Its good to begin with a joke or a parable. I don’t like gimmicks, but I got two little stories.
This is one I heard today while listening to a website called You are Listening to Deep Thought. I heard it as I was trying and failing to move forward on the latest draft of the book I am working on. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I enjoyed the story, so I am sorry to whomever I am appropriating this fishy tale from. It’s about two fishes swimming along in the deepest part of the ocean, and, as they swim along, they pass an older, bigger fish, who says “Hi Guys, how’s the water for you today?” The two fish pass on and then after a while stop and turn to one another and ask “What the hell is water?”
I chuckled when I read that. Good stories like that come and go all the time. The ones that stay with us have something clever and funny and poignant to say. Like the idea of being surrounded by something so all pervasive, so all consuming, that you don’t even see it or sense it or count it into ones worldview. Like the catch phrase “The Matrix Has You” But what is the matrix?
In the 1999 movie The Matrix, a hacker learns, to his world-shaking shock, the true nature of reality. He learns that everything he thought was real was actually fake. He realizes his lifelong sense of alienation was a true gut instinct. He learns there really is something fundamentally wrong with the world. That’s interesting. Its clever and poignant. It’s also shocking. The knowledge that things you thought were true and real are really unreal stays with you and changes you perhaps forever.
Here’s another parable I like. Its a Japanese proverb that says that we have three faces. You probably heard it before. I did too. Only recently it struck home. So, anyway, we have three faces. The first ‘face’ is the socially or culturally accepted mask we wear when we are out in society. The second one is the one we wear with our family and our intimates. The third one, this is the most secret one. This third self is one inside, the secret self, the truest one, that few ever see. I like that idea too.
The idea that we have secret selves appeals to me and is shown to be true over and over, by life, if not by science. The other idea, as depicted by the fish story, I love too. These two little stories merged in my mind – (1) the idea we are surrounded by a world we don’t see but affects us all the time, and that because of (1) we are (2) wearing masks that are not our truest selves.
Of course that could be all nonsense. Except, well, its not. We have an online world now, one where we interact and use every day, sometimes for long hours. Imagine if we actually added up how many hours a day we spent online. I did, and the number shocked me. It was a world shaking realization of the amount of time I was wasting. I realized just how addictive Facebook can be. In a sense, as there are billions online, on and off Facebook, we don’t realize its an addictive practise. Its also true that who we are offline is very often nothing remotely like who we are on for instance, Facebook, or Tinder, or Twitter.
It’s interesting too, that this online self is the one subject to so much scrutiny and manipulation by security services and marketing analysis and advertising targeting by Facebook itself and companies like Cambridge Analytica. On Facebook, you and I are the product. Our Profile is sold every time we are targeted with an Ad or a political post or we join a group. Each time we make a click or a like we get a little endorphin or dopamine kick. That’s the addictive effect, the need for stroking which is satisfied with a like, or even a love.
Online there’s so much to read, see, and experience. Yet we have so little time. In the ever shortening attention span of online life, we get three minute videos, witty pics, specially edited punchy journalism, and cat videos. Its catered to us, all based on previous reads or clicks or comments. We get summaries of movie plots and animal videos and bits of news and jokes and memes and cartoons. We are amused. We read or click or comment, and that gets analysed and calibrated. And on it goes.
The benefit the online user gets for being on Facebook is stroking, the sense of belonging, amusement, love, distraction and the ability to comment and at times debate. Online, especially, there seems to be an increasing polarization and entrenchment of views, possibly because Facebook or Twitter isn’t really an arena for dissecting and carefully discussing incredibly complex multifaceted ideas be they political, religious, scientific, philosophical, or literary. It leads more often than not to misunderstanding and polarisation.
Facebook was formed in a dorm room by a gifted hacker who wanted to compare photographs of people who were pretty and who were not. It has grown and changed and evolved and enriched him beyond anyone’s wildest imagining. Facebook is a place for people to meet. Facebook is popcorn. Its too simplistic a vehicle for self expression. This is why, I think, one is left with a mask on when one goes online and its so easy to misinterpret things. I’m relieved, despite my present state of headachy withdrawal, to have left it behind me.
