Each morning, after reading the news and checking my emails, I reward myself with a quick (okay, not that quick) scroll down the Facebook News Feed. Over a peanut butter bagel and strong cup of coffee, I look at pictures, laugh at status updates, ignore political rants, and leave small traces along the way: Likes, congratulations, the occasional snarky retort. I look forward to my Facebook time. It’s the dessert portion of my morning routine. The little sugary something that warms me into my day. And yet, this is a precarious treat—one day sweet, the next lip-puckeringly tart.
I never know quite how I will feel at the end of my scroll session. Some days, I am energized, connected, warm, fuzzy, and one with the world. Other days, I feel annoyed, left out, jealous, regretful that I let that half hour slip away while others were doing something more productive, more impactful, more meaningful. Admittedly, on most days, my feelings lie between these poles in the far less dramatic realm of mild amusement or hinted anxiety. (more…)
In what follows, I attempt to diagnose the IRL Fetish, or the explicit preference of physical over digital, and in particular, the designation of the former as more “real” than the latter. Bear with me, the punch line is at the end.
I get invited to a lot of things. It’s not because I’m cool or popular—rest assured, I am not. I also get regular messages from friends offering deals on the products that they sell, such as Scentsy, MaryKay, and Tasteful Pleasures. It’s not because I’m rich or have expressed interest in these products—rest assured, I am a poor post-doc far more likely to buy new running shoes than liquefying candle wax . Rather, I receive these invitations, messages, and deals because I am part of a large Facebook network, through which information can be easily spread. And as a recipient under these circumstances, I think little of not only declining invitations and consumptive offerings, but often completely ignoring said objects with a fully clear conscience. No, I do not want any Fifty Shades of Grey Toys, nor do I want to attend an event entitled “Come Punch Me in the Face” (yes, that was an *actual* event someone invited me to), and I feel no inclination to articulate my decline, but assume that my silence implies disinterest. (more…)
(This is the full version of a two-part essay that I posted in October of this year. Here are links to Part I and Part II)
“Well, you saw what I posted on Facebook, right?”
I don’t know about you, but when I get this question from a friend, my answer is usually “no.” No, I don’t see everything my friends post on Facebook—not even the 25 or so people I make a regular effort to keep up with on Facebook, and not even the subset of friends I count as family. I don’t see everything most of my friends tweet, either; in fact, “update Twitter lists” has been hovering in the middle of my to-do list for the better part of a year. And even after I update those lists, I probably still won’t be able to keep up with everything every friend says on Twitter, either.
I feel guilty when I get the “You saw what I posted, right?” question. I feel like a bad friend, like I’m slacking off in my care work, like I’m failing to value my important human relationships. Danah boyd (@zephoria) was talking about something similar in October of this year at “Boom and Bust“—about how social networking sites create pressure to put time and effort into tending weak ties, and how it can be impossible to keep up with them all. Personally, I also find it difficult to keep up with my strong ties. I’m a great “pick up where we left off” friend, as are most of the people closest to me (makes sense, right?). I’m decidedly sub-awesome, however, at being in constant contact with more than a few people at a time. (more…)
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the “fear of being missed (FOBM).” The flip side of FOMO (fear of missing out), FOBM captures the anxiety surrounding a complex and fast moving online realm in which it is easy to be buried, ignored, and/or forgotten. This anxiety is amplified by the online/offline connectedness, through which invisibility online can lead to neglect offline (personally and professionally). FOMO and FOBM speak to the difficulty of deleting social media accounts, the discomfort of a dead cell/laptop/tablet battery, and the drive to livetweet, status update, tag oneself in pictures, and be physically present for tagable photo-ops.
