As much as the case of new facebook layout doesn’t have much to do with the “polish” part of my blog, it is strongly connected to the “picture” way of seeing and presenting things here. New facebook policy will change the culture not only in Poland but everywhere in the world too.
Or maybe it won’t, because the dictatorship of “pictoriality” has been already established. Over a four thousand years ago and now it turns back.
For those of you who haven’t heard: facebook is changing its layout in order to strengthen the exposure of photography and other multimedia. It seems like a natural step in the virtual evolution since when we scroll our walls those elements catch the majority of our attention. It also make sense in the age of mobile devices since it’s much easier for people who use them to flip pictures than to read something.
Last night when I was lying in bed it occurred to me that history made a full circle and we are now living in a pictorial culture as were ancient Egyptians four thousand years ago. And this is how my dreams are coming true :- ) Time travels without high technology! Not without a reason in Poland we call ironically Facebook - a “facegod” using a pronunciation word game: fejsbuk – fejsbóg (where “Bóg” is a “God”, and English “book” is pronounced almost like the polish word for “God”).
Having said that, I think that Facebook is like a modern Re, Horus or Athon and organizes our lives just like did the religion in Egypt during pharaoh’s times. How exactly? Let’s get back to the times…
“When the sun was a god” [“Kiedy słońce było bogiem”]
This is the title of a book about the key moments in the ancient history published in 1967 and written by Zenon Kosidowski, who was one of the coolest polish essayist in the XXth century. Even though he describes passionately how Champollion’s got to break the code of the hieroglyphs, author doesn’t mention how pictorial art functioned within Egyptian’s society and how crucial it was for its very existence.
Here are some basic facts.
What we today call the Egyptian art was originally made for religious and magical purposes. Paintings, reliefs and sculptors were rather symbolic than realistic, which also explains the rigorous and posed for ages canon of their art. Representations didn’t have to be mimetic since their social contexts was straightforward physical. Understanding this phenomenon is less and less difficult in the age of social media and the profound popularity of self-made comics or moving pictures like mems.
But first things first. Let’s look closer to some examples. Imagine you’re standing in a temple in front of the wall covered with reliefs and you see a scene where a king makes offerings to the gods or smites Egypt’s enemies. Those images not only communicated the idea that the king was fulfilling his royal duties ruling the universe because Egyptians literally believed that pictures like that, were instrumental in making this ruling real and possible.
From the surface of the matter, pictures on Facebook are not like that because they simply document reality or express one’s opinion on/version of it. They are reality-made (reality ready-mades?) but simultaneously, likewise the Egyptian’s images, they are also making-the-reality, in a sense of creating it.
Magic? Not exactly. That’s more because the visual content on Facebook organizes our way of thinking and communicating through photography, photomontage, moving or static mems. It’s a whole new language full of cross-cultural contexts, quotes and inside motives, some of them even more complicated than hieroglyphs, which at least had a code to break allowing to understand other pictorial combinations. Today, everyone is a new dialect creator and transfers thoughts through the large social steam.
Pics gets in line
On the top of that there’s the other, maybe even more important thing joining contemporary pictorial culture on Facebook with ancient times: it is the hierarchy of the images. To prove the point we have to get back to the ancient temple with the walls full of reliefs. What do we have here? Large scale king rides his horse carriage during the battle, on the background we have his little soldiers and underneath there are the enemies who are even smaller. This is what we call hieratic perspective.
The purpose why Egyptians haven’t develop lineal perspective has logical reasons: to leave no room for doubts what’s the most important part or who’s the most important on the picture. In that sense Facebook recalls the same philosophy: organizing what we seen on our main walls sorting posts for their importance. In Egypt sorting has been established by tradition and religion. Now it’s an algorithm programmed by some smart guys.
Now isn’t it indeed a god-like mechanism who rule our virtual world of Facebook? Egyptians believed that the changes of season and all natural processes are controlled by the gods. Today we don’t need faith to know that everything what happens on our profiles or our walls is set from above, now do we?
And I just wonder sometimes what future archeologists will find left by our civilization. Maybe a set of original Facebook servers will survive. Would a future civilization be impressed by our accomplishments like we are about ancient Egyptians?
What I’m certain of is that they will be delighted when they find a remains of wordpress.com servers with my blog on it ;- )