Facebook is like the Hotel California. You can never leave. Rather than leaving or deleting, a number of events made me ‘discontinue’ my Facebook account.
1. The politicization of Facebook.
Facebook was originally designed as a social media platform, somewhere folks of all stripes can connect. Mark Zukerberg also saw huge potential down the line for selling advertising as soon as people adapted to Facebook and saw it as an extension of their friendship circle. Sadly those innocent days of mere data analytics and targeted advertising are gone. Aside from every intelligence agency and advertising company and multinational corporation being all over Facebook friendsphere, the amount of political rants from varying sources, from all sides of the political divide has made even the most dispassionate and objective bystander hard pressed to maintain their objectivity and enjoy surfing and commenting on Facebook. The era of Trumpism, with its extreme divisiveness, misogynism, racism and xenophobia, and its consequent political fallout has made it impossible to enjoy any kind of social media, except if one enjoys rants and calls for political change and bitter disputes. If one adds this to the ongoing data harvesting, the analytics and psychological profiling, Facebook has become an arena for at times extreme social experimentation, targeted advertising, and monitoring of users. Nowadays elections are staged on Facebook (recently a US congressional hearing heard how approx. 10 million people in the U.S. saw at least one of the 3,000 political ads bought by accounts linked to the Russian government)
*For more information check out the Steele Dossier
Facebook allows for 5000 ‘friends’ – which is an absurd number that serves Facebooks advertising and analytics more than the user. At the point of exiting Facebook I had about 4700, and I was beginning to think it was a bit nuts. Studies show that anything more than 150 friends and your brain can’t take it – 150 being the number beyond which groups begin to have real difficulties in social cohesion Robert Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, noticed a correlation between brain size and a persons capacity to sustain friendships. See this pic:
This friendship capacity is directly related to the size of ones neo cortex, depending on the primate. There are four main circles of intimacy, the largest number of deep intimates we can handle being about five. Dunbar goes on to speculate that the evolution of language comes directly from the notion that the alternate to language is social grooming, meaning time spent stroking and engaging in physical rituals. Someone told me recently we share 97% of our DNA with our chimps. Amazing how similar the pic below is with a few guys down the pub after a couple of pints. I can’t show a pic of humans because well, it might cause offense. But google a few pics under the search protocol ‘pals having pints down the pub’ and see what I mean.
Talking generally and humour especially, enables one to reach more people more efficiently, otherwise we would be half our times grooming and stroking others. So having a thousand or two thousand ‘friends’ is an illusion. All one is doing is giving Facebook more data, and indeed any company using Facebooks phenomenal freely acquired data horde. What keeps friendship alive is not online interaction, it’s human interaction.
In 2016 Mark Zukerberg reported a profit margin (net) of $1.6 billion, and mentioned in passing that the average user time spent daily on Facebook was 50 minutes. In 2014 it was 40 minutes. We spend about three hours watching TV and movies, and about 19 minutes reading books. Looking elsewhere, according to comscore more than 14% of our total time spent online is spent of Facebook with an overall score of 1650 million users – per month. This is followed by 55 million monthly users (Instagram) followed by Twitter and Snapchat. Moreover, in an age of increasing atomization and isolation, Facebook gives one the illusion of intimacy. The most powerful virtual tool right now is the Facebook ‘Like’ button. One ‘ Like’ and you get a little endorphin kick. Its a form of stroking, as Dunbar describes it. A dose of Oxytocin (aka the ‘hug drug’). Facebook gives all the appearance of being addictive. See also Some Notes on Facebook
4. We are being watched.
Xkeyscore is an interesting program. It was developed by the NSA, is a meta search program, and has over 700 servers in over 150 sites across the planet. It is largely a passive search engine but has associated programs such as QUANTUMINSERT, QUANTUMHAND, QUANTUMTHEORY and others that allow for both active intervention and a deep dive data harvesting. Anything you do on Facebook, Google, and other social media platforms comes under the purview of these powerful and evolving programs.
