Sunday night I read this article in the New York Times: Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend On It. by Cal Newport, coincidentally the author of the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” (I try to avoid quirky, trendy, hipster business books — too many proclaim to re-invent the world of creativity and business every 10 minutes — but that one has a solid premise.)
Anyway, this article has been making the rounds, and seems to be their “Most Emailed” article right now.
This is the statement that hit me:
In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.
The term “low-value activity” — wow. It couldn’t be a more accurate description of how I’ve spent my time since the Orange Nightmare.
So: I have disabled my personal Facebook profile again.
Of course, I’ve done this several times, and I always get sucked back in. Every time, my life gets worse. I’m an addict.
I first did this in 2014 and obviously didn’t learn my lesson: http://carlkingdom.com/why-i-got-rid-of-my-facebook-profile
Some observations this time around, partially repeating myself:
1.) The “Feed” algorithm (which I have jokingly referred to as Dr. Sbaitso) has ruined the Facebook experience for me. I don’t want an artificial intelligence deciding what content I will see from others, or what content others will see of mine. (I want to see everything from everyone I choose to follow. If I no longer want to see someone’s content, I will opt-out. But I *should* see it all by default.)
a. One very damaging effect of this algorithm is shielding me from information it *thinks* I am not interested in, such as contrary political views. (I would actually like to debate with other people online. Unfortunately, posting on Facebook requires so little effort that it’s the equivalent of farting or throwing trash out a car window. The few interactions I’ve had with Trump supporters are so low-quality and full of belligerent, stock responses that I have wondered lately if I am actually arguing with bots.) Facebook also wants to keep the experience pleasant, so I don’t get angry and delete my account or stop using it. It needs to keep me there, clicking and scrolling.
b. My tastes and curiosity are too complex for Dr. Sbaitso to understand. The subjects I am interested in are, by default, “down-ranked” and invisible in my public feed. Dr. Sbaitso figures we all must be here for pictures, not conversation about hyperreality. Down-rank anything sophisticated, up-rank everything simple and “engaging.” Anything on Facebook itself, Up-Rank. Everything that is an external link to an article, Down-Rank. And what do we end up with? Anything that’s simple enough to embed. Candid photos, memes, short videos. Nothing that requires much attention or thought.
c. Facebook’s algorithm has trained us, that in order to be visible, to be of any value to this virtual society, we must make our posts easily-digestible and appealing to base emotions. Joy, Sex, Humor. Otherwise, no one sees them. No clicks, no likes. A female will get 5,000 likes simply because she’s a female. Not doing anything valuable. Just a photo of her smiling. Post a link to your new original album on Kickstarter? 0 likes. (This is partially another topic: Facebook doesn’t want you to leave Facebook and go to another website to spend money. Facebook wants other businesses to pay to advertise.) Post more content that Facebook down-ranks, and everything you post in the future is down-ranked. (No one liked Carl’s recent post. They most likely won’t like his next one, either.) I recently posted a photo of my fucking SHOE and got more engagement than anything else I posted in previous months. Try this experiment. Just type something really dumb like “Hello.” Instant likes!
d. In case you haven’t figured this out, by using Facebook, we are not here to interact with each other and “stay in touch with mom.” We are being used for behind-the-scenes advertising and to train a powerful artificial intelligence. https://research.facebook.com/ai
My personal experience of “reading” Facebook (actually it is mostly images) has devolved to a flowing river of diarrhea content. The creation of Facebook content is almost instantaneous and subconscious and requires nothing. There is no barrier. No cost of using up tapes or film or materials. No standard. Just an endless, mundane stream of consciousness. I once saw a meme that said something like: “I thought it would be fun to be able to read minds, but then I used Facebook.”
Consider the nature of “The (Automatic) Feed” from a historical entertainment standpoint. For those who are as old as me (I’m 41), go back in time. Imagine if TV stations were in a continuously, vertically scrolling “feed” and you’d never watch any station for longer than 5 seconds. You’d scroll through them with your thumb instead of clicking the channels up or down. And the content was almost entirely low quality, made on handheld cameras by people you didn’t know. And you’d watch this nonsense for hours a day! How did we get to this, and who would have willingly given up TV shows for it?
I would argue that Algorithmic Feeds in general are garbage. I would prefer to go back to manually searching for content, rather than have an artificial intelligence decide what I want to think about.
I don’t know how many others have experienced this, but my thumb has woken me up at night, habitually scrolling through an imaginary newsfeed. In case you think I’m kidding, I’m not. Maybe this is a thing. I’m not going to Google it. You can.
Facebook reminds me of a cliché “Manchurian Candidate” brainwashing scene, where the subject’s consciousness is bombarded with random images until they are hypnotized by subliminal messages.
Most content disappears from anyone’s attention or memory within an hour, if it lasts even that long. Ask yourself, what is the difference between posting on Facebook and simply dragging your content to the Trash icon? No one goes to anyone else’s page anymore. When someone “Likes” your photo, all it means is: “I clicked on your thing, then scrolled past it and forgot you exist.” It’s a pseudo-action. Maybe even an anti-action. It requires almost nothing!
Personally, I don’t identify with most of the content I see. I have zero interest in pictures of wannabe pro musicians with kind-of-famous people backstage or at NAMM. (January is always a bad month for me.) I can see through their attempts to make other people believe they are doing something significant. It annoys and alienates me. I feel embarrassed for them, trying so hard — and it embarrasses me because I have done the same thing. If I wanted my content to be visible, I would need to do more of that exact contrived behavior, because it is the kind of content the Facebook AI wants. We have been trained by a robot to be posers.
PS — watch Black Mirror, Season 3, Episode 1. Horrifying.
Anyway, we’ll see how long I can stay off of Facebook this time. Hopefully forever. I will probably log in again for the sake of contacting someone.
Twitter and Instagram are a different situation, but I won’t get into all the details for now, aside from pointing out that my “virtual social experience” on those platforms is not being censored (at least on such a massive scale) by a fucking judgmental robot. I’m actually able to keep my experience with them under control.
My Public Facebook Page is still up, and will stay there. My Twitter and Instagram posts will automatically repost there.
But I don’t recommend you bother with it, because of the fucking judgmental robot I mentioned. Head over to my Twitter or Instagram:
I’m re-dedicating myself to working on long-form projects. Music and writing. Both of these activities require sustained attention, and they’re also therapeutic. And they can make me a combined $5 a year if I try really hard.
I’m also donating to and attempting to volunteer for the ACLU. Because as they say, I want to “shove civil rights down everyone’s throat.”
If you’d like to stay in touch, it’s easiest and most personal to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org