You are Not a Profile.

August 17, 2011

I am so close to dropping off Facebook. Someone push me. Please.

I have no real illusions about anonymity. While I’ve had this blog–in some incarnation–for seven years now, I launched a website for myself as a musician barely a year ago. It didn’t take me long to start considering combining the two, but as soon as I began planning to do so, I ran into a host of problems. Many of these are a result of own laziness (I struggle to update my gig calendar or promote my shows, unless it’s on Facebook), but there are greater identity and self-image concerns as well. Do I want to unify the guy who writes stuff like this and this, with the guy who wrote this?

The funny thing is, show promotion and a couple groups (ok, one actually) are the only reasons I’m still on Facebook. The most common reason I’m so disdainful of Facebook is because there are so few things that I want to say to my family, lifelong friends, recent friends, grad school friends, and musician peers. It’s an opt-out system where unless I take the time to categorize my friendeds, everything I post goes to everyone. After silently saying “I don’t care” to myself with every status update, I realized that I just didn’t want to add to the information pollution. Granted, I still check Facebook semi-regularly just to read status updates with the same casual interest that I read celebrity gossip blogs.

Courtesy of geekandpoke.com

Perhaps I’m subscribed to the idea that in your virtual life, if you don’t establish a strong identity, one will be established for you. I realize that doesn’t really differentiate it from real (analog) life, but I harbored this illusion for a while that if I didn’t do anything online, I wouldn’t be there. Being an actively performing musician and a member of at least a few geek social circles, pictures of me just kept popping up on Facebook. To this date I personally have uploaded one picture (nearly a decade old) of myself to Facebook, and yet there are 318 tagged photos of me currently uploaded on their network.

I’ve in the past been dubbed a “contrarian” by some of my peers. I can’t really argue, since I do seem to have an inherent suspicion of social trends (Facebook, Twitter, Portland, etc.). I don’t necessarily believe that all social trends are inherently brainless and driven by mob mentality (or worse, marketing). I am just a big believer in the adage “Don’t let anything be automatic.” I believe that regular assessment of our routines is important to promote our intellectual, social, and technological development. That said, I agree with Jaron Lanier that social networks encourage users to dilute their individuality humanity, allowing it to be quantized into what essentially amounts to census figures and voluntary market research data.

Or, maybe I’m just tired of being a product.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been a subtle addition to the right sidebar. It’s true. I’ve been baptized into the world of micro-blogging. This blogger is now also a twit…er…er. I realize that this may come as somewhat of a surprise to some of you, particularly since I’ve in the past taken great delight in skewering and belittling everyone’s favorite micro-blogging service, even to it’s face. What could have changed my mind? Well, a number of things. I shall conveniently list them.

  1. I realized I had more reasons to hate Facebook, and I was already on that. On Twitter, people subscribe if they’re interested in what you have to say. How wonderful it is to have quantified self-worth! On Facebook, we’re all just subscribed to each other by impulses of “friendedness.”
  2. At it’s best, Twitter is largely what blogging originally was designed to be, a way of sharing links to cool stuff we’ve come across. Twitter gives us a chance to fly on ahead and shout back to the flock. Also, it gives me something to do when I have something to say but I’m too lazy to blog. I guess that explains this.
  3. I just turned twenty-eight and I realized that I’m simply too young to be technologically jaded. Besides, I work as a educational tech consultant. What kind of example would I be setting by ignoring the hottest craze in social networking (circa 2007-08)?
  4. In my head, I disliked Twitter users more than than Twitter itself. For a while I really only regarded Twitter as a knock-off of Facebook status updates. The users were the ones that really grinded (ground?) my gears. You know, the folks that I had branded a collective of hive-minded, self-glorifying windbags? Okay, that’s not exactly what I said (the “windbags” part is new), but yes, I was thinking it. Well, I don’t believe that’s true anymore, because I am one now and I am not a self-glorifying windbag, I’m a blogger. There’s a subtle difference.
  5. Twitter is “catware, and I’m a cat person. Dogs would love Facebook, which rewards even the most passive user (*ahem*) with constant companionship, praise, and attention—even if it’s undeserved. Twitter, in contrast, is reactionary, self-serving, and independent. Also, “friendship” on Twitter can be a one-sided agreement in which the follower (cat owner) says “I’ll pay attention to you even if you don’t give two s**ts about me.” Heck, even if I am following someone else, it’s about as passive as watching traffic, or a washing machine.

