Yesterday, video adds showed up in your Facebook timeline.[1. ironically, while bashing Zuckerberg’s new practice, wired showed me a popup, autoplaying video ad for a Christmas Lexus] Facebook protests: “We don’t want to do this to you! Our Advertisers are making us!” I don’t think, though, that their regret will stop them from cashing the substantial check. Still, it’s one more bullet point on a long list of reasons why I don’t visit any longer. You may not have noticed, but I recently took one small step towards disconnecting myself from the entire digital ‘community.’
I haven’t been a 14 year old girl for decades, so at one time I had resisted the hivemind and stayed away from Facebook. But the pull grew stronger with every picture my sister posted of my nephews and eventually I tripped over the event horizon. Their adorable has the gravity and brilliance of 10,000 suns – each. Still, other than watching those three baby geniuses grow up, and reconnecting with a few good people, I find very little value in Facebook and quite a bit of actual harm.
Many years ago, I was an Administrative Assistant.[2. Being male AA in a large, multinational company had it’s debits and some perks. I do have a real pension. Nothing I could live on now, but in 2042 it might be enough to buy a monthly ice cream cone. Also, I learned that white male professionals often say truly horrible things about women, while also sitting on a toilet. I’m sure there’s a German word for that.] Each year, the company held an office Christmas party at a local Boston hotel, in one of the large ballrooms. 800+ employees and their guests, family & friends. Two drink tickets covered beer wine and bottled soda equally and, no, you couldn’t buy extras, but if you knew the blond from marketing you also knew that she had a roll in her bag. The reception was hosted by Finance. During the main course the CEO gave the same talk he just gave to a roomful of analysts, only we got it on DVD playback on three large screens. Coffee, sponsored by the Secretarial pool, was served up by Judy from 14, the unofficial office manager, along with some supermarket sheet cake, cut into messy, tiny squares with a plastic knife.
Facebook reminds me of these parties.
Part of me resented being forced to spend more time with people I see for 60 hours a week. Another part acknowledges that many were (and still are) good acquaintances, and it’s nice meet coworkers life partners, if only to learn Ron from the mail room snagged the Amazonian supermodel. Pictures of the kids and the dogs. Vacation plans. Nice stories about that nice thing Jane did for you last week when you were having a really shitty day. Sympathetic looks and hugs when tragedy comes up.
For the most part, nice. A belly full of hors d’oeuvres and a two-Heineken-buzz kind of nice. There are other human beings OUT THERE and they have times, good and bad, just like you do.
But when the buzz wore off and I took the time to unpack the evenings events, patterns emerged. There were no ‘conversations.’ People volleyed declarative statements over the DJ. When wishing them Merry Christmas, some people would look past me to see if someone more important noticed. For a few go-getters, I was invisible. Not, necessarily invisible when 26 state returns had to be copied an collated before 6pm on a Tuesday, but definitely when a Senior Partner was around. No, an AA can’t help your career and an AA won’t kiss your ass.
Don’t ever say anything controversial. And by controversial, I mean liberal or progressive. Like suggesting poor people aren’t lazy and didn’t ask to be where they are. That wealth and success are brought to you by luck as much as personal pluck. But when literally anyone says something factually challenged or unthoughtful about religion, race, gender or ‘kids these days,’ the only thing for ‘a progressive’ to do is nod your head and walk away.
Eventually, people cluster around class and gender and parrot each other.
If I can identify one positive from Facebook is that the experiences of my online friends all the same, be it work, family or that driver who cut you off on Georgia. How we process and articulate those experiences varies. For example: two friends get in separate fender benders on the same day. One, calmly, posts that shit happens and at least you’re safe. The other rails against women/minority/old/young/VA/DC/MD drivers and notes how he’s the only one who knows how to drive in this fucking town.
Who’s going to get the most likes? Who’s going to get the most comments? Who’s going to show up, later, at the top of my news feed because they got more likes/comments?
Why should I give a fuck either way? What does that experience mean to you? We all live the same lives. Patting you on the back and saying ‘there, there’ might feel good for a minute, but is it fulfilling?
There is zero perspective applied to the experiences we share on Facebook. ‘Here’s a picture of a meal I had at that outrageously expensive restaurant.’ Fantastic! But what does that mean to you? What is significant about your picture a day project? Why are you drooling all over yourself to tell your friend how awesome she is and how you’d rather be living her life?
