Blah, Blah, Blah
In response to an article I posted on Facebook, "This is Serious: Facebook Begins its Downward Spiral", someone responded:
"Blah blah blah. I have long said that social media is not evil. It does not ruin us as humans. What it does do is presents how we are as people more publicly. Especially with Facebook where you use your real identity. End is quite silly to put this blame on Facebook. Given where technology was going, wireless networks, and just a general connectedness of the world increasing, a social network like Facebook was almost guaranteed to happen. We can learn, and work to improve our behaviors on social networks. Or remove ourself from them all together. And it is important for Facebook to work to improve itself as well."
There was something about the "blah, blah, blah" that compelled me to formulate a response. Here's what I wrote:
Thanks for the comments.
It's funny. I totally see your point about social media not being evil. I re-read the article, though, and I don't really get that vibe.
If "evil" exists in social media, at least for Nick Bilton, it's in the business that Facebook has built around the platform, not in the nature of the social network itself. He seems to be most concerned by how they've grown, with their algorithms and targeted ads, with their data collection and conditioning behaviors, and, as he asks, at what cost to others.
Unfortunately, it feels like "this evil", or should we call it, "mode of operating", is now in the DNA of Facebook. To be clear, I think Nick Bilton believes it's been generated as a consequence of their business, and not as a direct result of a social network, per say.
The larger point, though, which I think you rightly point out, is in our expectations of what a social network can be. I completely agree, from a certain anthro-socio-techno point of view, that social networks were inevitable. You already witness the emergence of decentralized networks in literature decades ago, long before their actual widespread dissemination through applications.
I think where I stumble is in how these social networks turned out, specifically in talking about Facebook - which is not to say, however, that they are done growing. I think there is still "value" to be culled, but it'll take meaningful, thoughtful, productive conversation and a new approach to the "business". Clearly, social networks have value.
Where I think we disagree, and I write this respectfully, is in the blah, blah, blah. I see this type of enunciation as a product of the platform, a platform built on likes and dislikes, on conditioned, inarticulate responses. More engagement is rewarded with more notifications, which in turn, encourages more behavior, which conditions more judgment, which prompts more posts, which fuels the cycle.
Like! Love! Ha! Wow! Sad! Angry!
One could argue that this type of enunciation has even bled over into politics, where a president has adopted this vocabulary as part of his foreign policy strategy.
Whether we like it or not, Facebook has become a mechanism of social validation, built to solicit and encourage predefined responses. It has conditioned, or, in the very least, has the ability to condition, emotions. That's what concerns me the most. It's become, in so many instances, our primary mode of social interaction: from background checks by potential employers, to courteous exchanges with old college roommates.
We seem oblivious to this phenomenon. We let opinion trump fact, we embrace sensationalism (which is not the same as rhetoric) and we start to question, as a collective conscious, the validity of journalistic inquiry. Given the current state of things, it's no wonder individuals and organizations easily meddle in our affairs.
On a personal register, I've witnessed friends start to identify themselves, developing their identities based on their engagement with Facebook, often despite how they truly feel in their heart of hearts. Here's a concrete example: "everyone commiserates with my plight, incentivizing me to make that plight my life." The expectation is to respond, rather than to invent.
Social spaces are shaped by expectations. One only need to think of libraries and cinemas, similar outgrowths of technological advances experienced in oddly similar times. Currently, it seems to me that Facebook has set these expectations. Should we be asking, instead, what are our shared expectations of Facebook? Is this the next evolution of this social network? This is precisely where I think Nick Bilton's article speaks directly to us. To all of us.
I worry, and I think this is the point of the article, that this "shared space" is not exactly the most friendly, positive, and open place to have real, meaningful engagement. Of course it happens, in groups, with friends, and in private messages, but is it the norm? Is it the expectation? Should it be? I don't know.
I've just finished an absolutely wonderful book called "The Undercommons", which I highly recommend. It's written by Fred Moten and Stefan Harney. You'll find many overlaps to our conversation there. Speaking about academics, Fred Moten suggests that a common belief has emerged about academics. It's perceived as "intellectual work that requires alienation and immobility and that the ensuing pain and nausea is a kind of badge of honor, a kind of stripe you can apply to your academic robe or something." He refers to this as the "naturalization of misery".
I'd like to pick up on this, as I believe the "naturalization of misery" is one of the consequence of this platform, one that I've seen amplified, time and again. What types of common believe are we wiling to entertain, and, at what cost?
Facebook is in a really weird space.