Evolving thoughts about Facebook & social networking:
1) The root question of human ponderance has long been “What is the meaning of life?”
The question is now “Does this conversation really have to take place in public?”
Online communications have made it necessary to deliberately separate and insulate conversations that would previously have taken place in private simply because nobody else was around.
“I have nothing to hide” sounds like an embrace of intimacy, but it’s really the opposite. The assumption that all conversations can or should be public magnifies the reach of those conversations, but diminishes their value.
The practical information may still be delivered to a single individual, but the currency of relationship – the sense of history and personal connection – is spread thinly between an unspecified number of people. The cost of including so many “friends” is friendship itself.
If this seems somehow defensive, conservative, old-fashioned – consider that such social connection, the attention we give to specific friends, is precisely the capital Facebook has found a way to monetize and control. (Consider their intrusive algorithm, “promoted posts”, content you’re not shown, etc.) Facebook knows exactly how valuable your social connections are.
When public posts are truly public, it makes sense to give Facebook their cut of the action. When private conversations are diverted through the public medium and milked for their social value, however, Facebook is cashing in on what should have been a cashless transaction.
Of all my many grievances with Facebook and the culture it’s created, this is the primary complaint. Private conversations held in public are rude and often hurtful – even to the person hosting them, and often apparently without their knowledge. Arguments quickly become either extremely personal or extremely cumbersome. However important the topic, the solution is to have the conversation more directly, in person or on the phone – removing the very convenience that generated the conversation in the first place.
2) “Tagging” someone on Facebook calls another user’s attention to a post, and it makes the post *to* somebody into a post *about* somebody, visible to all their friends. These are two fundamentally different goals and should be kept separate.
Facebook benefits from every “conversation” generated on their site – including this one. Baffling and unnecessary connections are made without the user’s effort or permission. As the saying goes: users aren’t the customer – they’re the product.
3) Since the 1980s there have been many, many websites trying hard to be “your gateway to the Internet”. We are now paying the price for allowing any of them to succeed.
Allowing such near-monopolies was dangerous because the Internet provided an unprecedented means of shaping human understanding of what is happening in the community and the world. Media consolidation is a huge problem, but nobody anticipated that we would face something worse: total consolidation of media gathering done not by a media source, but automatically by web technology under the naïve guidance of individual users.
The emergence of such new technology wasn’t like introducing a new newspaper or media voice; it was like finding a way to influence, edit, shape, hide and redirect all news on an individual basis. This led directly to cult-member behavior – not shaped by any one (cough) charismatic leader, but by a handful of powerful executives, and many millions of excitable participants with no sense of the tide they were creating, its origins or its direction.
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