“I’m off the book,” says my friend Scott. We stand together on the porch of the Golden Saloon, drinking a few beers in the early evening. We’re a little buzzed, it’s a nice beer buzz without being completely swept away into intoxication.
“Off the book,” I repeat. I’d never heard it put quite like that.
“I like Facebook,” I say. “I really do. But I think I’m winding it down.”
I’m still connected to the Book, I tell Scott. My Facebook account is still active. I just haven’t been checking it very often. It’s gone from a daily scanning to a weekly review.
When Facebook came onto the scene, I was an enthusiast. The platform was sort of a distillation of everything good and right that was happening on the Internet. It was everything that I was looking for, anyway, from a social media platform.
I cut my teeth on message board, like everyone else, in the late 90s and early 2000s. Message boards were standardized as a forum for discussion and debate, and they work pretty well for that purpose.
Then Myspace came onto the scene and suddenly a person could have their own individual blog-like creation, to tinker with as they chose. It was all still within one forum, though, so users could connect with each other to discuss and debate but still sort of personalize their little corner of the world.
At first I loved the personalization, but after a while, it just got messy and out of control. There was too much freedom, at least for folk like myself who lacked experience in graphic design. Myspace became too anarchistic to be really useful for dialog and discussion.
When Facebook came onto the scene, it sort of combined the best of a message board while providing the user their own personal space. The design was standardized but you could say what you want and post whatever pictures you wanted to post. And Facebook quickly exploded.
I loved it, and I even defended (and would still defend) the banal information that people share on social media. As I put it in this post: “From the little details we humans have always built stories, tales to entertain us and narratives to give us meaning and a sense of greater purpose in the world.” So, what we eat for breakfast might in truth be “trite” but it’s part of the story. As all good writers know, great stories can come from the most trite bits of information.
It was so good and yet got so fucked up by consumer capitalism that now, quite frankly, it’s working against us. And make no mistake, Facebook is seriously fucked up. It’s creepy. Think about it: Facebook is making its billions selling our intimate moments to the highest bidder. It’s a bit like prostitution, in my humble opinion.
Combine that with the fact that Facebook now controlls what kinds of information is displayed and when, which is a model that probably won’t last long in America. Whether right or left, conservative or liberal or nationalist or libertarian or socialist, we all value free speech. There aren’t many Americans who fancy letting a bunch of techies sit in their big square buildings in Silicon Valley determining the parameters of free speech.
The Facebook phenomenon continues to fascinate me though. Facebook seems to me to be a clear example of what happens when wealth is centralized and everything is commodified. Eventually, commodification drains the joy out of life.
The interesting thing about Facebook is that it’s so easy to imagine alternatives. Building a business like McDonald’s, for example, required Ray Kroc to be a cut-throat capitalist, playing out all the angles to expand the franchise brand around the world. He even had to screw over the original McDonald brothers who were the true founders. But, once Kroc had built the franchise, it was would require decades to dethrone, and the McDonald’s corporation is still re-inventing itself and serving shitty food to billions. They can do this because they own physical property.
Facebook really only owns a software platform, so it’s easy to imagine alternatives
I discussed this a bit in my post, Regulate And Share The Wealth? I was prompted to write about Facebook, at that time, because even Chris Hughes, one of the group of plucky young Harvard students who founded Facebook was seeing the writing on the wall:
“One person’s data is worth little, but the collection of lots of people’s data is what fuels the insights that companies use to make more money or networks, like Facebook, that marketers are so attracted to…We have all pitched in to create a new commonwealth of information about ourselves that is bigger than any single participant, and we should all benefit from it….”
Exactly. Hughes articulates one of the key socialist maxims, even though Hughes is still a commited capitalist.
It’s not hard to imagine just taking over Facebook (and everything else), as I blogged about recently. Or one could simply develop a new, public version of Facebook run on democratic principles. It’s easy to imagine.
For the time being, I’m off the Book. There’s been an unexpected benefit: it’s freed up a good bit of time for blogging. Over the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed connecting more with fellow bloggers, and even though I’m cutting back on Facebook, I’m still finding that WordPress blogging fills the social media void.
Blogging also seems to be a space better suited for healthy discussion, imo. You get a lot of ranting and raving on Facebook. Anyone can say anything — just pound out all your frustrations and angst, send it all through the keyboard, then just hit the ENTER key, and BAM! You’ve become an Internet troll! Blogging tends to take a bit more time and a bit more expertise, so the quality of conversations tends to be a bit higher, at least in my observations.
So, I’m off the Book and back on the Blog. And maybe I should never have left. I can’t really say, but be that as it may, these are my adventures in virtual space, the final frontier.