A Modest Proposal Regarding Agency And The Internet

Let's Pull The Plug On Bad Habits
Let’s Pull The Plug On Bad Habits

Good Hello.

As you are well aware of, there are many elements of Facebook that make the interface less than ideal for social discourse these days.  Not only do the functions of the site change regularly, and at the whims of the elite that run the site, but these changes have been monetized, cluttering the content with ads and fake accounts used to promote suspicious agendas.  As the overall age-range of the users has decreased, as more and more political organizations and religious groups bog down the site with scare-tactic paranoia, and as the usefulness of the site has gone completely downhill, content has become lost in the signal-to-noise ratio.  For a site dedicated to offering users the chance to express themselves, their expressions have been stymied by the overdevelopment of features that serve no real useful function.

We are at a crossroads, my friends.  A number of alternatives exist that can easily replace the functions of this site, but digital inertia and peer pressure has kept users from trying anything new.  The few that have found themselves using any of the competing sites exist in a virtual vacuum (no pun intended).  Ironically, users have become embittered with Facebook, and a large number of posts revolve around the extreme frustration people have with the poor functionality and random censorship of content that Facebook seems so willing to offer.

And yet, users continue to stick with it.

It is usually a sign that the times are a-changin’ when celebrities begin to take up the cause, and no less a personality that George Takei – someone whose modern personality was forged by the Internet – has become extremely critical of the poor practices of Facebook.  An entire chapter of his forthcoming book is about his struggles with the site, and how they regularly prevent him from reaching fans that want to access his content.  The creators behind the film Beware of Images – a film that warns against how easily we are manipulated by simulacra – have been repeatedly censored by Facebook, more or less at random.  And while these are huge issues to consider, even worse is their blatant misuse of their own users’ personal information, and Facebook’s disregard for their own privacy agreements.

There is a point at which something has outgrown its usefulness.  We are several degrees past that point.

The inertia behind sticking with Facebook stems from the simple belief that, “Well, everyone else still uses Facebook.”  This is not only circular logic, but eliminates any amount of agency in the way we use the Internet.  Analogies could be drawn to jumping off bridges, following the Pied Piper, and a number of other sayings that all make the same point: we do not have to allow ourselves to be controlled like that.  The Internet is a place where we can use the amazing tools we’re all connected to in an effort to make our lives better, and if we are not bolstering the incredibly positive and awe-inspiring benefits this offers, why are we trying to connect to each other in the first place?

I have decided to change the role that Facebook plays in my life.  I have not chosen to eliminate it, but I have decided that I do not want to be caught in the inertia that keeps me using a site that continues to frustrate me, reinforce negativity, and create in me a feeling of dread when new and challenging features are rolled out, thus undermining why we use social networks in the first place.  There are a number of great tools the Internet offers that work to connect people, to allow them to have positive discourse, and to grow these connections in a way that do not leave me with a bad cache in my browser.  I’ve decided I would much rather spend my time focusing on these sites instead.

Facebook is an excellent resource when you would like to utilize apps and games.  Facebook works great for incoherent political rants and all-caps tirades about things you hate.  Facebook is fantastic when you want to stir up drama among your friends, alienate family, or make vague and uncomfortable statements about how much you are hurting yourself.  When I need these things, I know where to find them.  Facebook is not going away, and it is still an excellent resource for bands and artists, and for creative organizations to spread your content far and wide, and I will continue to use it in this respect.

Until I can no longer afford the costs they have added to these uses.

To replace what Facebook had done for me, I will be using Google+ for the time being.  This is not a perfect site, by any means.  They are still relatively new, and for those who have been weaned on Facebook’s interface, it may seem a little counter-intuitive.  But Google+ has a number of extremely robust features, and it accomplishes many of the things that I feel are important in a site like this.  The level of discourse is fairly high, and while I do miss my friends, as I continue to use it I find that it actually offers much more that Facebook, at a much lower intellectual cost, and in ways that I am looking forward to utilizing.  Google does have its drawbacks, their relationship to user privacy and censorship isn’t exactly as good as I would like it, and in many ways I am just trading one digital monolith for another.  This is really a Firefox-for-Chrome kind of shift, at the end of the day.

But I can stop using them when I get sick of G+, too.  Remember MySpace?  Friendster?  Geocities?  Social networks come and go, but why we use them remains the same.

Friends, I urge you to break the hold that Facebook has on our lives, and move on to a new form of discourse.  If we all choose to move on to a new service – together – there will be no inertia that will keep us using something we hate just because everyone else is.  Being able to leave a service that no longer works for us will benefit us in the long run, because we’ll be able to drop Google when they begin to clutter our feeds, and the next service after that when they sell our names and addresses on the digital black market after that.  By reclaiming agency in our lives, we can learn to forge our own paths in a number of areas.

Or, at least, find a social network that doesn’t suck.

I will continue to touch base of Facebook, and I won’t completely disappear.  I have family to communicate with, and bands and pages I would like to follow.  But if you are wondering why you aren’t seeing much of my content in your feed, it will be one of the few things you can’t blame on Facebook’s poor content management policies.  It simply means I have moved to somewhere a little more my speed.

You can find me at austinrich@gmail.com.  I really hope to see you there.

