Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Richard Nixon Effect on FaceBook

I am currently reading an anthology of writings by Hunter S. Thompson, which is essentially a collection of rambling, drug-addled rants about sports, politics and generally the state of the USA throughout the past 50 years. It's very interesting.

Over the past couple of days, I've read his account of Watergate and all of the scandal surrounding President Richard Milhous Nixon's resignation from the White House. Up until now, everything I knew about Richard Nixon can be epitomised by this picture:

It doesn't really matter that I don't know much about him. It might have been pertinent to my life if I was American and wanted to be a politician, but I'm actually neither. But I did find it interesting.

While he was President, Nixon recorded everything that happened in the White House. He had bugs placed in the all the phones and he carried around a tape recorder so that he could make a note of every thought that he had as President of the United States. He had people running around after him making notes to catalogue everything he did. After he resigned, as part the agreement of his pardon for Watergate from his successor Gerald Ford, he was given all the tapes so that he could keep them as a memento of his presidency forever.

Thompson said that Nixon's obsession with recording things made it look like he cared more about having something to put in the history books than actually running America, as if what was important was how he would look afterwards and how he would be remembered rather than actually helping his country. In the account, Thompson often compared him vividly to the Nazis, even going so far as to liken his underlings to Hitler's advisers, so he clearly wasn't perceived well. But he has been remembered, so it would seem that his aim has been achieved.

Thompson described Nixon's behaviour as a form of mental illness. This is coming from someone whose job it was to record everything that happened and who spent much of his career developing a whole new form of journalism based on it. But he nonetheless categorised the voluntary recording of one's own life as a form of madness. The way he wrote it, I could not help but agree. It seemed so strange that someone would do that - would record every second of their waking moment to ensure that they would be remembered exactly as they wanted to be perceived by other people.

But then I realised that it's practically the norm to do that now. No one does anything without worrying about what they'll tweet about it or how the photos will look on FaceBook. The TimeLine feature on FaceBook means that people can scroll back through their lives and edit out the things they don't want other people to see. It's exactly what Nixon did, exactly what made Thompson - who is, quite frankly, brilliant considering how well he can write when blitzed - predict that Nixon would spend the rest of his life listening to those tapes and reliving his presidency over and over again. Now, pretty much everyone automatically uploads and updates and makes sure that everyone else know what is going on at any given time.

It's scary to think that we'll all end up like Richard Nixon.

Then again, who wouldn't want to run the world and have an awesome body despite being nothing more than a head in a jar?

Yes, I realise the irony of blogging about this.

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