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Good Taste Online | 2303

Given the affordances of different social media platforms … How does one demonstrate taste in the digital realm?

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2023/01/21/301-2303-good-taste-online/

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Good Taste Online

If you follow a writer online for long enough, one of the subjects they will inevitably write about is taste. Good taste, bad taste, and worse – people with no taste at all. 

I popped my taste cherry back in Episode 20-19. About how Animal Crossing is a Place for Taste. The primary social driver in that game being the arrangement items in the toybox world. A mechanism to demonstrate one’s good taste. Supported by the Youtube ecosystem of people visiting and reviewing other peoples islands.

I want to talk more about the demonstration of taste in the digital realm today – but first…

Pierre Bourdieu’s: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. 

Listeners will have to forgive me if I butcher any of the following. The last time I read the book was during my second year aesthetics tutorials around 2005. Anyways, Bourdieu’s main insight was that taste – far from being a natural or individual trait – is actually a product of social class and education.

The famous line goes β€œTaste classifies, and it classifies the classifier”. Meaning taste is not just a product of social class, but it also serves as a means of reproducing and perpetuating it.

Let’s use two stereotypes as an example:

A person from a higher social class might have taste for opera.
A person from a lower social class might have taste for Marvel movies.

Attending an Opera for an upper class person is a demonstration of their taste. Useful signalling to other members of their peer group and to distinguish oneself from people of other social classes.

Taste is also influenced by Education. Which in turn is influenced by social status. Simply put however, Education is as question of access. Someone with a better education Bourdieu presupposes has access to a wider supply of cultural phenomena. Literature, fashion, music etc. The wider the supply, the more opportunity for decisions about what one can have a taste in, or not.

Which is why the trade unions and socialists of the 19th century thought expanding the proletariat’s horizons was so important. Eliane Glaser’s book β€˜Elitism: A Progressive Defence’ is about why political and cultural education is still so important today.

Let’s table social status and taste for a moment, and talk about Discernment.

I have mentioned the importance of practising discernment in our daily lives many times over the years. I think its an important skill. 

My strawman Bourdieu argues that taste is completely shaped by external social structures. But through the practice of Discernment, individuals can make critical judgments for themselves.

Discernment allows people to shape their own tastes and preferences. Rather than simply accepting or rejecting culture based on one’s social background. Practising discernment cultivates a more nuanced understanding ones cultural world.

You’ll notice that I keep saying practicing discernment. Like a mediation practice, it’s an ongoing process. 

When applied to taste, practising discernment means to:

  • Think critically about a cultural artefact you’ve been exposed to for the first time. Its context, meaning, intent etc. 
  • Engage in self-reflection about one’s own existing tastes and preferences. Eg: How does this new phenomena make us feel. 
  • Have some awareness that this reaction may be shaped by one’s social class, education, and cultural background. 
  • Lastly, being open to new perspectives in the first place. 

The practice of discernment is the activity we engage in in order to refine our tastes. 

Whilst refining one’s taste won’t necessarily liberate us from class imposed sensibilities. It does increase agency in the symbolic and cultural realm. Besides, taste and class aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive anymore anyway.

The Internet has completely exploded the education and access part of Bourdieu’s thesis. All recorded media is now available to everyone, all at once. The idea of genre has exploded, and old ideas of cultural development have fragmented.  

On some days I feel like I could make a convincing argument that modern personalised content algorithms on TikTok or Youtube are technological systems that restructure an individuals’ access to and discovery of culture. Platforms now place us in a landscape of social classes rather than a vertical one. On the other hand, this is the Internet screw the algorithm – enjoy whatever the hell you want.

Now to loop back to my initial point from the opening of the show. 

Given the affordances of different social media platforms … How does one demonstrate taste in the digital realm?

It is, I think, ultimately a question of identity. 

In Animal Crossing taste is demonstrated by the arrangement of virtual objects. On Twitter, we signal taste with retweets and likes. On Pinterest we curate images, and on Tumblr we juxtapose them. Parts of our identity expressed in different ways, though differing UX, across different networks.

The chronological and vertical feed of Twitter allows a very different kind of self expression than a Pinterest board. One is fast moving and in the moment. A RT is a signal of taste with a half life of 30mins. The other, a more persistent space that can grow and evolve with us as our tastes develop.

Back in episode 20-03 I talked about making mixtapes and making sunrises in Minecraft. It’s still one of my favourite episodes. 

I keep thinking about forms of expression in digital worlds.

How might we prototype them through the lens of demonstrating taste first? Not as a secondary function of the system.

Perhaps I’ll have something to say about this in another 125 episodes time.

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The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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About Author

Jay Springett is a Solarpunk and strategist, specialising in the distributed web, metaverse, and world running. He is currently writing his first book: The Web Was a Side Quest

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