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My Hero

According to Wikipedia:

Due to the top secret nature of the work [on the Manhattan Project], Los Alamos was isolated. In Feynman’s own words, “There wasn’t anything to do there”. Bored, he indulged his curiosity by learning to pick the combination locks on cabinets and desks used to secure papers. In one case he found the combination to a locked filing cabinet by trying the numbers a physicist would use (27-18-28 after the base of natural logarithms), and found that the three filing cabinets where a colleague kept a set of research notes all had the same combination. He left a series of notes as a prank, which initially spooked his colleague into thinking a spy or saboteur had gained access to atomic bomb secrets.

That is definitely one way to relieve boredom. What a fucking stud.

I Want Some Cockaigne

Land Of Bliss
Land Of Bliss

My new favorite Wikipedia article:

Cockaigne

According to Herman Pleij, Cockaigne is a place where:

roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one’s mouth, where all the restrictions of society are defied, where cooked fish jump out of the water and land at one’s feet. The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and all people enjoy eternal youth.

Cockaigne was a, “medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food.”

Hell yeah.

Blog Posts I Should Write

Homeless Guy Talking To Himself Follows Me Into Cell Phone Store To Get His Blue Tooth Head Set Fixed So He Can Ligitimately Talk To Himself (Actually Happened)

Gaming Kids Seen At Sports Bar, Where The Girl Of The Group Is Trying Really Hard To Follow The Star Trek Comversation Her Boyfriend Is Having (Also True)

Suicidally Depressed Person Talks Suicidally Depressed Friend Down From Their Drama (Sadly, Also True)

A Group Of Over-Achievers Can’t Have A Conversation Because They’re Too Busy One-Upping Each Other (Torn From The Pages Of Work)

Blogger Finds Himself Blogging In Spite Of Attempts Not To (Etc., Etc.)

By Crom’s sword…

Now Big Brother Just Wants Attention

Yes, our lives are driven by advertising, television, the Inter-Web-A-Tron, and cell phones. I understand that. But this recent article on Slashdot really disturbed me, which discusses Apple’s recent Patent on a technology that pulls up ads on your Apple device, and then requires User Interaction before it will dismiss the ad and let you continue using said device. It’s not enough to be plagued by advertising everywhere we go, but now our computers are demanding attention from us, before they will perform the tasks we want them to.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, most advertising is fairly intrusive, and marketers have always been trying to pry more and more or our attention away from the things we want to be looking at so they can make us look at something else. Still, this bothers me in a whole other way. When I buy a piece of technology, I think of it as a tool. It serves certain functions, and I want it to perform those functions. Aside from existing as a physical artifact that, itself, can function as a way to advertise itself, I don’t want things I own to advertise to me anymore than they already do. The Inter-Web-A-Tron is bad enough as it stands; I don’t want my iPod to seize up every time Apple wants to sell me something.

This annoyance is part of an on-going problem with digital technologies in the last 10 years. Intellectual Property Rights, DRM, downloading as a crime, and the issues surrounding Net Neutrality, are all pointing to a future where technology works less and less for me, and more and more for a corporate empire that wants to sell me stuff I don’t need. And again, I shouldn’t be surprised; the portents have been in place since I first got my TRS-80 way back in the day. And all you have to do is watch an episode of Mad Men to get the other point: advertising has ALWAYS been that evil.

Still, I can’t help but feel that my urge to move to a cabin and live alone in the woods for the rest of my life is entirely justified.

I Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone

For some reason I keep reading the campus paper, even though I know logically that there’s no reason to. It’s immature, inaccurate, and extremely frustrating for anyone who pays attention to anything that happens off campus. And, yet again, I found an article the other day (“Don’t Tweet Me“) that was just too much, and wrote another letter to the editor. (I’m becoming just like Grandpa Simpson, spending all my time writing letters of complaint about things only I care about.) And, to round things out completely (again), they choose not to publish it. Which is, as they say, lame for them, but not for you:

[With regards to Twitter]: While the history of deriding new technologies merely because they are “new” goes back to the “written language vs. oral tradition” argument way back when, I feel that it’s somewhat irresponsible to claim this new one is so incredibly terrible, based on the evidence provided by one study of social networking services. There is so much new information about the human mind and how it relates to technology, that outmoded notions such as this paint the image of a Luddite more than anything else.

In the Februray, 2009 issue of “Discover” magazine, one of the biggest stories was about how Google & other new technologies are actually making humans smarter by presenting information in byte (no pun intended) sized chunks. (“How Google Is Making Us Smarter” Feb. 2009). David Crystal’s new book, “Txtng: The Gr8 Db8,” not only addresses the issues of technophobes who think that technology is ruining our lives, but points out that people who are avid texters tend to be more literate than other people of the same age. Even Steven Johnson’s “Everything Bad Is Good For You” is now almost five years old, and after his hundreds of radio, TV, & news appearances, you would think that the myth that “technology is destroying our children” would long ago have been put to rest.

This opinion piece also misses a huge point about what Twitter is: just because the posts are limited to 140 characters, this doesn’t mean people only read 140 characters of text before they quit. Twitter, like all blogging tools, allow users to subscribe to feeds that offer everything posted to that feed, not just the most recent entry. CNN uses Twitter for their news feeds, and almost every paper with an online presence (including yours) has started using some sort of blogging tool, often big name ones like Twitter. Ashton Kutcher, while vapid and obnoxious himself, makes a good point in asserting that this is encouraging, rather than discouraging, people to read. Most of the current journalism points to that notion as well.

It’s definitely food for thought, anyway. I’m not suggesting that we should all join Twitter, and that it isn’t a sign of shallowness or stupidity. But I do think that it’s a little hypocritical to mock a technology that your paper avidly uses.