Thursday, July 10, 2014

new on Facebook

I am like everyone; I spend a significant amount of time on Facebook. My friends include a lot of former students, so they are all over the world, and thus I get caught up in the World Cup drama even when I'm not actively watching it a lot. But this post is about two other significant developments on Facebook.

The first is Facebook's own experimentation with using its feeds to manipulate your mood. Facebook can make you happy. Facebook can make you sad. Facebook can make you forget the vast majority of your friends, in favor of the ones it puts in front of you, in its relentlessly formulaic ways of deciding what your feed looks like.

Now I'm already a little jaded by the rest of the stuff Facebook has been doing, like using the margin to speak directly to everything it knows about me. The ads basically say, hey you 60-year-old who teaches ESL and likes the World Cup, click here! Facebook by the way is mad at me because I've still, after two years, not told it where I'm from, and that's because it's a rather complicated answer, but lately it started to make stuff up, and just say I'm from Lubbock or from some other town where I had a lot of friends. Wrong, Facebook.

People like me are mad at Facebook because it's using so much of what it learns in such a devious way. It's one thing to make a profile out of thousands of bits of information it's gotten out of me legitimately (what kind of idiot am I?) but it's another to basically take things I'm meant to see, order it in order to change my own feelings, and then go along like it is in charge, it controls my feelings anyway. The reason people are mad is that they suspect that it works...

But here's another trend I've got a bead on, and I'm not sure this one is entirely good either. I'm an avid follower of HONY (Humans of New York), in which some guy interviews people on the streets of New York and puts their responses with their pictures; because he has thousands of followers, people write in with comments immediately and constantly. My understanding is that he censors the comments, and still gets thousands of legitimate, non-hurtful comments for each post. He must spend his life censoring the comments, but in any case, what he has created is living, all-inclusive discussion forums that are alive, and in which comments tumble in just as you check your phone. If your phone gets Facebook, you can essentially participate in a texted discussion with any of thousands of strangers who are piping in on such subjects as what constitutes a crime, or when someone becomes immoral in divorce. Some of these I've found banal, but others have been fascinating, and it's only a matter of time before he or his competitors perfect the art, or use Facebook at another plane of participation. Hand it to HONY though: he did it first; he's in uncharted territory, and, for the moment at least, it's working.

I think Facebook-watching could be a full-time career. But I mean that in more of a sense that if you were critical about the stuff that happens every day, every week, you could use critical social commentary to alter the way our culture is moving; we're like a canoe on very fast rapids. Unfortunately, I'm more in the other camp. I watch Facebook with increasingly more of my time, and it's mostly just to keep a fairly wide collection of friends in my consciousness. For that reason alone, I still defend Facebook - it's made my social circle very wide, very interesting, very international. All that other stuff, well, I'm like everyone, I put up with it, because, basically, I feel powerless to stop it.

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