As Blog Editor of the Indy, I often scan the web looking for interesting topics or images to discuss or display. For a brief moment this minute act of digital appropriation makes me feel ashamed. I cannot help but question the mimetic quality of what I produce in response. Seconds after I post it to the web, these feelings of unoriginality fade, as I view my production on the page of my blog in the font and design of my choice. Indeed, I feel a sense of individuality as I sign my signature—JC—in bold at the bottom of the post. It’s mine. But wait a second, someone just commented on my post. And that video I uploaded from my iPhone is on gawker.com—at least they attributed me. I feel robbed.
We may be condemned to “seek history through our own pop culture images,” but I’m not quite sure our surface-oriented society is devoid of affect. In the act of a single blog post, I experience the shame of a thief, the pride of an author, and the exploitation of a victim. I certainly didn’t get paid for my digital labor, but I experienced the pleasure of utopia, and the pain of capitalism. But neither emotion endures long enough to differentiate. And before you know it, I’m back online digging through Google, looking for another object for appropriation. Or perhaps, this time I will call it a muse: a variable within a series of constant flows that happened to spark my attention, cognition, and imagination. Subsequently, I contribute to this flow in subtle apprehension, as I know that once my production is uploaded, it begins to drift upstream and will undoubtedly wash upon foreign shores. I find myself in both selfish grief and communal joy. My production was impossible without a prior, but it progressively alters the general flow.
Reflecting on Barthes and Benveniste, I’m struggling to understand whether or not the author is dead in this digital age, or incessantly shifting in and out of subjectivity. Certainly every piece of a digital media is open for interpretation and appropriation, but original authorship and the pleasure of free labor is not erased. The digital age certainly complicates Benveniste’s model of the ‘I’ and ‘You’ shifters. Online discourse no longer functions in an ‘I’→‘You’ reciprocal manner to facilitate dual subjectivity. The pair has lost its capacity to posit 'I' as stable subject a 'You' as secondary counterpart. Our digital dialect is a mutation of language; it is no longer “organized so that it permits each speaker to appropriate to himself an entire language by designating himself as I” (Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, 224). Instead he appropriates and is appropriated—he is at the simultaneously ‘I’ and ‘You’. The most applicable subjective in the digital age is ‘We’. The Internet is mine; it is yours; it is ours. I give, you get, and we are all informed. When I post to my blog, I am ‘We’. To shamelessly appropriate Whitney Houston, “I’m every woman, it’s all in me.”