Facebook is to community like porn is to sex

Antonio Garcia Martinez, writing for Wired:

Ultimately, nobody really cares about privacy, except media elites, under-employed Eurocrats, and zealots who’ve made it a career. Everyone else would sext you their privates for a fleeting feeling of human connection. And they do.

[Zuckerberg] very immodestly proposes that Facebook occupy the social nexus vacated by the disappearance of churches, unions, lodges, and other local associations that once served as core of American civil life. This resurrected public forum would be as abstract and mobile as a Facebook group, and would no longer be restricted by the pesky limits of distance or national origin.

Facebook is to real community as porn is to real sex: a cheap, digital knockoff for those who can’t do better. Unfortunately, in both instances use of the simulacrum fries your brain in ways that prevent you from ever experiencing the real version again. But we’ll take what we can get.

 

I don’t think anthropologists or historians will look back on western society or American culture and say, “Ah, the Internet was where people started becoming lonely, depressed, and sad”. Institutions like churches and other parts of civil society started collapsing around the time television was in every home, sometime around the 60’s and 70’s.

Was it television that drove us away from other people? Maybe. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam makes the argument television news scared the heck out of us all and made us distrustful.

I wrote in a paper recently there may be an upshot to Facebook for democracy: it serves as an antiseptic. It lets people show themselves in a way they may not have before. If they’re racist, homophobic, or genuinely a bad person, you’re likely to see it on Facebook. The medicine stings for society, but ultimately it is good for the patient.

As Martinez points out, teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma organized a teacher’s strike more effectively than unions ever have.

There are bits and pieces of the “Facebook is to porn” metaphor I agree and disagree with. I get the point, however, that Facebook serves as a weak proxy for building meaningful connections. I just think it’s unfair to blame Facebook for it. Poor community organization and construction patterns, reliance on welfare, the drug war, and a clear market demand for a moment of simple relaxation are bigger factors. If anything, Facebook (like porn) is the last thing some people have to work with.

I suspect our cultural issues surrounding health and depression come more from other cultural changes. Facebook just amplifies them a bit, letting us see what’s happening faster and close-up.

I just don’t think people can afford to be in most social organizations anymore. They cost thousands of dollars a year and require hundreds of hours of time. Ask a college graduate with a $400/mo. car payment, a government-mandated health insurance bill, hefty rents despite splitting it three ways and a car payment of $250 a month because your city is huge and you can’t plunk down $5,000 for a used car all at once to join Rotary, Kiwanis, an industry association, or go bowling for $3,000 a year and see how far that goes.

We’re so full of white there are no jobs

So Apple rounded out the big tech companies last week with a report that basically says all our stereotypes are true: white dudes run the show and Asians are really good at math.

Remember, stereotypes don’t just appear out of nowhere, they are, technically, derived from observed conventions.

This is a complicated problem. For penis-toting white people you’re born, you go to school, get a computer for Christmas, and totally geek out and get a job later on doing geeky things.

For penis-toting black people, you go to school, maybe you sit at a computer a little bit, you probably can’t afford a computer or a very good one, or Internet access, so you go do something else.

For women it’s a whole host of different issues. We know the arguments there, and frankly, I just don’t have enough information to speak about them. I’m inclined to believe that maybe women just aren’t, in mass, as interested in technology. Women also aren’t that interested in hunting, fishing, race car driving, farting, and whittling canoes from dead trees, but no one’s stopping them from doing those things. Men generally don’t like massages, perfume, or anal sex, but no one’s stopping them or trying to push them into that, either. Insert your own gay joke here. Then call yourself a bigot.

But back to the black and white dudes with computers. The difference in these two upbringings is that one kid almost certainly went to a school with things like air conditioners and computers. I kid you not, there are schools within Indianapolis that do not have air conditioning. Computers are also not high on that list. I do not know where the seemingly endless stream of grant dollars for these things are going, but they’re not getting to the kids.

So in 20 years time you do not get to scratch your head in bewilderment why there are no black people in big tech companies.

Our national response to this is to pressure these companies to find black people and hire them. Ditto for women and anyone to “dillute” that pack of white sausages.

I’m all for the diversity of things. You get better products and it’s obvious we have been since women have taken a more active roll in the workplace. We’ve all seen how much better Sterling Cooper is with Peggy. It’s good for everyone. Just as it is for getting different opinions and thoughts from different backgrounds.

Years ago when I was working for the State there was this push for digitizing court forms. Great idea, “Except it won’t work,” I said. “Too many people out in the rest of Indiana do not have access to good enough Internet for this. They don’t have computers or the ability to get to one. There are all of 6 public computers in all of Washington County. Three of them are for Workforce Development only.” You can’t just “eliminate the paper” because until a couple more generations die off and we push for broadband everywhere, we will have this problem. I was the only one to fight this battle because I was the only person who had spent more than 6 minutes outside of Indianapolis.

But we can’t get mad at Apple for this, or Google or Facebook or any other company. It’s not their fault the pool of people to hire from is lousy with white dudes. They didn’t create that world — society did. Or, more aptly, the government. And now the government and society want them to fix it.

