Failing social media

Found text: the letter A on a walkway brick.

This is a rant about social media. It is not a reasoned argument. There is nothing scientific here. No studies were referenced. It documents concerns I have about social media as a realm of activity, my relationship to it, and to Facebook in particular.

1. A blanket negative of the entire sphere is that all of it is time consuming. It’s intended to be. It’s intended to suck in its users and hold them while their artery-clogging, slothful gaze is monetized, and the vast power consumed by the global system of servers hosting all those cat pictures scorches carbon into the atmosphere. I am somewhat resistant to the effect because I have developed a problem coordinating my eyes that requires consciously holding them focused together when viewing any kind of screen. The concentration required is tiring. This imposes a physical limit on how much time I spend each day tied to devices. When I can no longer focus, that’s it, I’m done. Weary eyes still see separately, but eyesight fails. Only sleep restores them. I try, first of all, not to hit that limit. Second, I try to use available computer time for art, business and news-gathering before spending anything left on less productive ends.

2. For me, maintaining a social media presence sucks energy without giving clear return. I understand the idea of content resonating through networks of connection, but have never figured out how to make it work. For a start, there is nothing about it that comes naturally. Blogging is an activity to which I slowly reconcile, although what to blog about can still baffle. The same with the newsletter. Corporate social platforms, on the other hand, just grow more difficult. I would ditch Facebook in a hasty minute were it not the only point of contact with one of my brothers. Twitter and Instagram are almost as bad. I have experimented with several other services, but all are either less wieldy or more alien than the three where I currently post. Those three eat enough time.

3. Especially abominable is Facebook. Everything that was ever once attractive about it has been replaced by something more intrusive, more monetized, less personal, less original, less interesting. Personal traces of users fragment amid streams of impersonal cuteness, spectacle and partisanship.

4. In some ways, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have replaced society’s former conversation about its issues. Results are mixed. Genuine public discourse in the feeds grows harder to find. Issue-oriented posts are dominated by bias, oversimplification, unquestioned assumption, us/them categorization and unattractive design. Comments attached to the posts feature few voices of reason using words to articulate or test ideas. One reads a great deal of hectoring, haranguing, name-calling, polarized language, and flattening of individuals into stereotypes. The level of tolerance and humanity shown even by partisans of tolerance and humanity is terrifyingly low. The corporate social platforms have replaced a forum of ideas with battles of icons.

5. More and more, anger and sadness cut short my visits to Facebook. The anger and sadness that turn me away root in Facebook itself, not in hate and trauma boiling from public mud. I feel plenty of anger and sadness about poisons from the mud, but the nausea and revulsion I feel toward Facebook are specific. Its decay into a channel for thoughtless reposts of unoriginal material was inevitable. That’s the structure of engagement within the platform—click like and share, click like and share, click like and share. User activity becomes an intoxicant in which every post—regardless of quality—is the hit of a drug. A huge percentage of users assume incorrectly that sharing someone else’s cleverness means they are themselves clever, but even clear-eyed realists post and repost for the rush of the hit, and the next hit, and the next, and another, etc. Grandkids draw some likes, but it’s third party snark and preciosity that get shared and shared. Original content rooted in the personal lives of users takes second place to the spill of meme-factories and corporate YouTube. It’s a fate built into the assumptions of the platform.

6. Clicktivists burn megawatts of server time sharing unsourced assertions that restate what they already more-or-less think. As though any magical number of clicks will turn sloth into a positive act. Other users link song after song from the entertainment-industrial complex in an endless attempt to blot any trace of sound originating in the physical world. The tidal wave of commercial product also drowns independent voices cobbling together genius on dining tables and in garages—although I think this effect is secondary to that of blotting out the song of the living earth.

7. And then there is the cuteness. And the sophomoric humor. And the goddamned cats.

8. Facebook is not the place to look for critical thinking. There is little self-examination. Some of what poses for it is only narcissism tricked out as self-examination. Much of the time, it’s just naked narcissism. Narcissism, in fact, is the needle tapped into so many users’ junky veins. The longer you stare fascinated at the feed of your Facebook reflection (clicking the equivalent of “I love you” over and over), the more you churn your living minutes—your beating heart, your every breath—into billionaire bucks.

9. Facebook’s drive to suck profit from every pixel corrupts it at the core. Its early charm depended on original user content—photos of family and friends and activities—that now peek from behind ranks of charmless, manufactured cuteness. That disarming cuteness masks the relentless harvest and sale of user data, the total productization of Facebook’s user base. Harvest continues even when one is not on Facebook. Security on my computer and in my browser must block Facebook from tracking activity when I visit my financial institution’s website and log into my personal account. Why must my browser shield my bank account from Facebook tracking? There is no legitimate reason for ANY outside party to track there. Facebook attempts it because no law stops them, and many users are disarmed by ignorance.

10. Stripped of private life and personal experience, the relationship of user to Facebook is laid bare as sleeping with the enemy. This is true in the harvest of user data on- and off-site for the sole purpose of rendering users individually and as a group more vulnerable to economic exploitation. It is also true in the corruption of public life resulting from hate speech and disinformation that Facebook continues to protect because it is profitable. Because of the magnitude of its corrupting influence, Facebook may be a bigger threat to U.S. social fabric at this time than 45. In fact, it is not too much of a stretch into the metaphorical to describe 45 as the president manufactured by Zuckerberg. Complicity in evil does not require conspiracy, or even deliberate cooperation. Zuckerberg was/is complicit in every aspect of the Russian electoral hack. All the available evidence suggests that he resists change not because he does not get it, but because he is against it. Users are his fodder. User dependency is the life’s blood of both his fortune and his agenda. A democratic, egalitarian, multi-cultural society is actually inimical to his interests, which are vested in social fragmentation, parochialism and capital harvest from every user action possible.

11. Countering the list of social media negatives is its promise for all users of ready access to direct, people-to-people connection. This is the lure of blogs and video sites, of Soundcloud and Twitter. It is a promise over which Facebook dominates. Dominating, it perverts the direct, people connection almost—but not quite—beyond redemption. Facebook flourishes as the great social parasite that it is because it feeds its hosts just enough authenticity to keep most alive. Most.

***

As socially destructive as I feel it to be, as revolting as I have come to find the Facebook experience, that thin trickle of people connection is impossible to dismiss at this time. For a self-publishing, self-producing, self-promoting creator, a viable alternative to Facebook currently does not exist. And, too, it is the only point of contact with one of my brothers. So, what to do?

In order to address my personal revulsion, I’m going to start by withdrawing from the platform to the greatest extent possible as a private person. This means letting my personal profile gather dust. Given no apparent way to keep an author page while shuttering a personal profile, the next best option is make the personal profile private insofar as the intrusion engines allow, and shift activity elsewhere. Going forward, the Stikmanz author page will be my landing site and active location within Facebook. In the past, I have posted to the author page and shared from there to the personal profile, but no longer. Any reduction in activity is a reduction in Facebook’s ability to profiteer.

The other side of reducing activity as a private person is that going forward all posts will be to the author page. This will include posts original to the page, as well as links to my blog or newsletter, and activity on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Soundcloud. The blog and newsletter, especially, begin to carry more weight. For now, Twitter, YouTube and the rest remain under the glass. Excuse me while I take a minute to tag my brother.