“Beyond emails, the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.
An NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.”
Facebook, as Ms. Tina Turner would say, is simply the best. If one were to come up with a more ingenious idea for a social media platform, I could not improve upon Facebook. It has become the communication platform for over two billion users of all ages (as of 2017). I would guesstimate it’s superceded only by email, the smartphone and the television in popularity and use. Facebook is so clever in its design, it actually employs all the features of email, the phone and the television, having within its increasingly matrix like structure, all kinds and sorts of channels and groups and live video feeds, as well as online chat, facetime and the capacity to call any one user or group from anywhere to anywhere, just so long as you have a Facebook account and an internet link. Its scope is unlimited as it transcends national boundaries, political parties, religion, or age. After live video, pictures, speech, music and the billions of words typed into the Facebook, it is only a matter of time before we all log into Facebook with a retinal scan, post comments via voice recognition software, and chat with Mom or our boyfriend via live holographic interface. Like the web itself, the phenomenon of what happens on Facebook is simply astonishing. Births, deaths, marriages, and events of international and national importance are shared and discussed with forensic detail all times of the day or night. Its also a huge online gaming platform. For instance, every second there are twenty thousand people using it, and, as a result of this level of usage, its functionality is constantly being worked upon.
This is the era of privacy, or the lack of it. For instance I am typing this on WordPress. Above the screen where I type these words, the wordpress program has worked out my location to within a metre or two. When I press ‘Update’, that location is confirmed public for all to see. This is cyberspace, where everything is connected and everything leaves a data trail. The first rule of forensics is that every action leaves a trace. Its interesting. We are surrounded by cheap but sophisticated technology. If your cell phone locates you twenty four seven, and Amazon knows what books you buy or search for, and Google knows your searches and your location, as well as your email address book, then Facebook knows your friends, what you are interested in, and what you and your friends look like, your every action leaves a searchable forensic data trail, forever. A data trail exists now for everything we do. Saying we have nothing to fear if we do no wrong is the first and last cry of an authoritarian state. Privacy is not a privelige. Facebook (and the other aforementioned companies) were founded in the USA. In the USA there are very weak privacy laws. Privacy isn’t codified either in the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights. When you post pictures, then FB owns your image. In fact it has been pointed out the reason why Facebook is free to join is simply because the psychographics and data amassed by one’s posting activity on FB actually makes you and I their product.
What is Facebook?
Facebook is a place to connect virtually. Facebook is the biggest metadata marketplace on the planet. FB is a blogspace, a place where religion is practised, a human rights platform, a place where missing persons are searched for (and found), a marketing tool, an advertising goldmine, a political forum, a dating and sexting site, and somewhere you can meet new people and talk about how much you like puppies or porn or classic science fiction. There are so many new people on facebook – people with lives and biographies and loves and hates and favourite music and bands and websites and marriages and divorces and children and billions of pictures of cats and babies, all there for you to explore. Its absorbing, and creates an increasingly complete dossier available to FB sales and marketing for every FB user. As an inveterate snoop, I have whiled away whole evenings just browsing through all of the human Facebook drama. I can only imagine how useful and lucrative it must be for FB itself. So what does one do on Facebook? You make ‘friends’ on Facebook. Right now you can have up to five thousand ‘friends’. Interestingly one of the many signs of modern loneliness (an experience which is quickly becoming a social epidemic in our ever connected wired up urban and suburban world), is when you have far more friends on FB than you have in real life. Virtual friends will never supercede human contact. Nevertheless, when the platform gets even bigger, along with bandwith and personal and corporate computers growing ever more powerful, I am sure the friend-number will increase. Its scope is, really, unlimited. Right now its worth $403 billion, which is a simply astounding number, considering this is 2017 and it was only founded twelve years ago, its becoming an internet in and of itself, rather like Google, except its not Google. Google is focused on information. Its founders are interested in designing Artificial Intelligence. Facebook is about people, and thats why it is talked about so much. Google, so much a part of the very substance of much internet work is simply a piece of the architecture upon which the web is built. Facebook provides the places we meet people. Facebook is kind of like a city, whereas Google is rather like the State wherein the city has been built.
