Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Facebook -- pure evil, or what?

Is Facebook pure unadulterated evil, sorta like that swirling green cylinder of Satan-in-a-Can in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness?
The jury of my mind is still out. Partly, because I’m predisposed to hate Facebook. I’m a writer/cartoonist. I’m not a people person. I’m not chatty. I crawl in my cave, enter a trance, laugh insanely at my own jokes, then emerge with something to show the tribe. It’s how I’m wired.

Facebook is chatty by design. It’s a people-place for people-people to meet people. It resembles nothing so much as a high school cafeteria where the guys and gals are filling the echoing walls with oh did you hear about saundra I think she’s pregnant no she’s just fat stop what’d you think of true grit god my dad likes that that’s like for old people oh my god that looks like puke I’m not going to eat something that looks like puke already stop poking me god no I don’t want to be your friend like what part of fuck off do you not understand

Any content you introduce in this Babel is a rock dropped in a bottomless well of chat that quickly sinks out of sight.

So, the words you put into Facebook are probably wasted. FB will probably lay waste to the words outside of it as well.
So, when I finally emerge from my cave with something for people to read, I suspect they’ll either be on FB or have the attention span of a hummingbird with ADD and not want to read in their spare time anyway.

Being a cranky writer, that’s what I’m predisposed to think.

Or maybe not.

To quote Fugate's Law of Media: Each new wave of media is followed by a reactionary anti-wave of media critics claiming the new media is turning people into idiots and anti-social bastards.

Corollary: Like stopped clocks, reactionary media critics are sometimes right.

Music videos, comic books, rock and roll, radio, television, movies, jazz music, the Wizard of Oz books, the telephone and the printing press were all blamed for the decline and fall of everything. As McLuhan points out, even literacy itself was accused of destroying oral memory and poetry in ancient Greece. But the "stopped clock" argument remains. TV, for example, really did turn people into idiots. Facebook may very well accelerate the process. Soon, we will all be devo.

The jury is still out.

Additional musings:

Facebook is, basically, an ad hoc message board. Instead of being organized around topics, it's organized around clusters of people, aka, friends. Topics emerge on an ad hoc basis. The social interaction, not the topic, is the main point. Is that a good thing?
Facebook is a "walled garden" like AOL. It is not that different in kind from AOL's ancient community bulletin boards. I'll be damned if I can see what's so freaking revolutionary about it or why everyone's eating it up.

Facebook seems to throw the past down the memory hole. You can only go back so far. I don't like it.

Facebook "messages" supplant emails. This tends to supplant the archival functionality of email.

Facebook probably won't result in the creation of a Borg-like hive mind. It probably will waste a lot of time.
Facebook critics bemoan the loss of real social life in favor of erzatz social connections -- relationships as deep as a puddle on a sidewalk that create the illusion of a web of friends. (Though, in fact, they're not your friends.) This may be missing the point.

Social life? What real social life? 

There ain't no social life. We're living in the wreckage of the last media revolution, namely TV.

MacLuhan's "global village" aside, TV was essentially isolating, atomizing and alienating. Social media has the opposite effect. 

Human beings are wired to live in villages. Historically, these were literal, geographical places. Mass communication and mass transportation scattered people, compartmentalized the spaces of home, work, leisure. We're all strangers in our own home town.

From the beginning, the Internet has had the opposite effect. It allowed the creation of ad hoc communities centered around ANYTHING -- anime, car collecting, a love of The Prisoner -- whatever. Facebook and other social media simply accelerates the process.

That ain't necessarily good.