Churning Experience Into the Content Machine


I got a haircut recently. A big change, and I love it. That by itself might not sound particularly out of the ordinary, but there’s a few details that make the announcement remarkable. As a trans woman my relationship to hair is very capital-C Complicated–patterned baldness did a number on my crown before I transitioned, and haircuts were a very visible and visceral way in which my gender was enforced as a child. Even if I hadn’t experienced thinning at the top, the act of getting a haircut would already be one laden with old scars flaring up painfully. When I still had a full head my hairs were, ironically, curly and rebellious, a constant source of remarks about their feminine quality, remarks which unintentionally stung as the most memorable mockery of my upbringing since I knew I was denied permission to actually be feminine. It’s the bitterest regret I have of not transitioning sooner: Now that I don’t need anyone’s permission and want a hair full of locks, I can’t have it, because testosterone took it away. For the longest time, my hair was one of several visible scars I carried as a result of cissexism’s attempts to build a coffin around me and call it a closet.

So when I tell you I managed to find a miracle-worker who made me feel like I finally took charge of my hair’s destiny as an adult, that hopefully helps to make it clearer what a big deal it is.

She didn’t summon more hair from the void, mind. The top is still thinner than the rest, but now I got it styled into something of a French bob. I can tussle it up and make it a messy bob that for the first time in my life looks like intentional chaos as opposed to a cartoon character struck by lightning. I can also slick it back and look like Trinity from the Matrix. I have options, and they’re all distinctly feminine and short and queer. I spent several days agog that it was still my hair at all. I’ve never had that reaction to my hair, or even much of a reaction at all before now. Haircuts were just another episode in which I honed my craft of dissociating, protecting my heart by cutting it loose from my body and hoping it never found its way back home because of how painful it would be when it did. This is genuinely the first time in my life I’ve viewed my hair as an opportunity for fun, for expression, with a cut that I can style to make differing moods visible. An extension of me, a tattoo laid over a scar–still very much there, but part of my tapestry rather than an unwilling wound.

When I woke up with it the day after and had these revelations, I very much wanted to leap to social media and share it with a selfie. I know for a fact that I’m not the only trans woman in this situation, and I wanted to share the excitement that we have options! And we might even like them! But… the trouble is, that’s not really what social media is for. 

Surveillance capitalism runs contrary to the early digital dream, consigning the Aware Home to ancient history. Instead, it strips away the illusion that the networked form has some kind of indigenous moral content, that being “connected” is somehow intrinsically pro-social, innately inclusive, or naturally tending toward the democratization of knowledge. Digital connection is now a means to others’ commercial ends. At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.

The above is an entry from Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a text which I fully recommend, in general, but especially for anyone wanting to peek behind the curtain on Web 3.0. The chapter in question is about the models of monetization social media do, which is to say, the data they collect on every facet of your behaviour that they can quantify and later sell: from Facebook selling selfies to train facial recognition for cops to Google selling your art to a conman who automates theft and calls it innovation. Even this blog post, in its attempt to avoid making further facial data for the state, is subject to scraping by ChatGPT in the unlikely event you want to pay $20/month to Sam Altman for a glorified autocorrect that’ll stuff a hand up its ass and glue on some googly-eyes in a cheap imitation of my authorial voice. (Annoy me enough in the comments and I’ll give it to you for fucking free.)

Because you can’t just write about stuff on the internet, anymore. It’s all getting scraped. Watched. Sold. As if anyone would give a shit about creations without the creatives. I can’t just tell you about a great experience I had in my life. If I don’t already know you in real life, the only way I can tell you is through a medium that’s churning everything you’re reading into The Content Machine, where what I had wasn’t an experience, but a post, with likes, views, and shares, which are legally speaking just fodder for someone else somewhere else to sell. I’m not trying to make a human connection, however fleeting and parasocial, I’m obviously volunteering my life to hone someone else’s code. (Sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell)

We could’ve had a great thing, folks.

Check out Zuboff’s book. In the mean time, I’m running errands looking like Trinity and you’ll have to take my word for it.

-Shiv

 

Comments

  1. Jazzlet says

    Nice to hear from you.

    Good for you and I’m glad that you found a proper good hair dresser. I never did which is why I haven’t had my hair cut in forty years, because the results of having it cut were always so awful – not just by my assessment either. I’m an aging not-really-a-hippy with whiting* long hair at least in part because I became too frightened of what the next hair dresser would do to my hair to try again. And I don’t have any other history making things worse, so I respect you greatly for keeping on trying.

    * I seem to have missed the going grey bit, going straight to white hairs threaded through the still somewhat coloured hair.

  2. Prax says

    Welcome back!

    I transitioned a few years ago, and growing out my hair for the first time has been vastly more empowering than I expected it to be. Before I came out, I pretty much just shaved it every two months and tried not to think about it otherwise; now it’s one of the few parts of my body in which I take pride. Learning the rules for interracial hair care has been a trip, though. Apparently most of the folks with my hair type live in the Caribbean or Brazil.

  3. Silentbob says

    It’s good to hear from the unscraped original. Your writing has profoundly influenced me.

  4. Silentbob says

    In fact, when I think about, if I were asked what FTB blogs most changed my worldview – I would say Jey McCreight’s waaaaay back in the day…

    and Shiv.

  5. raz says

    (not to completely ignore the point about turning human experience to AI fodder, but it’s been driving me to despair lately, so to ignore it long enough to say something else:)

    Super, super felt about haircuts and the emotional importance of them. I haven’t always taken the best care of my hair and since I’ve grown it out, it has a tendency to split and knot incredibly hard… But I was also in that enforced-masculinity-through-mandatory-haircuts style of family as a kid. Last time a gf tried to help me with the ends, something about the combination of being sat on a wooden chair in a daylit sewing room and having someone go at my hair with scissors sent me into a panic attack, regardless of the fact I trust her and knew she wasn’t going to cut it any shorter than I wanted.

    Have since determined with other gf, though, that having her do maintenance on a side shave is OK and even a minor intimacy? Something in the difference of having sat down and said “do this to me” rather than being told “you need me to do this”.

  6. Siobhan says

    @6 Silentbob

    That’s such a nice thing to say, thank you :’)

    @7 raz

    Something in the difference of having sat down and said “do this to me” rather than being told “you need me to do this”.

    1000%. I think this time went so well because I was in the former situation too!

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