So, yes. That’s it. That’s my conversion statement. I’ll take no questions, but you can “tweet” at me if you feel like it.

“Douglas Coupland has no Facebook or MySpace page”
-Douglas Coupland’s website

I warned you. I said that once we stopped eating animals it was a slippery slope. Next thing you know plants would start getting all high and mighty. Well, it’s happened, and now there’s a tree on Facebook.

No, really. There’s a damned tree on Facebook.

a tree with a face, from Lord of the Rings

What you can't see is the Macbook Pro he's typing on.

Yes friends, trees have officially entered the social networking (oh, it’s on Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube too) circle. We’re not talking a fan page or a tree group. This eighty-six year old tree is posting and tweeting like a boss. Scientists in Brussels have rigged up a tree with environmental sensors, a microphone, a camera, and a digital camcorder, giving us human folk a chance to expand our ecological horizons and find out what trees “think.” It’s a cool and playful idea, and certainly pretty impressive for an eighty-six year old plant with no prior technology experience (or central nervous system, for that matter). Of course, you’ve got to think of the flip side: while this may be a landmark accomplishment for a tree, what does it mean for human beings?

Facebook: So easy, a tree—an entity with no functioning brain—can do it.

Ok, ok. So the tree isn’t actually doing anything besides rocking its inherent tree-ness. It’s technically the computers attached to the tree doing all the work, and we certainly aren’t talking critical thinking here. We’re talking straight data aggregated into readable information, devoid of purpose or substance. It’s not like the tree is generating wisdom or even knowledge, for that matter. That’s all okay, provided we’re still talking about trees.

Facebook: Have all the depth of a tree.

But we’re not, and if Facebook were a gauge for sentience, there’s little separating the plant and animal kingdoms. Sure, the tree has generally better grammar and spelling than its human friends, but they also say “to err is human.” Beyond that, the tree has proven to be our equal in the ability to post inane drivel in a public forum. In an honest assessment of the depth of our Facebook correspondence we’re slightly above seagulls (by using of multi-word phrases), but a smidgen below The Sims. It’s harsh, but at least Sims creatively express aspirations.

tree facebook status and comments

My favorite reply would probably have to be: "i love horses."

As we see above, every time the tree updates its status, it receives dozens of replies (and hundreds of “likes,” whatever that means). One can draw one of two possible conclusions here, both of which are concerning for very different reasons: 1) people actually believe they are talking to a sentient tree or 2) people want others to see they’re talking to a tree. I assume if they had something important to say, they’d send the tree a message instead of posting on its wall. Of course this would violate Web 2.0 rule #7: why say something privately, when you can say it very, very, publicly?

Facebook: It’s all about you. Your “friends” may as well be plants.

I’m not sure how to assess the quality of online social interaction, and I’m not sure it can be done in any meaningful way. I’m fairly convinced that the answer would be meaningless anyways. I’m only asking you, dear readers, to take an honest look at your online correspondence and ask yourselves in what way(s), if any, have you shown more depth than a tree?

Reality: Separate the folks from the trees.

After a chat with some folks a few days ago, the conversation ended with the new version of “goodbye” which is “lets keep in touch, are you on Facebook?”

Feeling adventurous, I [rep]lied, “no.”

Facebook/Narcissism

I liked the graphic, despite it not being particularly clever.

My comment was returned with a look so horrified I thought I’d accidentally said “sorry, I’ll be dead tomorrow.” This, of course, got me thinking: is the self-obsessive collaborative web nothing more than a form of collective death-denial?

We’ve grown to identify Web 2.0 as the “collaborative web,” but what are we really collaborating on, but a war against self-denial, or more bluntly, death? Perhaps if we all clump together as much banal, utterly useless data about ourselves, we’ll be too big for death to swallow. The antithesis of self-obsession is essentially self-denial, and what is death but the ultimate form of self-denial? If we don’t accept death, one day we’ll perhaps evolve into pure energy composed of tweets, pokes, and emoticons.

Gizmo Duck

You know, I was going to include an image of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of money as a metaphor for our decadent hoarding of information, but Gizmoduck is just so much cooler.

