Abolish the User

I presented the following talk at Theorizing the Web 2020. Originally planned as an in-person conference at the Museum of the Moving Image in Brooklyn, the organizers converted it to an online panel series due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this talk, I’m trying to think through the way digital technology forces us to interact with it on its own terms, by casting us as “users.” I identify the user with the idealized individual subject of Enlightenment humanism, which also underlies modern notions of the state (citizenship) and the market (consumerism). We’ve known for a long time that this way of thinking is neither natural nor inevitable, but I argue that it’s at the root of almost all the problems we love to gripe about when it comes to today’s social media. In a speculative twist, I also connect this largely uncontested idea of the user with our inability to imagine a future “platform” that isn’t just another Twitter clone.

The full title of my presentation is “Abolish the User: Designing Against the End of History.” Watch below!