Does anyone believe for a second that Apple, with more money than God, would hire for a position and say, “Well, that woman is really awesome, but let’s go with the guy.” I don’t believe that. I don’t believe anyone at any of the big tech companies hire based on anything but what you’ve done and what you can do.

Turns out, though, if you can’t do much, or don’t do much, you don’t get the job. This isn’t a country club where there’s some sign out front saying “No black people” or “No girls allowed”.

But like my last post, this comes down to personal responsibility. You can, in big cities, get on a bus and go to the library and take a book about HTML out and read it. It’ll cost you $1.75. I’ll even give you the money for it if you want. That’s how most everyone working in tech today got started — no degree required.

But we do have a societal responsibility to take in kids, help younger generations learn ever more complicated code and languages and techniques, and to ensure schools get real money to spend on real equipment. We have a responsbility to treat people with respect and dignity, to understand hardship, and to punish people for their racism and bias. Even in 2014 we need laws to protect people in clearly segregated places, but I don’t think Facebook is the bad guy (at least this time, anyway). We do not have a responsibility to hire to fill some peer-pressured feel-good numbers quotient.

 

How to Disable Facebook’s “Close Friends” Notifications

Facebook, in their infinite wisdom, thinks I care when people post a new picture of their baby or dinner or whatever. They are mistaken.

Luckily, unlike some things, you actually have control over this. Notifications you get for new photo uploads and “so-and-so updated their status” can be disabled by following these steps:

  1. Click “Close Friends” on the left hand menu (probably toward the bottom, under “FRIENDS”)
  2. Click “Notifications” up in the top right and switch ’em off.

Why do we all still put up with Facebook?

I’m dipping back into one of those cycles where I’m disenfranchised with Facebook again. Why? Because so many people are just that awful.

Facebook is, by and large, an entertainment platform. Instead of watching TV or reading a book, some people cut into that time with Facebook. So much so the phrase “I have to check Facebook” has entered everyone’s vernacular. But why? Why on earth do you need to check Facebook? I also need to check my bank account from time to time, but I don’t do it twenty times a day. “But Justin, your bank account doesn’t change as fast as Facebook!” Maybe, but it sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes.

Facebook brought most of us into the social networking realm. A lot of us had MySpace pages, but I think most of us gawk at Facebook more — and that’s strictly because Facebook brought good design to social networking. Remember when you had to sit through a MySpace page with a green background, yellow text, two videos playing simultaneously and some shitty pop song you never heard of playing in the background? That offended my sensibilities, so I blocked it out.

Now, Facebook’s content is offending my sensibilities. I don’t block hardly anyone, but I unsubscribe or hide a lot of people. Play Facebook games? You’re gone. Post song lyrics all the time? You’re gone. Post sappy poems and bullshit “feelings”? You’re gone. Post vague nonsense like “That was fun!” or “Can’t wait until it happens!”? You’re gone.

You have to agree with one sentiment: none of that crap matters. Why does anyone want to see that? I certainly don’t.

Then there’s the other side of the coin, when people post things of some level of substance, but it’s completely and factually wrong. Particularly when someone posts crap they heard on FOX or MSNBC. This Occupy Wall Street stuff is overrunning my stream. The other day someone posted a photo of a woman complaining the bank is making her pay $300,000+ on a house she bought even though it’s only worth $91,000 now. Really? Maybe it’s because she bought a fucking house for $300,000 and the bank loaned her that money? Signatures and contracts were traded. Deals were made. You were there! But I digress.

But why anyone would want to consume this stuff at all hours of the day is beyond me. It’s all just stuff and people I’d mostly rather forget. I have just under 400 friends on Facebook and now that I’ve hidden so many people, I see, maybe, 70 or 80 of them. And a tier of 20 or 30 generally dominate the whole place.

“But Justin, why don’t you just close your account?” I’d kinda like to, but feel I need to keep it for some reasons. It’s good for keeping my name in front of clients and potential clients, and I get a lot of traffic to sites through Facebook. That pains me to say it, because it suddenly makes me feel like some crummy marketer.

I’ve hooked my Twitter account back into Facebook so I can just tweet and get it cross-posted to Facebook. I did that once before but disabled it because I thought it redundant for people who followed me in both places. But now I’ve reached a tipping point where the duplicate followers are in the minority. I have a highly curated list of about 100 Twitter followers who say things that are actually intelligent. They don’t necessarily follow me back, but Facebook missed the boat on being able to read things from people who haven’t “friended” you. They just now introduced the whole “Subscribe” gamut.

For me, Twitter shows me things that are likely to be true, useful, relatable to me. Not just how many imaginary beans you you pretended to faux-grown in your make believe farm or pictures of your kid. (I *really* hate that  — how would you like it if I posted photos of my cat all the time?)

Plus there’s that whole slew of privacy issues Facebook keeps bumbling over.

Aside from me commenting in responses to my cross-Twitter-posts on Facebook, don’t expect me to hang around here much. Or, just follow me over on Twitter.

