deus ex macchiato

Fabian Bazant-Hegemark's blog

Connecting vs. Staying Connected

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Facebook kills not only discourse, but also friendships.

Having not used my Facebook account for some time now, other than to log in to reply to messages of people who didn’t see my status message or profile picture that say that I can’t be reached on Facebook, I noticed a couple of things that I had almost forgotten again.

First and foremost there is this idea that Facebook advances, that it would help you stay connected with friends, colleagues, that one former classmate turned white supremacist, and some people opposed to modern medicine. I would argue that it does not do that; instead Facebook gives you the illusion of connection by filling your brain, via the news feed, with social and cultural trivia. Your brain is kept occupied, but there is no actual information exchanged that is worth being called that. Of course, there’s this one picture of your niece or something every couple of weeks, and there’s the invitation to a party, but this is just the bait to keep you online. Every now and then you are fed something that you actually care about, and the space in between is filled with utterly unimportant bullshit by people you would hate were it not the social norm not to do so.

Of course this effect is well established as the “filter bubble” that you can read about here (http://dontbubble.us/) or here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble), but I am concerned with what it does to social interaction.

On an average day on Facebook I would be made aware by the website of about 10-30 events, a couple of them new, and only a few of them actually of interest to me: most are just some clubbings or parties that happen regularly, and only a handful are special events that I actually am interested in: a release party, say, or a gallery opening.

But what I am fed is a plethora of crap that I don’t care about, through which I would need to sift through in order to find the engagement ring in the pile of dog shit.

Events are a great example for this, as they are treated special by the website, with their own subfeed. Pictures, links and status updates are much harder to read, because Facebook works hard to hide them from you. It’s algorithms about 80 percent of the content you want to see - that is, of people or pages that you subscribed to or are “friends” with. As a page, or “professional account”, you have the possibility to pay a ransom to Facebook to reach all of your followers for a certain amount of time or a limited number of messages.

Thing is: all of this is voluntary. Nobody asked you to join Facebook. You’re business could thrive without it. It’s that everybody thinks that this shit website has any relevance that it indeed does have said relevance.

Which brings me to my headline, that Facebook and it’s algorithms in particular, kill friendships.

Of course you can argue that it’s your own fault for trusting Facebook to keep you connected; but in my experience, people tend to trust it for that purpose. Because for some time it might have been a good tool. Just as ICQ once was a great indicator whether people are home, Facebook helped staying in touch with those friends that left the country or continent.

But that was just a marketing trick, a scheme to get you to pyramide your friends and relatives into sharing their private information.

Of course Facebook never was about you. But by now you don’t actually get anything in return, other than a closed circuit second rate communication service cluttered with shit you don’t actually care about.

It wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t find out about a major life event of a friend through Facebook, but because someone else made you aware of it. In essence, you give your information, specifically information about life events in the most general sense, to Facebook, in the hopes that it would distribute this information to the people you want to know about it. But by default it already chooses only a handful, in effect, a fifth, who are informed. All other users would need to frequent your page or time line to find out what you posted. Which isn’t how Facebook is generally used, because of it’s promise to connect you. The existence of the news feed promises you, like a home page of a news site, to give you an overview about the stuff most important to you. Only that there is so many links to conspiracy videos, Rihana remixes, Vice articles, that you almost never reach the people you actually want to reach: especially since “Pages” can pay for special privileges to reach you. Where maybe a couple of years back you’d frequent a couple of news sites and read at least through their head lines, now more and more people seem to rely on the Facebook algorithm to inform them of the important stuff: not only in terms of filter bubbling the news, but also what you know about your friends’ lives.

I had suspected this for some time, but that people still try to reach me on Facebook, after all efforts I made to communicate that I can not be reached there, is ample evidence that I don’t want anything to do with it anymore, because it now blatantly works against my interests of being informed about my friends.

Only with considerable effort I could care any less about all the other bullshit.

I’d be interested in your experience if you think differently. Personally, I will go back to writing emails.