Archives for posts with tag: Facebook

Back in 1985, which, for you math whizzes out there, is one more than 1984, Neil Postman wrote a book detailing his fears that the authoritarian dystopia featured in the novel 1984 was not nearly so prophetic as the Aldous Huxley novel, Brave New World. It was titled Amusing Ourselves to Death, and it analyzes the dizzying amount of information glutted upon us by television at that time. The thesis of the book is that the medium through which an idea is communicated intrinsically impacts the very content of that idea. His formative example is that one cannot communicate deep, philosophical dialectic through smoke signals.

Postman then goes on to describe the greatness of the written word. One of his arguments is that typography necessarily requires statements that bear an inherent truth or falsity. For example, an advertisement that claims, “Drinking this beverage will make attractive people desperately want to have sex with you” is either true or false. Compare that to an image of a celebrity holding a beverage which is neither true nor false, but empty of any real content.

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“Beyonce is holding a beverage and pointing at it.” That is the textual equivalent to this image. Doesn’t work so great in text, but as an image it conveys something beyond rational argument.

Images, and television which is simply a series of them, don’t convey truth but rather emotion. Beyonce holding a Pepsi and pointing at it makes you feel a certain way, and Pepsi is hoping that feeling is going to be associated with their product. The two ways of communicating, differences innocuous at first, are radically distinct. One necessarily requires rational argument (however blatantly absurd the propositions within it may be), the other requires entertainment value.

Postman goes into significantly more detail than I have here, and offers many more examples, but I just wanted to give an idea as to how the medium of an idea affects the type of communication available within it. The written word requires context and logic; television requires quick cuts and soundtracks. However, 1985 was a long time ago, and communication has come a long way. How does the medium of social media define the content of ideas within it?

Those familiar with this blog will know that I have shown many different limitations imbued within the communication framework of social media, but I want to discuss one thing further that is quite topical in today’s news. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that data firm Cambridge Analytica gathered information on 50 million Facebook users without their consent (stole it, hacked it, whichever), and then used that information to aid both the Trump presidential campaign and the Brexit Leave campaign. Social Media is notorious for selling its users’ data to advertisers, so allowing it to be harvested for political gain, regardless of consent, is not all that surprising.

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By reading this blog, you are telling whichever organization that’s tracking your online habits that you are a chump. Sell that to the Russians, Zuckerberg you pasty-faced twat!

In addition to this, Twitter tends toward fake news, and YouTube’s algorithms tend toward conspiracy. The explanation for this seems to be that far-fetched ideas are more entertaining, and thus receive more hits. Getting more hits means it’s more popular, and popular things receive more attention from data algorithms. Conspiracy nuts like InfoWars can take advantage of this, and get away with promulgating stories like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are operating a sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlour. Bullshit sells, and so the owners of social media allow this manipulation to dominate their programming because social media is ultimately a business.

Which brings us to how the medium of social media determines the content of the ideas within it. Social media are owned by monopolies that make their business by harvesting information that people willingly give them, and then manipulate those people based on that information. A collection of Facebook ‘likes’ can predict personality better than a person’s spouse, and that information is owned by an amoral, profit-driven monolith. Those who communicate within the medium of social media are inherently being driven by behind-the-scenes machinations of whoever has the money to do so, be it advertisers, political parties, or foreign influences. The content is inherently bent, the longer we participate. It is no longer our message, but becomes that of another.

This is not entirely new. He who owned the printing press determined the content of its papers. The oligarchy that developed from media consolidation owns American news media, and they determine what we consume in traditional media. The difference with social media is that we are the content creators. The manipulation of communication has become far more intimate. We determine what is produced, therefore we must become the thing determined by others.

Karl Marx is famous for a lot of things. Most notably, the distortion of light and colour that is his black mustache upon an otherwise white beard. One of his lesser known accomplishments is the foundation of communism. Communism, according to Marx, is historically inevitable due to the growing restlessness of the proletariat and will eventually be achieved by glorious revolution. There are barriers to this revolution, however, and one of them Marx believed to be religion. Marx considered religion to be the opiate of the masses, and felt that a promise of a better afterlife would anesthetize the population against the classist oppression that they suffer in the current one.

Whether or not Marx is accurate in his critique of religion (a notable religious organization is currently in the throes of a violent revolution against their oppressive living conditions, which, if nothing else, demonstrates a lack of the lethargy brought on by a narcotic; ISIS, if you were wondering), the idea of an opioid numbing the minds of the people has since gained traction. Television is considered a new opiate of the masses, and it is not difficult to see why. After having killed the brain cells of a generation, parents now long for their children to misbehave as it means that they are not actually glued to a screen. “Netflix and Chill” has inseminated the dating scene to illustrate a population quite adequately placated by the lull of the television screen.

Television has been slowly overtaking the household for decades now, but today many people are spending their time on social media instead. Social media is lauded as the new platform for progress and enlightenment, and judging by what you’ve read so far you have likely ascertained that I am imminently about to disagree. Not wanting to make you feel silly, I do in fact disagree.

