Jean Baudrillard’s article on simulation allows us to ask many questions, some of which are, as he himself states in his writing, not answerable any time soon. While Gillespie points to the fact that algorithms, as a cultural object, possess layers of meaning that are difficult to penetrate, Baudrillard allows the imperviousness of the algorithms be and explores ways in which the “masses” can subvert the mechanisms by which they become information, simply by allowing themselves not to want, not to express, not to be an active part of a culture that aggressively wants to transform itself into data.
This made me wonder if this sort of passiveness, inertness or disobedience is in itself a powerful tool silent enough to counteract the loudness of the algorithmic culture. In Brazil’s academia, there was (and maybe still there is) a specific day in the year in which certain students and professors do not purchase any products or services and advertise, through emails and pamphlets, that everyone around them should do the same. The intention is to provide, for one day, an opposing force to capitalism. While this day became famous in academia for its controversy and widespread advertising, the day seemed like any other day in campus – most students and professors continued to by products and did not try to hide their intentions. While the silence against capitalism failed, the silence against the famous day, always purported to be a success, won. This indicates that far from being a weapon against the system, as Baudrillard argued, it seems that this inertia can be used to do both, to maintain and to disrupt a system. Translating this idea to the algorithm cultural object, it seems that silence unfathomable. In other words, like the obscurity of the metadata itself, inertia is opaque in its successes and failures.
It is true that if all of us suddenly stopped feeding these websites with information, the system would likely change. Nevertheless, like the example above, this will not be “trending.” In addition, it seems that the most mainstream social media websites such as Google, Facebook or Twitter do not only obtain their standing due to how successfully they transform individuals into data, but also due to their perceived effectiveness. Therefore, even if the data is not reliable, and many may not trust the data, the trust alone that these websites have the potential to deliver precise information is enough for individuals and advertisers spend time, money, and time again participating in the game.
It is interesting how the same discussions occur in different periods of history and different economical and political systems. While considerations such as how metadata information is obscured and can be used to form opinions are incredibly pertinent, especially since that implies the possibility of robbing users of their spontaneous opinions by replacing them with automatic ones, other ideas on how to make users more active in their passive interaction, according to Baudrillard, may be as opaque as the metadata itself.