The Information Age has shown some disturbing trends as of late, notably, an almost obsessive fear of deletion. More and more online web features stress the ready availability of the past to the point that it may as well be the present. Twitter feeds keep a running log of all of our past “present status,” Gmail encourages users to archive as an alternative to deletion, and the internet wayback machine obsessively archives pages, thus serving as an electronic version of its namesake. We have the space, why not just save everything?

I’ve heard the arguments for security, posterity, historical record, and all the like, but I’m not convinced. According to my own Scrooge McDuck Theory of History, no matter how much we obsessively hoard and accumulate data, we’ll only be later obsessed with what we couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t save. Douglas Coupland made the argument that the over-informed age has made spirituality and philosophy concerns of the past. I’m expecting this next generation to have a serious case of death-denial.

It sounds morbid, but should there be a Facebook status for “deceased?”

You go ahead, Webby dear. We quad-zillionaires have our own ideas of fun.”
-Scrooge McDuck

I have a dream…

April 27, 2010

A Facebook group to protest Facebook.

Was there a time when activism involved more than a mouse click and 140 characters?

Am I the only person who thinks Facebook groups are the third horseman of the apocalypse of social activism? A Facebook group to protest Facebook? I really don’t have the energy to even gripe how unbelievably silly this is.  Most people posting there have their legal name and a photo of themselves visible, not to mention the city they live in and what they like and dislike one click away.

Don’t even get me started on the petition. Yes, I’m sure all these people will stop using Facebook if whatever this “privacy violation” doesn’t get pulled back. Zuckerberg can just re-release it as Farmville II and it will be accepted with open arms.

I wonder how much ad revenue will be generated by all the visits to this inane group. And no, I’m not linking to it. Find it yourself if you want to “make a difference” and “stand up to the man.”

Sorry. I’ve had a headache for a few months now. I’m a little grouchy. I need progenitorivox.

Once again, if you haven’t read William Deresiewicz’ article “Faux Friendship,” I highly recommend it.

I recall my first year of grad school being crazy enough without the complications of electronic social networking. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to feel old in my early twenties, on my first day I had a student abbreviate a discussion with me into another language (“Hey. Can we convo? LOL. Sorry, I like to abbrev.”), and soon after I felt the outward pressure of dealing with virtual friends—hereafter referred to as “friendeds.” After much prodding from my peers, I finally opted to give Facebook a shot, but only if I could assure that I could have all the privacy I wanted, and more. I resolved to only “friend” people that I had actual face-to-face interactions with, but my interactions on Facebook were limited until I discovered my personal Holy Grail: ultra-paranoid privacy settings. Thanks to the setting which removed my searchability on Facebook, I was free to happily enjoy all Facebook had to offer from the confines of my virtual cloaking device.

As the years have gone by, however, the ever-widening user base has had some undesirable results. While Facebook features (Facebook chat, applications, video, etc.) have consistently expanded, I’ve always had my private little wall that prevented “that one creepy guy from the coffee shop who I really never want to talk to” or “that obnoxious girl from my sophomore physics class,” or “my high school graduating class” from attempting to “friend” me. Sure, you can always ignore the friend requests, but can’t they just not know I’m there? Regardless, I’m proud to say that I’m still app-free and I have resisted the urge to upload video or engage in real-time chat. I also was completely invisible to all but those I actually wanted to communicate with. What’s nice, is that I have had that choice.

You can run, but you can't hide.

You can run, but you can't hide. At least not anymore.

As of December 10th, I can still opt out of search results, but I have no means to opt out of being “friended” by  “friends of friends” if they happen to see my picture or name in a group or wall post. “But they’re your friends’ friends,” Facebook says. “Why wouldn’t you want them to be your friend?” Well, if you’ve got one Facebook acquaintance that’s “friended” all of Northwest Ohio—and we all have got at least one who has—then that opens you up to all of Northwest Ohio as a “friend of a friend.” My real friends’ friends are not mine, so why on Earth would the Grand High Facebook council assume that I want to have the friendeds of my friendeds be able to see me? Facebook friendeds of friendeds are exponentially further away from being actual friends. Sure, there might be some that are, but does that make it worth opening me up to all of the friends of a guy a met once at a conference in New York?