Whats On Your Mind?
Facebook wants to know whats on your mind. The above question, along with a text box and a facility for posting pictures and videos appears at the top of one’s personal feed. So, straight away we have a means to speak our minds and possibly be heard by, well, everyone. One can also see whats on other peoples minds, from just how much they don’t like Donald Trump, to holiday photos, to photos of meals and fleatrap hotels, to medical updates, to whines about hangovers and boyfriends, to adorable baby seals and crazy stunts, and of course bazillions of puppy and cat videos. It’s incredible. Its an information overload of unprecedented proportions. All of life trots across ones FB webpage. That, and the chance to go wandering around others’ lives becomes an all consuming and vastly time-consuming interest. This is especially the case if you start commenting or posting status updates of one’s own, and the dynamic of posting and reposting status updates becomes a kind of game of reciprocal virtual ping-pong that has no beginning or no end. It goes on an on like a Wagner Opera. Every time we post something, well it’s forever. Every post and comment and ‘like’ is there – forever. Even the things we delete are ‘remembered’, and everything we say -it says something as much about ourselves as it does about the topic of our post. Did I mention data analysis? Everything we type is analysed. Every contact is analysed.
And stored And calibrated. Profiles are built. Our styles of commenting are analysed. Our photos, our arguments – all stored. Those we friend or unfriend or block is part of our profile. I recently unfriended a rather unpleasant FB friend and was reminded by FB on my ‘feed’ that they ‘noticed’ I unfriended someone. But don’t worry, I was told. FB won’t tell this third party I unfriended them. they’ll keep mum. How reassuring, I thought. How kind, even.
Don’t forget too, that all the main security services of the world are here too. All the big names, and a few unnameables. They keep a vigilant watch over every single user – for freedom demands that kind of eternal vigilance. Oh, and data is shared by international agreement. Everything is logged and stored. I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that privacy is now something we tell ourselves we have. But we don’t. If the Internet is forever, then Facebook is the Hotel California. You can log out any time you like, but you can never leave. Your page is there for you long after you deactivate your page. All you got to do is log right back in and your stuff is there for you. Thats great, right?
I Can Stop Using Facebook Anytime I want, I just ‘Like’ it
Facebook is both addictive and its evolving, like a hive or a virtual lifeform. Its tools are becoming more and more refined and those aspects of it which serve no purpose are removed or corrected. They got an army of programmers and analysts all over that platform. Two aspects of FB though I bet will never disappear. One is the capacity to comment on posts, and the big second is the ‘Like’ Button. I think few of us really acknowledge the creeping aspect of ones attachment to using the Facebook platform. You get your account and you start off small. One post here. One ‘Like’ there. One picture of your lovely girlfriend on holiday, and then the ‘Likes’ start coming. You got a new job, or in my case, get published in a prestigious journal and you humblebrag about it and then people start ‘Liking’. The most powerful virtual tool right now is the Facebook ‘Like’ button. One ‘ Like’ and you get a little endorphin kick. A dose of Oxytocin (aka the ‘hug drug’). Facebook is liking. One can keep contact with old friends without the huge time consuming committment. One can go finding out stuff – satisfy our infomania. One can quantify our friendship quotient and fill the deepest need we have in this increasingly atomised culture – the need to belong, to be part of a group, to have that deep sense of support and contact. Facebook be loving us. Don’t go, it says. Thus to leave Facebook in the light of the social, interpersonal, political and cultural advantages it offers as a free platform, is a huge emotional wrench. It is no exaggeration to say that Facebook is addictive. It should come with a warning. Like sugar, the most addictive substance on the planet, Facebook is sweet and reassuring and omnipresent. And it’s truly a demon one has to exorcise from one’s system once one decides to leave.
