Sunday, October 09, 2011

self-presentation and social media

So, am I supposed to hate Facebook now or not? I’ve been thinking about the question for a few weeks, once the last round of big changes started coming out and Zuckerberg announced the upcoming Timeline format at the f8 conference (which, given everything that was going on, I couldn’t help reading as “fate”, as in the doom of Web 3.0 approaching). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to change in principle. I have throughout my life embraced it. I can even adjust fairly well to changes in the interface of a website I use. But I have trouble seeing how any of these changes are for the good (while acknowledging that many past changes have in fact been improvements).

Here’s the thing: the day the latest changes began, a friend pointed me (via Facebook) to the video of a TED talk in which the speaker explained how many of the major websites most of us use all the time to interact with the world are trying to create custom-fit filters for each of us, guessing what we’re most interested in and what, for the sake of their advertisers, will best capture our attention. When you think about that last point, it makes total fiscal sense, but when you think about “what they’re not telling you” that you would really like to hear—especially if, like me, you relish encountering differing viewpoints and ideologies and hate that the greater interconnectedness of the world has led, in part, to greater insularity of certain like-minded segments—it’s pure frustration. Here we are, well into the Information Age where you should be able to say, “Tell me everything about BLAH and I’ll sort it out”, and instead the response is, “How about we tell you just what we think you want to hear about BLAH?” Then a few days later I read a couple of op-eds about how Facebook keeps making it easier to slip into sharing everything you’re doing. Both of these problems have workarounds, but they’re not transparent, and my conclusion from the defaults to filter incoming information and amplify outgoing information is that I Have Seen the Dark Underbelly of the Information Age That I Love So.

On the other hand, these things can be managed, and some of the features hold their own, nouveau kind of excitement. One friend linked to a rave review of Timelines and said he was jumping into it before he got forced. Then there’s the brilliant video (which was tweeted by a celebrity I follow) that depicts Mad Men’s Don Draper presenting Timeline as the ultimate nostalgia product. “Let us help you present yourself to the world, to your friends and family!” Facebook—and a host of other social media sites—are saying. “We’re experts!” And I expect they are. With the data from half a billion people clicking links daily, I’m sure they know to a fraction of a second what each of us—or rather, each algorithmicized abstract person like us—is drawn to. They know, to a high level of accuracy, what my grandparents want to know about me, what my high school teachers want to know, what about my life interests my church members and my colleagues. Reorganization is not disorganization; these folks aren’t dummies, and when they overhaul the interface, it’s likely to streamline the reception of pertinent information.

But I don’t want to be managed that way. Give me the tools to present myself, sure, but don’t make the decisions about what I want to show, like you’re already doing with the things I want to see. 15 minutes of micromanaged fame are not made sweeter by coming effortlessly…

Where was I? Oh yes, stuck, because Facebook holds the digital ties between me and many of my friends from throughout my lifetime, which are not duplicated elsewhere. I’ve been increasingly active on Twitter and Tumblr, but the former is mostly a way to follow Big Events in the world (or the humorous life stories of those creating Big Events), and the latter seems almost entirely unknown to anyone over 25. Google+ just isn’t picking up the way one would hope, although it is there I keep in touch with several members of my profession with whom I otherwise have little contact apart from occasional conferences and seminars. In short, I can abandon Facebook, but only at the cost of many sustained, if small, connections with people I care about. And I’m also angry, in part because I feel like all the faux claims of “privacy protection” and “user control” cover up the fact that they’re deceiving most of their users into thinking their life online is more private than it is. I’ve always expected that anything I post on Facebook, or anywhere else, is essentially available to the entire world. It’s safer that way, and more accurate. (Think of all the shocked reactions to the existence of websites that crawl through everything you’ve posted online, in whatever location, and assemble a profile to sell to companies.) But mainly I feel like those who would be guardians of our access to the World Wide Web—a stunning idea if ever there was one—are acting as pure marketeers. Sure, everything can be commodified, but give me the free flow of information before you start monitoring which bits of it I select. And don’t expect me to jump at the chance to have you take over presenting me. If I want that help, I’ll ask for it. And when it comes to who I am online, I don’t want it.

1 comment:

Sam Smith said...

all social networking sites are best in their own way. i think twitter is very popular and famous because any thing happen in world people just tweet it.