anti-social media

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I've been thinking this evening.

I know.  Run away quickly.  There may be a burning smell.

People I know are getting all crazy about Facebook.

(As are people I don't know.  I don't know everyone, after all.)

There's two arguments that drive me nutbars insane about the whole dust-up/let's mass delete our accounts nonsense. 

(this ended up getting really long, so I'm hiding some of it behind a more tag thingie.  You're welcome.)  :D

1.  The idea that it's somehow hugely less secure than anywhere else on the internet (which it's not -- the media's shining a light on security and algorithm shadiness because FB is so big, IMHO.) is not exactly true.  I get waaaay more spam from tiny mailing lists or from ordering things from random places in the real world, I'm sure.  Though, to be clear, any time you're not paying for a service you're using, you are the product that's being sold.  Your attention.  Your eyeballs on advertising.  You're getting it for free, and it is not a public charity.  FB makes money by letting advertisers sell you things, and charging the advertisers for that privilege. 

And there's nothing wrong with that.

(Now, there's something to be said for the argument that they're doing some kind of not-so-kosher things with HOW they let your eyeballs be used, but I don't think it's evil -- they're just iterating to find the best thing for both themselves {by selling ads} and for users {who need to stay happy to continue being marketed to}.)

2. That social media is responsible, essentially, for the collapse of the Western Civilization.
A bit melodramatic.  But I've read, from people I know and like otherwise, that FB pretty much forces you to become antisocial and sucks out all your time.

As if one is not responsible for one's own actions from the moment one clicks the FB icon.

I do also kind of find it funny that many of the people who are most vehement that FB is this vortex of attention, cruelly designed to force you to scroll for hours and to stop you from enjoying what life has to offer....rant about this on a Facebook post.  That's beside the point.

Just like anything else that's fun, if you overuse it, it can be harmful.  I'll totally admit that.

But an alcoholic doesn't blame a beer can for his/her unhealthy addiction, and thousands of people can drink that very beer responsibly.  It's not "social media"'s fault that you have dependency issues, or can't manage your time well, or haven't made offline friends.  It's your issue.  (Which is a good thing, since it means you can fix it.)

Anyway, my point was beyond those two common laments, but is affected by them both.

Do you remember Livejournal?  (If you're under the age of about 25, you probably don't.  Pretend for a moment, then, because otherwise, I'm gonna start feeling ancient.)

I loved Livejournal. 

Before Livejournal came along, I was one of the pioneering (and somewhat insane) first folks to blog before there were blogs.  I had an online journal that looked very different than they do today.  We had to design the sites in HTML, then write our entries in HTML as well, and upload those entries via FTP every single day.  It required a fair bit of tech-spertise and a little design 101, and a whole lot of grit, because the whole process, back in the Dark Ages/Modem Years took about an hour every day.  News sites did articles about us, calling us crazy texthibitionists and critics were all why would anybody want to read about your life? ...and, yet, the numbers of us doing this weird thing grew.  Communities formed.  Friendships were made.  We all shared resources and read each other's stuff.

It was kind of awesome.

Then Movable Type (the program that WordPress is pretty much based on) was invented, and people were able to serialize content automatically and it was like the light went on in about a billion people's heads and everybody had a weblog.  Services like Livejournal, where things were in a slightly-customizable template (which were really just changes in color, for the most part), pulled weblog writers together and made it easy to read all your favorite people on one page, your feed.

Back in the late 90's, I had a ton of friends on livejournal.

I met so many cool people that way.  Both online and in person.  I found entire art communities, and everyone seemed to be mostly-respectful in comments and such.  (There were exceptions, obviously, but it was still considered bad behavior instead of popcorn-chomping entertainment back then.)

Discussions in comment sections could go on for paaaages, and were just like hanging out with friends. 

To be honest, I probably spent more time on LJ every day than I do now on FB.

Then the russians bought the place and blog software up and got cheap.

Cheap, as in free.  Blogger and WordPress and TypePad or whatever Six Apart was doing at the time.  (Wasn't that TypePad?)  Everyone had blogs.  Which, by now, were called blogs and nobody even remembered a time before them, or that weblog was the parental term for the early adopters.  Everyone seemed to disperse, going their own ways again.  Sure, you could keep up with folks via RSS, but the readers were clunky and it just wasn't the same.

And lo, that evolved into things like Friendster and MySpace, which begat Plurk and Twitter and Facebook, which begat Instagram and MeWe and whatever that new one is that claims to be the new Facebook but isn't.

History lesson aside, we lost something somewhere along the way.

In 1999, I would have sworn to you that my LJ friends were going to be my friends for all eternity.

And some of them are

But most of them have scattered to the four winds and I have no idea even what their usernames were anymore.  Ed, from the northwest, who took amazing pictures.  Fiona, from California, who should have been writing children's books.  Mark, from the other coast, who wrote amazing code and lived such a beautiful, calm life that he was the embodiment of Zen.  Matt, who made a great font, who was hilarious and always spot-on with his assessments of the Ways Of Things.

It's been at least fifteen years since the great livejournal disapora began.

And I still miss some of these people.

Thing is, I feel that same kind of closeness, to some extent, with the amazing group of people I've collected on Facebook.

It's not the same.  It's not as in-depth, maybe, but the conversations are more immediate.  I use it much the same way I did my livejournal.  Less sound bytes and more actual communication, even if it's silly stuff, as I'm prone to notice and post about.  (I have a finely-honed radar for the Absurd.)

Moreover, the way the algorithm works over there, I barely get to see anybody's posts, it seems.  I try to stay present in my own comment sections, because it's the only way I get to see what some of my peeps are talking about. 

And I know I've got some folks on my list over there who are inactive, or who friended me in 2010 for a game or something and with whom I've never really interacted, and I should probably just delete those folks, but OMG that's a lot of work.  I'd rather be writing and drawing things instead.  Or hitting myself in the head with a hammer, for that matter.  It'd be more fun than going through 2700 individual names and trying to remember if you've ever interacted with that person, or if you know them and FB just isn't showing you their stuff.

And, I'll admit it.
I do sometimes feel bad when someone unfriends me.  Even if I don't know them.  Even if it has nothing to do with me. (I do know the world doesn't revolve around me, though I still assert that it should.)

I can see how someone with a more tenuous hold on his/her self-esteem could start thinking that facebook/social media is soul-crushing.  People come to the table with a bunch of different approaches.  I'm looking for interaction and fun.  Someone else may be there for marketing.  Or they may take the word "friend" way more seriously than I do.  Or less seriously. 

The possibility for stepped-on toes and mashed self-esteem, then, exists.

But none of this, if you look at it, is Facebook's "fault".

Facebook is a platform.  A container.  A business in itself that has only the most fragile of connections with how we're using it, when we're not using it to consume products and services the advertisers are hawking.

It's like being mad at the dining room table for being there during a card game you lost.

It's still the best table around which to find digital community, IMHO.  With so many varied users, and the interactivity built in, it's the best dining room table we've got.

Sure, you can push back your chair and walk out of the room.  That's totally up to you.

I just don't want to lose another group of really cool people to another slow atrophy/eroding of the platform it's using, and all the complaining about data privacy and social engineering just seems to be hastening another Livejournal-style scattering. 

This makes me sad.

And makes my virtual table feel that much emptier.

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