Detoxing From facebook
Lastly, aside from the vast, vast, waste of time that is Facebook, Facebook makes one jealous. Perhaps ‘envy’ is the right word. Perhaps both. Facebook is saddening. We ‘see’ that version of others’ lives on Facebook and we want what they have. People can’t help humblebragging. Let me unpack that. For instance: recently a ‘friend’ mentioned he was logging off FB because he had to take time out to edit his recently completed novel, which sends a message of success to all the other FB writers out there, and makes me anguished personally as I take forever to finish anything, what with my sitting on my bum thinking all the damn time. Another talks about how busy she has been of late and in sweet terms – and then agave sweetly apologizes to her Facebook friends beacuse she was away on a fabulous holiday with her new lover. Another posts pictures of their new baby, another talks about her new job or that particular prestigious poetry journal she got into, another is busily trekking across France, another is writing a blogpost. And on and on. Nobody wants to talk about daily disasters. Moreover, people seem to be living the lives of movie stars and celebrities. No one seems to be failing or screwing up, like we all fail and screw up – far more than we succeed. And this is the problem. It creates a culture of competition, of a sense of inadequacy and consequent over compensation that has been commented on and analysed by many, many psychologists and podcasters and online journals (GO GOOGLE). Of course, ones self-worth should have nothing to do with the lives of others, that is, in an ideal world. Perhaps if we focused our energies on real life, none of this would happen. Perhaps if we stopped Facebook, went cold turkey and supported each other in coming off this addictive virtual experience, we might take the energy we are using online and made more creative uses of our lives. Maybe. Peace. O.
I went off Facebook for a several months – mainly because of the extraordinary invective I was receiving from certain quarters after the death of Sarah Lundberg. The majority, indeed most of the communications were heartfelt condolences, and will remain with me as a comfort for my life. But there were others who made being on Facebook dreadful. Even the experience of being online was somewhat fraught for me. One was afraid of some nasty remark being lobbed at one from some quarter or other. To be honest, Facebook is an entity I have very mixed feelings about. I find it hard to decide whether it is the best or worst of things. However I have friends there, and I miss them when I am not on Facebook. However my point is the experience of cyberbullying was shocking. The term seems to be mainly used for teens, but it really extends to everyone. Anyone can be bullied online. For myself, when it happened, sometimes I could not believe what I was reading. Most of it is unrepeatable here. Moreover, at the time, it was something I could not really deal with. I was simply too raw, too confused and too sad about the death of someone I had spent much of my adult life with. Added to that there was the sadness associated with the fact we had been separated for about eight months when she took her own life. I have no agenda here to add to the catalogue of already well recorded statistics around the painful effects of what is called cyberbullying but I do note that the Law Reform Commission, according to the Irish Times today, has published an issues paper asking for a wide ranging series of contributions from as wide a demographic as possible on cyberbullying – “…the posting of private, false, humiliating, shameful or otherwise harmful content, notably through social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, without the consent of the subject…”
It (the commission) goes on to say that the effects of cyberbullying is particularly insidious. this is because word spreads online at the speed of light. So, whatever a particular keyboard hero is out there posting unpleasantries, venting their own ill considered insecurities and distorted view of reality online, it can be worldwide in minutes. In the hands of the wrong person, this can be a bad thing indeed. The times article quotes once more from the LRC position paper that the idea behind the submission is to widen the scope of Section 10 of the 1997 non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act to include cyber bullying. I encourage everyone who reads through this blog post to contribute their views on this one. There’s a billion people on Facebook alone. And everyone pretty much has email.
Oh, and if it happens to you:
*Block The Person *Keep the Message/s *Report the bully /ies
is the fact that always there is someone smarter and therefore more powerful than you. I remember recently ending a lengthy and complex relationship I had with Facebook mainly because of the overwhelmingly unreal atmosphere that pervades that medium of social interaction. It was addictive, exhausting, a realm for self promotion and bragging and ego driven arguments that lead nowhere, a place for product advertisement and sales and keeping in touch (a great strength of Facebook BTW), a vast fruitful data harvesting source for advertising, a system extensively monitored not only by Facebook employees, but also by the NSA, police and security services. According to act.watchdog.net, a service I occasionally get emails from:
“ Facebook has been monitoring, tracking and interpreting our unposted notes, comments and statuses this entire time, using even what we don’t say as metadata to pass on to spy agencies like the NSA or advertisers from Groupon to Mastercard.