I’m guilty of it too. I got more likes for a picture of my dog Meg than for the eulogy I wrote for my father. Simple, cute, non-confrontational, a photo of a dog is something we can all agree is good. Meaningless, ultimately, but good. It showed up at the top of a lot of feeds. The eulogy, most people didn’t know it was there. When I finally realized tha I was spending more and more time trolling my hard drive for Meg photos and less time writing Important Things, and I was growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of attention to those Important Things, I new it was time to log out permanently.[3. FYI – you can never leave Facebook permanently. When I ‘deleted’ my account, I was told that if I tried to log in again, my profile would be ready to go, as if I never left. Zuckerberg will hold onto my data for ever. Why?]
Our experiences are the same. Facebook, by design and by culture, forces us to share only the most innocuous pieces of our lives, with no nuance or context. We’d rather share pictures of cute puppies, that really awesome sundae, or the F250 bought with the Christmas bonus than talk with our friends and family about life and loss. Every conversation is no more significant than office party cocktail chatter: calorie-free babble about cool new gadgets or a game of one-upsmanship. And this is making us unhappy. It makes me very unhappy.
Facebook, and other ‘social media’ sites, and people who write about them, say they are about building a community. It’s no community that I want. Here’s a completely non-controversial statement: Facebook is about making money. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, was the highest paid in 2012. He received more compensation than the leaders of companies who make actual, tangible products. How does that happen? One, an IPO for suckers who actually think that a piece of Facebook is worth real-world dollars. Because, two, Zuckerberg exploits your personal life for their private gain. He sells you. He mines the events of your life and sells them to SC Johnson Wax and eCigarette companies. Oh, and hands them over to the NSA, no questions asked, no court order given. I believe too many people have put their social lives (not just online social lives, mind) in the hands of a group of men (they’re mostly young, white men) who think privacy is archaic.[4. This reminds me of the Internet meme: If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Read the comments from this 2010 Lifehacker arcticle where I first learned the phrase. I bet those internet tough guys who said they didn’t care about their online privacy when they thought data mining was only used to sell them toasters aren’t telling the same story today. Then again, public website comments are a cancer on public discourse and rot the part of the brain where consistency and narrative are stored.]
From time to time, I would post things I had written or pictures taken. I’m no artiste but that stuff is worth something to me. Who owns that picture or that comment when it goes up on Facebook? Read the current TOS. Even if Facebook says ‘me’ today, they may change their TOS tomorrow and make their new ownership of that photo retroactive. Any one cellphone picture of my dog Meg is too large a price to pay just to keep in touch with that girl from 10th grade french class.
Issues of exploitation and privacy aside, I have no interest in supporting Mark Zuckerberg’s politics. His corporatist stance on education and immigration, and the avalanche of money he gives to support those stances, are purpose built to lower the cost of skilled labor. And his political approach to influencing legislation is breathtakingly cynical.
Fear of losing what I create, poured with everything I said above, shaken with a less-than-healthy jigger of anxiety and the burning thought that someone, somewhere has said something stupid on the Internet is one big Flaming Moe I can’t stomach. It draws me out of the world I love and focuses me on the trivial or simply useless.
Friends and family, I’m long gone from Facebook. If I have a picture or writing to to share with the world, I will share it on my own site. No, I’m not the best meatspace letter writer or phone caller or socializer, but I would like to grow in that way. I’ve recently realized I’m better when I’m around real, good people.
No Truck is my online home for adorable dog photos and unhinged screeds about modern technology and the kids these days. Comments will be open; you don’t have to be nice. There’s no ‘Like’ button. If you have an RSS reader like Feedly you can get this stuff delivered directly there. You can also get stuff via Twitter @gotnotruck.[5. I do understand that Twitter mines my tweets, and retweets. They’ve also been consistent in defending their users against privacy intrusions. If their IPO forces a change from a risk adverse, gov’t kowtowing investor class, then I will bolt.] Of course, there’s email and the phone. If you don’t have either, ask.
The best part of this arrangement is that you don’t have to hide my profile if you don’t want to see my posts, nor unfriend me and deal with the social implications of that drastic step. Just don’t visit. I’ll only cry for a little bit.
If anyone wants to post this to Facebook, go right ahead.
Meg White is a Miniature Pincer/Beagle Mix, or a Meagle. She rescued us just before Our Dog Sookie left for an afterlife of string cheese trees and comically slow bunnies. Without her, the last couple of months would have flattened me.
Today, she’s getting her baby machine removed. I know it’s ‘the right thing to do’ but that she will be in pain for the next week or so breaks my heart.