The loom of the self


“It is hard to resist a technology that is also a tool of pleasure,” write Sarah Leonard and Kate Losse in the new issue of Dissent. “The Luddites smashed their power looms, but who wants to smash Facebook — with all one’s photos, birthday greetings, and invitations?”

That’s on the money. Things do get messy, confused, when the means of production is also the means of communication, the means of expression, the means of entertainment, the means of shopping, the means of fill-in-the-blank. But out of such confusion comes, eventually, simplification, a concentration of effort and effect. Imagine if, at the turn of the nineteenth century, the power loom were also a social medium. In weaving your quota of cloth, you also wove the story of your life and unfurled it in the public eye. Think of how attached you’d become to your loom. You’d find yourself staying late at the mill, off the clock, working the levers and the foot pedals, the shuttle purring. Hopelessly entangled in the threads, you’d demand a miniature loom that you could use at home, and then an even smaller one that you could carry around with you. Every chance you got, you’d pull out your little loom and start weaving, and all around you others would be doing the same, weaving, weaving, weaving.

I have taken my life from the world, you would say, and I have turned it into cloth, and the pattern in the cloth: that is who I am.

4 thoughts on “The loom of the self

  1. Deborah

    Oh dear.

    I think this is it in a nutshell.

    Though, what about the other side of the coin? The…. “town square”, “communal brain trust” side, where we are speaking right now. Exchanging thoughts and ideas.

    It’s a love/caution kind of relationship isn’t it?

  2. Boaz

    Powerful metaphor here that does get at why its hard to oppose Facebook.
    It was when Timeline started rolling out that I realized I need to remove my presence from the site. They were making a play to represent my whole life.
    Twitter doesn’t try to pretend that your profile represents you in its entirety. So I find it more acceptable as a public forum. The concept of a private life outside of it is less difficult to imagine.
    To Deborah-
    The question is who owns and benefits from the “town square” communication and interaction. Certainly Facebook and Twitter facilitate a certain amount of public engagement and platform for public interaction. But they also “take a cut” so to say. Your Facebook profile may end up communicating to others in ways you didn’t intend because its to Facebook’s benefit. This is the cost of using such sites. There’s much less of this sort of cost associated with commenting on a posting on a WordPress blog.

  3. Deborah


    I’ve written a blog since 2002. And you are right, the communications and connections I have made there are of a much more ‘private’ and personal nature. Some of them leading to non-virtual meetings with the people behind the words.
    I still prefer these kinds of venues over the cacophony of FB. I mostly lurk there, watching the parade go by. :-) And from time to time, I ‘break up’ with FB when I have taken as much shallow input as I can tolerate… Though I always find myself coming back, missing the circus popcorn. Or something….
    Ah, the internet. Such a complicated relationship. :-)

  4. Boaz

    Yeah, I agree that there’s a chaotic fun to Facebook, and I do miss it sometimes. Its the attempted limitlessness of it that I couldn’t deal with. They want all parts of you to be represented, and they want all content on the internet to be a part of the system. But then the net result is often shallow as you say… a kind of bait and switch. With enough discipline, one can manage it, I suppose, and get some benefit (and fun!) without suffering too badly from the various uglinesses. For me, its been about 2 years since I’ve been on the site. I probably should try to blog more seriously. I have one, but never tried very hard to actually get any readership, though I did meet a few interesting people through that medium.
    Yes, our relationships with the different faces of the internet are certainly complicated…

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