The fact that billions of people use it really isn’t an argument for it being a good idea. What was once an excellent place for keeping in touch and exchanging information and discussion is now more a place to analyse statistics, study markets, develop social media plans and strategize – all masquerading as a place to meet people meaningfully. I have no idea why email is suddenly unfashionable or regarded as a tad passé.
Speaking of power and its uses, I have been reading a lot about Leon Trotsky lately – Robert Service’s biography is wooden at times but still a compelling read. Another guy much smarter than me. A brilliant mind and a brilliant writer, also a ruthless character. Someone who could destroy one in an argument (he referred to Stalin once as a ‘dull grey nonentity’) – a Chris Hitchens without all the the alcohol and smoking and extreme rightward drift.
Generally speaking most literary artists, be they poets or writers of fiction or playwrights, tend towards having, for various reasons that are well established, enormous egos and diva-esque complexes. on the positive side they also are sincere people with passionately held beliefs about how things might be changed for the better for humanity, the incredible suffering of humanity or animals or poverty or the endless injustices that we call ordinary life, (which is really not so ordinary at all). Most of them wisely channel their passions and their beliefs into their work without making the disastrous choice of turning superb writing into propaganda for one political viewpoint. It’s interesting to reflect that of those who do turn to politics, few if any of them have made any real change by involving themselves in any form of party politics, by writing political tracts, or indeed, involving themselves directly in door to door political activity, attending meeting, working on campaigns, writing policy and speeches. Writers are too idealistic; it’s why they tend towards cynicism. They are also too cerebral by and large to have good political instincts, especially regarding people, and finally, if they do give their minds and hearts to politics, they aren’t really writers any more. They are political activists or politicians. My aforementioned Trotsky is more known as a political activist and thinker than a literary artist, gifts he had in abundance. It’s an inescapable fact that while remaining deeply and passionately attuned to the world as it actually is; artists need to keep a distance from politics to do art. When they do turn to politics, their work in these parties, or campaigns tends to embitter them, mostly due to the fact that whatever campaign they are involved in are usually corrupt or corrupting, involves the inevitable betrayal of core beliefs, or worse, involves the ruthless use of the talents of those working for the good of the cause in order that an elite few can actually get into power. Embitterment, disillusionment usually follows these people afterwards. I can remember my own bitter experiences of being deeply involved in the Catholic Church (a very political institution), how young men (in my case) were deluded into thinking they were sacrificing for the good, that the ludicrous belief systems and doctrines of the church were really and actually divine revelations, and that one will get ones just reward in the afterlife. This is not so different to the poets and writers down through history, from Wordsworth’s unhappy experiences in France, to Coleridge’s experiments in alternate lifestyles to Shelley’s bizarre political communal living, all striving to find an outlet for their deeply held passionate idealisms for a better world. But it never works. Whatever the poetic style or literary inclination, particularly when younger, a writer tends to be used by politicians, abused and when no longer useful, thrown away by those wiser and older than them to give their campaign a certain credibility and honour even. It’s a mark of distinction if you have a gifted poet or writer on your ticket as a staffer or as a speech writer or as an editor. Your speeches are better for it, your publicity excellent, and there is an endless pool of creativity for you to draw from, so long as the artist you have working for you continues to believe in your particular credos. The trouble starts when the writer begins to see through the bullshit. Then the political party is in real trouble. Writers tend not to forget, and history is replete with top notch novels and plays and poems and stories by writers who were lied to and had their ideals betrayed. Politicians beware: If you are lucky enough to have an artist on your staff, do not betray your writers. You may live to regret it.