Lindsay Wilhelm responds to Richard Menke
We tend to think of our relationship to information technology as unprecedented, and in many ways it is: most of us carry around more computing power in our pockets than could fit in a room 40 years ago, more information than the most exhaustive library could ever hold. To Menke’s first question, then, about whether I’ve gotten distracted while writing this, I answer with a definite yes! And yet, as Menke points out, Zieger shows us how Victorian ephemera anticipates the media landscape of our own hyper-saturated, multi-tasked moment. After all, it’s not so difficult to draw a line between the nineteenth-century manufacturers of cigarette cards, leveraging the compulsions of their audiences to sell more cigarettes, and the way modern media companies monetize our affective responses by directing them toward acts of labor so subtle—commenting, sharing, liking, etc.—that they don’t even register as labor.
As Menke further suggests, the potential equivalence between the Victorian temperance medal and, say, the modern Facebook “friendversary” video compels us to “think carefully which modes of interpretation would suit these kinds of highly varied yet explicitly occasional and formulaic media objects.” Is close reading (or any other kind of reading practice, really) the best way of understanding forms of mass media that are not read so much as felt, circulated, and, more often than not, forgotten? Menke’s concluding invocation of the concept of “neurocapitalism” opens up our heretofore literary discussions of affect to promising, because challenging, economic and political critiques.