Facebook’s problem

The problem with Facebook these days is you don’t know what to expect anymore when you open your newsfeed.

Silly memes, serious essays about life events, cute photos of your friends kids, links to random articles, etc.

Then people don’t know what to post anymore, so they post less often. That is, people who think twice before posting. Not everyone is like that, unfortunately. Yet it’s precisely these unfortunate posts that, then, make up an increasing portion of what you see on Facebook.

But you have to keep checking Facebook all day, because it is very likely to be the only way you learn about your old roommate’s cancer diagnosis, or your church closing on Sunday morning due to a power outage, or the time of your kid’s next soccer game, or your great aunt’s untimely death (posted right there under that meme of nude Kim Kardashian).

It’s become one big trash forum.

But it’s precisely by lumping everything together like this that Facebook finds ways to get more content in front of us. If we get one very serious, informative post every few days (like the news of your great aunt’s untimely death), we’ll put up with the trash. We may even click on the trash every so often, which helps fund the effort to find better ways of keeping us hooked.

Now, whether it’s bad to be “hooked” on Facebook is a very personal determination. But based on what I see from people who post and scroll the most often, I’d literally bet it’s bad for most people most of the time. And really bad for some people pretty much all of the time.

Think about whether that’s you — whether you’re hooked on Facebook, or social media generally, and how that’s affected you. Whether you know, somewhere inside you, that you should probably, definitely, be doing something else right now.

(More of my thoughts on Facebook here.)

Social media hates your soul?

This Jaron Lanier interview is one of the most fascinating things I've read this year. Thanks to Rod Dreher for pointing it out.

The argument is that social media hates your soul. And it suggests that there’s a whole spiritual, religious belief system along with social media like Facebook that I think people don’t like. And it’s also fucking phony and false. It suggests that life is some kind of optimization, like you’re supposed to be struggling to get more followers and friends. Zuckerberg even talked about how the new goal of Facebook would be to give everybody a meaningful life, as if something about Facebook is where the meaning of life is.

It suggests that you’re just a cog in a giant global brain or something like that. The rhetoric from the companies is often about AI, that what they’re really doing — like YouTube’s parent company, Google, says what they really are is building the giant global brain that’ll inherit the earth and they’ll upload you to that brain and then you won’t have to die. It’s very, very religious in the rhetoric. And so it’s turning into this new religion, and it’s a religion that doesn’t care about you. It’s a religion that’s completely lacking in empathy or any kind of personal acknowledgment. And it’s a bad religion. It’s a nerdy, empty, sterile, ugly, useless religion that’s based on false ideas. And I think that of all of the things, that’s the worst thing about it.

I mean, it’s sort of like a cult of personality. It’s like in North Korea or some regime where the religion is your purpose to serve this one guy. And your purpose is to serve this one system, which happens to be controlled by one guy, in the case of Facebook.

It’s not as blunt and out there, but that is the underlying message of it and it’s ugly and bad. I loathe it, and I think a lot of people have that feeling, but they might not have articulated it or gotten it to the surface because it’s just such a weird and new situation.

#Charlottesville? We love it.

We just love when stuff like Charlottesville happens. We eat it up. We scroll down day after day waiting for stuff like this to happen. Drooling over events – horrific, but infrequent – that validate the narrative we want so, so bad to be true.

The saddest part about this, though, isn’t how much we love and reward those who break things and beat people up. It’s that our narratives would often have us wishing more of this stuff would happen. We refuse to believe these incidents are isolated (they are) because otherwise it’s just not as fun, just not as exciting. We insist that, yes, this does mean “we” have a serious problem. It does mean there are people out there who are plotting evil and want us dead. It does mean we need to freak out.

No, we don’t post to Facebook about the beautiful day we had – the sermon at church, the new word our child learned, the unfamiliar bird that landed on our window sill. But we absolutely will post about just how evil these protestors are, and just how evil are those who don’t denounce them, and just how worried we ought to be about all this stuff.

Mostly we do it because we’re bored. But also we do it because we want to be right. Because we aren’t very invested in the day-to-day realities around us, and so seek some kind of “purpose” in the news, even when we can’t think of a single person we know who’d ever participate in anything like what happened at Charlottesville.

Inevitably someone will find something incorrect with what I’ve said here. Something they disagree with. No, they’ll say, I just don’t understand. No, they’ll say, there are people who are truly suffering from inequality.

But fact is, I do understand. I’ve seen much worse than what happened at Charlottesville. Frankly, you have too, if only you will look as long and as hard at the faces of your friends and neighbors as you do the CNN newsfeed.

And my good friend understands. He lived for three years with people in Malawi who don’t have water to drink. There, mothers see their children die as often as we see our power go out.

No one marches for them. No one’s outraged about that. But Charlottesville? We love it. #charlottesville

I’m no better than anyone else. I hardly ever think about those kids in Malawi, sick and on their way to dying soon. But this isn’t about me. It’s something much bigger than me, and I hope you can see that.

Try to see the good in people. Don’t reward evildoers. And definitely don’t stir up anxiety and fear on purpose.

Some people have a hard enough time getting through the day, yet alone hearing about how they really do need to worry about racists coming to kill them, too.

I’m not “white,” but I don’t care. Never have. I don’t fear anyone at Charlottesville. Would gladly have been there this weekend, to tell people to go home and shut up.

But if there’s anything here I do fear, it’s the slow decay of our ability to look other people in the eyes and love them. To knock on our neighbor’s door to say hello. To find some purpose, any purpose, outside of events like this – little anecdotes that “validate” the previous little narratives that give us just enough purpose to feel ok about ourselves (even if not most of the time) and to not have to check up on the old lady next door every so often (because, I mean, we’re busy raising awareness online about terrible stuff, right?).

Get a life. I mean that almost literally. Go do something else. Don’t bring Charlottesville to your friends and neighbors, most of whom have other, more pressing stuff to worry about. Don’t be complicit in forcing these sentiments onto everyone you know. It doesn’t help. It serves no higher purpose.

We’re just bored. We need to find other ways to use our free time. We need to take what’s going on in our own families, our own minds, our own bodies, as seriously as we take what that guy on TV keeps saying.

“What can YOU do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” -Mother Theresa

The future of social media is…

The future of social media is anti-social media. That is, self-hosted content that only you own and that only you can take down.

I had this thought while sitting in on a marketing panel at WordCamp Jacksonville last month. We discussed using social media to market digital services, and it brought to mind a client of mine who has one of the largest Facebook pages in the world, but can claim only the login credentials for this page as an asset. The page itself is owned by Facebook, who reserves the right to take it down at any time—a fact which drastically diminishes the value of the page to potential buyers.

On Facebook, Twitter and Medium, you do not own your content. There is legally nothing stopping these companies from removing your profile, censoring your published materials, or acting in such a way as to skew and cloud your words.

Further, why do we need these companies? Except for ISPs, you don’t need any company to post content online. And posting your content on corporate-owned platforms, like Facebook, only means it’s less your own and more theirs. WordPress is a great alternative—open-source, shared code that enables you to easily publish online, but that does not permanently tie you into any network.

I’m convinced the future of social media is open-source, self-hosted. This is the next step in the decentralization of media. There is no reason why networking between proprietary domains can’t happen without massive companies like Facebook.