Beyond ideology, then, Facebook’s expansion suggests a change in the way that we think about the world. Norms like openness and connection can only obtain given a world conceived in informational terms, and the patterns of use apparent in the automatic archive suggest an ontological pre–understanding of the world as something to be browsed. Browsing Facebook indicates a general comportment to (the things of) the world that circumscribes the field of possibilities open to the user. The extension of this ontological circumscription (along, for instance, the spatial and temporal lines of Facebook’s expansion) suggests that the most subtle consequences of Facebook’s expansion are not the degradation of privacy norms or the spread of liberal individualism or the rise in immaterial labour, but the alteration of what is taken as given and the subsequent establishment of a subject who will browse and do no more … Users’ principal concern, in fact, is less the archiving or dissemination of information than the browsing of it.

Facebook’s archival subject browses the world by way of representations that lie in front of reality and thereby constitute it, minimizing the chances of inconvenience and chance encounters, moving toward a preconceived connection.

I think it’s true that Facebook imposes “automaticity” on users and inculcates certain expectations of convenience in the realm of the social. It makes reciprocity seem a matter of asynchronous gestures rather than actual mutual attention. People can be “browsed” as a way of dealing with them. 

But I think the “browsing” subjectivity engenders its opposite, a kind of “weird Facebook” or weird whatever-platform, that emphasizes friction in information dissemination. Anything to slow your scroll.

Life on Automatic: Facebook’s archival subject by Liam Mitchell


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