to which are added the multiple applications of facial recognition, which will soon find in the metaverses something to extend their principle, human relations will be impacted on at least three aspects:
– In the first place, because we can no longer turn away from the hold that images have on our brains, our imaginative capacities have slipped away. “We remember that for Pliny the Elder” say the authors, “the origin of the image was confused with the gesture of the young girl who, seeing on a wall the shadow of her lover called to leave, had been able to prevent himself from drawing the outline. Unique image to ward off the absence of the unique being” (p. 62). At the time of Tinder, Once and Happn, the unique being remains most often absent but on the wall of our screens the images are innumerable and seem to occupy all the space possible.
– Secondly, our gaze, dazzled and dismayed at the same time, is increasingly subjected to the modifications of perception that technology allows. Filters applied to the faces, or techniques modifying the gaze of two users of a communication tool, make it possible “to obtain an image giving them the illusion that they are looking into each other’s eyes”, indicated Le Brun and Armanda, “even if, on both sides, we only look at the screen of the smartphone. (p. 272).
– Finally, they insist on the “totalitarianism of numbers” (p. 150) that this empire of images shows, and which leads to a “populist objectivity”, mentioned p. 167. The number of images seen and posts “liked” have become the criteria of ultimate value, and are gradually replacing more or less friendly approval by the evaluation of the number of thumbs up on this or that application.
So what conclusion can be drawn from this warning of the risks that weigh on our faculties of imagination and on the value of our feelings? Which weigh, at the organizational level, on our capacity for innovation and on the quality of the relationships we have with others? One option could be Platonic: take these images that surround us as a negligible quantity, a kind of last resort, as an inadequate representation of the sensible world. As opposed to the intelligible world. The second is more cynical and is offered to us by the authors: it consists of “making a face”, nothing being easier to manipulate than an image. Not to express fear, but to remind facial recognition systems that the features of our face, which tell an essential part of our identity, are not just for fun.