The greatest success to come out of social media was the Arab Spring in Egypt where it was used to disseminate critical information regarding demonstrations and retaliatory behaviour practiced by Mubarak’s government. Regardless of the results of the Arab Spring, it did prove the usefulness of social media as a complement to real-life activism. Information is needed for organization, and social media is ideal for its proliferation.

However, the potential and the reality of social media are reflective of the nature of the internet in general. Though given great acclaim for its cornucopia of easily accessible information, the internet is much more widely known for giving unprecedented access to untold amounts of pornography and cat videos.

The predominant use of social media is not altering the state of the world or even really making a dent. It’s a way to waste a shit load of time. Community-based games such as Farmville and its successor Clash of Clans are notoriously addictive, and Clash of Clans (a free game) has gathered enough money to create Superbowl ads with A-list celebrities based solely on real money users spend in-game, which is to say a lot. That’s like a heroin dealer giving heroin away for free, and yet still somehow making millions of dollars by selling extra heroin on the side. This is in addition to the already mind-numbing function of scrolling through one’s Facebook newsfeed to scope out the activities and wedding pictures of friends and strangers alike, which is inexplicably compelling, garnering Facebook the appropriate nickname Crackbook.

Another issue with social media is that it often becomes an echo chamber. If a controversial topic is posted, most people will simply unfriend any dissenting voices, leaving them with a circle of peers who essentially agree with everything they say. In their defense, arguing on the internet is a meaningless task, as it is inherently lacking any kind of actual confrontation that would lead to concessions by either party. This leads to stagnation and a closed-minded outlook which creates a poverty of intellect in anyone’s Facebook page.

Further, with the instantaneous nature of social media, the demand for information is immediate. If something cannot be expressed in a meme or a 30 second clip, it will not be consumed, so the media becomes a reflection of that. News outlets are shedding their investigative reporters because long term journalism is becoming overshadowed by in-the-moment tweets. People need prompt information and will essentially ignore the critical nuances that a longer look might uncover because the speed with which social media operates cannot abide drawn-out events. This is seen repeatedly in prolonged violent attacks where news reporters will essentially make up stories so as to have something to deliver, leading to grave misrepresentation of the events taking place.

Politicians are also encumbered by this hasty demand and can no longer play the long game as answers to problems must be delivered in minutes. In addition, public opinion is available to an extent never before seen, and in order to pander to it for voter appeal, the medium within which it operates must be met, and unfortunately this medium is detrimental to critical thought. This leads to politicians like Barack Obama participating in the comedic Between Two Ferns, or Donald Trump hosting Saturday Night Live. Effective policy is essentially lost in politics, as the game more than ever before becomes about being palatable to mainstream voters through sharable clips and quips.

Social media does have the infinitesimal potential to be a boon to society, but that small chance is exaggerated into a panacea and in turn obscures the dangers of its use as a societal tool. The success in the Arab Spring was built upon the physical, not digital, actions of a large group of people. The digital component was ancillary to the revolution, but it was not the revolution itself. Social media can only perform within the cult of awareness, where new topics may be broached, but will ultimately remain ineffectual if they remain within that realm.

The frightening aspect of social media as an opiate of the masses is that it purports to be the opposite; an eye-opening engagement of the people with the world at large. In reality, social media distracts the populace with its addictive narcotic quality, and dulls and restricts progressive conversations that happen within it. People are further pacified by their belief that they are making a difference, and Marx’s inevitable revolution is delayed even further.

Because social media sucks, here are my other two posts about it.

Continuing with the theme of social media being terrible, I’ve decided to take a look at how social media fosters our relationships. It’s got “social” right there in the name, so you’d think the whole idea would be that it increases our interactions among our friends and family.

And it certainly tries! We can access information of our colleagues and loved ones no matter where they are in the world. If I have a sister on the other side of the country, I can look at her page to see what she’s up to, I can look at the pictures she’s posted, or I can even leave her a message saying hi. It’s a brilliant revolution in communication that unfortunately we’ve managed to fuck up irreparably.

95% of the time we go on Facebook, it’s not to see what an individual person is doing, nor even to see what a small group of people are doing. We typically go on Facebook to go on Facebook. We now deal with our relationships in generalities, as social media is a wash of our compatriots, often hidden among unknown associates that we met at a party or something three years ago.

This makes the very act of being “social” impersonal. If I do go and visit my sister’s page, the word we’ve developed for checking up on a loved one is “stalking.”  Our relationships over social media have a voyeuristic quality to them, and whether rightly or wrongly, this makes us inherently uncomfortable with them.To view someone’s page has that very negative connotation that makes people uneasy connecting, even if it is in a relatively trivial manner, with the people they would consider their friends.

Therefore, most of us rely on updates from our Newsfeeds. If the information is fed to us passively, then it does not require the sympathetic connection that actively engaging with our loved ones otherwise would. Learning about our colleagues needs to be almost accidental, for fear of being a “creeper”.

If I see my sister’s photos, the unspoken agreement is that I was not actually seeking to learn about her life, but that this social relationship is built on the contingency of me happening to be online at the time, and chancing across her update.

Social media does not foster relationships, it deadens them. Yes the internet allows for great communication across vast distances, but the connections involved become contingent and meaningless. If you wish to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, you can use your phone as an actual phone, rather than rely on the empty exchanges of social media.