In “Whatever Blogging” Jodi Dean makes a case that the instruments of the web, particularly blogging and social media lead to a flattening of identity and a general collective apathy. It is not an emotional apathy she describes, but an apathy of effect. Investment in the fate of civilization or government accountability is reduced to participation in spaces that are both part of the whole and a product of it. The individual is subsumed as part of the mass, conforming to its structural norms regardless of their form of expression. The result is a world devoid of true individuality engaging instead in a sort of kabuki theater of individual expression. In being about whatever their authors wish, blogs in particular (and social media by extension) operate in a limbo of meaning everything and nothing all at once.
Dean parses the arguments of Giorgio Agamben and Dominic Pettman in describing “whatever being.” This state of transitive existence dismisses traditional markers of identity such as nationality, cultural group or political orientation in favor of personal exceptionalism. This exceptionalism, however, is inherently depersonalizing because it values being seen, heard, felt and remembered over being oneself. It concedes a sense of validation to the mass rather than discerning one’s value through internal processes. Even resistance falls into a dialectic of power reification when it happens online as all that is actually occurring is that a thing is being said, rather than that structures are changing.
From what I can infer, Dean is writing in 2009, approximately, as her descriptions of the use of Twitter sound fairly primitive and her descriptions of the blogosphere hearken back to a time that seems to have already passed. While she seems generally dismissive of authentic transgression on the web or through the web, she is writing before the Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter movements took shape as organized, but generally unexpected attacks on societal hierarchy and entrenched inequity. Information about these direct actions largely spread online in the social media and blogosphere and shifted conversations on issues of control. She is also writing before the revelations of Edward Snowden on the mass state surveillance campaign of the NSA, which made many users question the stewardship of their providers, portals and government in accessing and managing their personal information. The Snowden revelations served as a reminder that even in a mass world, the impressions of personalization are sufficient enough representations of people to establish their identity.
Dean also mentions, as many authors have, the merger of public and private life brought about by communicative capitalism. Consumption, participation and creativity are a unified state of being. The blogosphere is not a separate reality, she holds, but “instead [they] extend out from, amplify, and reflect on whatever aspect of whatever life” (2013:177). My sense, however, is that the distinctions between one’s public and private world have always been mostly imaginary, at least within the scope and lifespan of capitalism. Private life reproduced capitalism’s ethics, hierarchical relationships, and consumptive imperative just as much as public or professional life. They have always existed in a dialectical relationship with even resistance no more or less than a reinforcement of power or redistribution of access to the same systems of dominance from certain groups to others.
Finally, Dean’s critique of the word cloud seems to be a bit of a straw man argument. The word cloud is not meant to imply or speculate on meaning. It is, as she says, simply a descriptive tool to visualize word choice. It seems its utility will be principally as a linguistics dataset rather than a way of divining what matters. I don’t think this quite meets the definition of the whatever being Dean is decrying and almost weakens or overextends her argument, particularly as a conclusion.