The painful truth is that social networks like Facebook and MySpace have the power to dictate social privacy trends. What makes Facebook different from myspace is its respect of privacy, which has steadily eroded with every new app. Every “feature” which enables users to share more establishes a new trend which eventually becomes a standard. Not only do these new features presuppose that people want to share as much as possible, they actually encourage people to make public things that they would have never considered to display in the past. As much as I hypocritically condemn the self-important web 2.0, whether or not you want to share pictures of yourself doing a keg-stand in a unitard isn’t my business. However, you make it my business by giving all of your pro-unitard-kegstand friends access to me.

I notice that every time I type “friend,” it means less and less until the word is almost meaningless. I wonder if having 1,283 “friends” on Facebook has the same effect on actual friendship?

“This information is name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages. The overwhelming majority of people who use Facebook already make most or all of this information available to everyone. We’ve found that most people who do limit access just want to avoid being found in searches or prevent contact from strangers.”
-Facebook Blog

How much can you fit into 14o characters? Well, the sky’s the limit. With over 10 million users, Twitter is undoubtedly the new power player on the Web 2.0 scene. I decided to sit down with Twitter and get the 411 straight from the source. What makes Twitter tick? I’ve got the scoop right here.

Extroverted Introversion: Hello, Twitter. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.

in starbucks with juliosus. an honor & a plesure!
7:00 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: The pleasure is all mine. This has been a wild year for you. How do you handle all the attention?

@juliosus being twitter aint eZ. I should kno!
7:00 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in reply to juliosus

EI: What about it isn’t easy?

@juliosus Ive mastered brevity, now I just need everyone else to pay attention. lol!
7:01 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in reply to juliosus

EI: We’re the only ones here. The @ isn’t necessary.

@juliosus I cant help it. tweets are the wave of the future!
7:01 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in reply to juliosus

EI: A recent Harvard Business school study seems to imply that tweeters are egotists obsessed with self-importance.

@juliosus SO not true! I live for sharing info with my besties.
7:02 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in reply to juliosus

EI: …information about yourself.

juliosus says Im self obsessed (WHATEVER!). What do u think?
7:02 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

@juliosus twitter is a doll! Juliosus needs to leave twitter alone!
7:02 PM Jul 13th from Linzey605 in reply to juliosus

@TwittR Awfully big words for a guy who doesnt tweet. Im just sayin…
7:02 PM Jul 13th from JakeINdahouse in reply to TwittR

EI: Who are you people?

@JakeINdahouse Thx! juliosus needs to get in the know…
7:02 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in reply to JakeINdahouse

@Linzey605 I know, right?
7:03 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in reply to Linzey605

EI: Um, ok…I didn’t say you were self obsessed. I’m just calling attention to the fact that research shows that 10% of Twitter users make up 90% of tweets.

Sooooo many dead accounts. If you can’t handle me, don’t step up to the table! LOL!
7:03 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: I don’t think that answers my qu…

Facebook is SO last year! Its good to be IN!
7:03 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

Facebook is wondering what all the fuss is about. Who uses twitter anyways?

@Facebook you just wish you though of it first. SORE LOSER!!!
7:03 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

Facebook is pretty sure it thought of this first.

@Facebook U wish U were MYSPace! HAHAHAHAH!
7:03 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: As much as I hate to interrupt here, I’d like to get us back on track. So Twitter, I guess it’s safe to say that you’ve embraced your popularity.

@AplusK: no, Ashton, thank YOU! Loooove the pic!
7:04 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: Twitter?

Coffee with juliosus. *yawn*
7:04 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: Um, am I boring you?

@juliosus thanks for noticing. btw. So excited! Awesome night tonite!
7:04 PM Jul 13th from TwittR in response to juliosus

EI: What are you up to tonight?

Embedding in myspace tonite. I luv u myspace!!!!!!!
7:05 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: I’ve heard the rumors about the close relationship between you and myspace. How would you describe your relationship?

@myspace UR SO HOT!!! see you tonite! =)
7:05 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

EI: I can’t take much more of this…

Myspace is TOTALLY gonna score 2night! at 7:24 PM July 13
Mood: Cool cool

EI: Okay…last question Twitter. Where do you see yourself in five years?

@youtube embedding with MYspace tonight. U better be there!
7:05 PM Jul 13th from TwittR

Utube4eva (1 minute ago)

omg U are SUUUUUCCCCCHHHHH a HO!
Ill be ther!

EI: Ok, I’m done.

“OMG i was saying how i couldn’t afford the gas to fly daddy’s jet to the riviera this summer, and this barista totally rolled her eyes at me”
babesmcphee