Quitting Facebook

Facebook is dead. The spam has won.

I’ve been using Facebook for nearly 7 years now and I cringe to think how much time I’ve wasted on it, but I don’t think it’s been that much compared to a lot of other people. I use Facebook like this:

  1. Login
  2. Look at the recent status updates
  3. Maybe make a few comments
  4. View photos if they look interesting

I’ve enjoyed Facebook for years because it’s seemingly removed the need for a high school reunion. I know what everyone’s up to, who does what and so on. I don’t follow much family on Facebook, but I can see how that’d be nice, too.

Lately, things have started to change. Facebook, like any other company, can’t just say, “Well, that’s perfect. Let’s just maintain this now and not innovate anymore.” Could you imagine if Henry Ford thought the Model T was “just perfect” and left it at that? What if Microsoft stopped at Windows ME? Companies and people can’t just get to a point and stop. That’s how societies stagnate and crumble.

The trick, however, is innovating and growing in a mature, sensible way with purposeful iteration.

Facebook grew out of the .edu-only years and started enabling everyone with anything to say a place to say it. They innovated quickly, pushed changes at people very quickly and without warning. A slew of privacy issues has come of it, too. Under pressure from Twitter, Gowalla, FourSquare and others, they’ve added real-time status updates, check-ins, chat, email, photo sharing and they’ve monetized by putting ads in front of people that are creepily more targeted than Google’s famed AdWords.

Facebook is the new AOL, trying to be everything to everyone and in the process is becoming nothing to no one. Here’s what I see right now as I log into Facebook:

With all due respect to the original authors, the first two posts are effectively ads. The third post is about a music video I don’t care about or like. The rest are seemingly mundane posts that I either don’t understand or have no affinity to. The last post is a check-in from someone I went to high school with. I’m sure they’re having a fine time, but I don’t know where that is or why I should care. It’s one thing to check in from the White House, Grand Canyon, Times Square or the Space Station. It’s another to post that you’re at some random bar. The events are always pointless to me because everyone invites me to everything from a birthday party to a meetup to a political event. Has anyone ever looked at their Facebook wall and thought, “Hey, I want to do that, too!” or “I’m there, too! Let’s meet!”

In my mind, Facebook is the ultra-social site that combines the one-off services from other providers. Check-ins from FourSquare or Gowalla, statuses from Twitter, photos from Flickr, video from YouTube and so on. It’s becoming a bit much.

I’ve taken the time to at least try to curate my friends list. I know many individuals who have blocked me on Facebook, mostly old high school classmates. That’s fine because we didn’t have that much in common anyway. But now I find that Facebook is becoming “User Streamed Spam”. I guess I do it, too, with blog post links and the sort. But I do try to curate my posts as best I can. I respect people’s viewing experience on Facebook. Most people do not and post whatever pops in their mind.

Twitter, for me, is a better experience. I’ve carefully selected who I do and don’t want to follow, which admittedly, doesn’t happen as much on Facebook. On Facebook, I tend to hide a lot of people. Usually people who I met once somewhere and now they know me from some event I hosted. I’ve unlinked my Twitter and Facebook account in an attempt to refocus status updates to both targets differently at times. And, I’ve un-followed people on Twitter because I follow them on Facebook (or vice-versa) and I got tired of seeing the same thing. That became very cumbersome. Now, Facebook has removed the ability to hide apps on your wall, too. It’s almost as if they’re forcing me to see everyone’s horoscope.

Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I don’t like Facebook anymore. It isn’t fun, social or unique like it used to be. While I admit to using Facebook to blurt out some things I’m hosting, I try not to do it a lot. And, I actually do take the time to think about clever things to post on Facebook. No one cares about my dinner, I get that, and I don’t post about it. Heck, I don’t even care about  my dinner. I also try not to repost the same old things that have spread around the web time and time again.

The new polling feature is the death nail for me. I answered a question once, out of boredom, and lo, it re-posted to my feed with no way for me to know or delete it. I spammed people with some dumb question and didn’t even know it. I don’t care whether you like Pepsi or Coke enough to want to see it on my wall at 2:30 in the afternoon.

And, as an aside, on two occassions this week I’ve posted comments on two different people’s Facebook statuses. One, for instance, claimed that Obama moved his State of the Union Speech to accomodate Dancing with the Stars. That’s sorta true, if it weren’t for the fact that the State of the Union happens in January. I mentioned a correction that the speech was about Libya. A few minutes later, that post was deleted. How dare facts make it on to the Internet. On another occasion, someone removed a post because, I guess, they don’t like me. That’s fine, but it makes for a bad experience. That’s probably why Facebook doesn’t have a “Dislike” button. Everyone would get mad at everyone and just leave.

I’ll be leaving Facebook alone for a while and spending more time among the people and content I care more about over at Twitter. You can follow me @jlharter (or @justifystudios or @refreshindy or @rebuildconf). But unlike Facebook where it seems rude not to befriend a person when you both know you know each other, Twitter doesn’t have that culture so don’t expect me to automatically follow you back. It reminds me more of the early Facebook. I ‘like’ that.