Soon after posting my piece on Cyborgology, I read Tiana Bucher’s article in New Media & Society about Facebook algorithms and the fear of invisibility. Bucher’s work offers a useful theoretical frame (Foucault’s Panoptican) for FOBM, and an equally good (if not better) term for the phenomena (fear of invisibility). In what follows, I describe Bucher’s piece and its utilization. I then offer critiques of her work. In this way, I hope to further the theoretical substance of FOBM, framing it with the tools suggested by Bucher, and refining it through juxtaposition to Bucher’s arguments. (more…)
Don’t tell the Israel Defense Force (IDF) that sharing videos from your Twitter account is ineffectual. They will point to their two-hundred thousand twitter followers that have generated 35 million views on their official Youtube account. They will extoll the virtues of a ruthlessly efficient and effective ad campaign that invites participation without the young Israeli even knowing they are engaged in two wars: a war of flesh as well as a war of mind. Granted, the IDF is no Justin Beiber, but it is hard to deny the impact of the IDF’s 30-person social networking team. The IDF’s social media savvy has not gone unnoticed. Technology and business publications have been more than happy to publish uncritical, lengthy interviews of top officials. This meta-propaganda usually begins by noting that Pillar of Defense was first announced through Twitter. The conversation will then turn to their complete arsenal: (Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, Pintrest, and even Google+) before commenting on their brief tweet confrontations with Hamas. All of this happens almost apolitically. Every news pieces calls it propaganda, and yet it still has a powerful aesthetic and rhetorical effect. Social media is the Abrams tank of propaganda. Messages must navigate the harsh terrains of corporate and government-owned mass media and arrive safely in the minds of citizens. Unedited, unfiltered, pure. Social media can trample news cycles, navigate the minefields of editorial desks, and maintain total media superiority in the vacuum of Western under-reporting. (more…)
I hear there are people out there (though I’ve never been acquainted with one, so far as I know) who really believe high school was the best period of their lives. It’s a privilege to say so, but this position remains unfathomable to me. This isn’t to say I haven’t developed a retroactive appreciation for certain aspects of my teenage life; in high school I had no overhead, all of my income was discretionary, necessities (and sometimes luxuries) were provided for me, and activities like singing, debating, working on theatrical productions, shooting photography, and writing/editing for the school newspaper (awww, analogue blogging!) were considered “productive” uses of my time, all of which add up to a pretty cushy existence. Material and structural privilege can’t necessarily buy happiness, however, and it’s an understatement when I say that I’m presently happy to have left the affective experience of my teenage years in the past.
Recently, my Internet neighborhood has been revisiting high school through the lens of ‘What if we’d had Facebook Back In The Day?’ On Monday, Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) wrote about why we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the Facebooklessness of our adolescence; yesterday, Rob Horning (@marginalutility) posted his well-considered response. Below I consider both pieces, and add my own thoughts about the hypothetical intersections of present day Facebook and the pre-Facebook past. All three of us examine identity and “digital dirt,” but where Jurgenson considers embarrassment and stigma, and Horning considers context and narrative control, I consider temporality and affective experience. (more…)
“I’m so thankful the internet was not in wide use when I was in high school”, this article begins, a common refrain among people who grew up without social media sites from Friendster to Facebook, Photobucket to Instagram. Even those using email, chatrooms, Livejournal, multiplayer games and the like did not have the full-on use-your-real-name-ultra-public Facebook-like experience.
Behind many of the “thank God I didn’t have Facebook back then!” statements is the worry that a less-refined past-self would be exposed to current, different, perhaps hipper or more professional networks. Silly music tastes, less-informed political statements, embarrassing photos of the 15-year-old you: digital dirt from long ago would threaten to debase today’s impeccably curated identity project. The discomfort of having past indiscretions in the full light of the present generates the knee-jerk thankfulness of not having high-school digital dirt to manage. The sentiment is almost common enough to be a truism within some groups, but I wonder if we should continue saying it so nonchalantly?
“Glad we didn’t have Facebook then!” isn’t always wrong, but the statement makes at least two very arguable suppositions and it also carries the implicit belief that identity-change is something that should be hidden, reinforcing the stigma that generates the phrase to begin with. (more…)
I’ve been meaning to write for a while now about Ben Grosser’s (@bengrosser) project the Facebook Demetricator. If you haven’t seen it yet, the Demetricator is a browser extension that removes all the overt quantification from your experience of Facebook. With Facebook Demetricator installed and toggled ON, it doesn’t matter if 2, 20, or 20,000 people like your most recent status update (for example); when you view that status update, you see simply “people like this.” Visit someone’s profile, and you see that they have “Friends”—not “Friends 450” or “Friends 4,500.” “View all 6 comments” becomes “View all comments,” and “n hours ago” becomes either “recently” or “a while ago.
The semantics of Silicon Valley Capitalism are precise, measured, and designed to undermine preexisting definitions of the things such capitalists seek to exploit. It is no coincidence that digital connections are often called “friends,” even though the terms “friend” and “Facebook friend” have very different meanings. And then there is “social,” a Silicon Valley shorthand term for “sharing digital information” that bears little resemblance to the word “social” as we’ve traditionally used it. From “Living Social” to “making music social,” “social media” companies use friendly old words to spin new modes of interaction into concepts more comfortable and familiar. It is easier to swallow massive changes to interpersonal norms, expectations, and behaviors when such shifts are repackaged and presented as the delightful idea of being “social” with “friends.”
But is this “social” so social? Yes and no and not quite. To elaborate, we propose a distinction: “Social” versus “social,” in which the capital-S “Social” refers not to the conventional notion of social but specifically to Silicon-Valley-Social. The point is, simply, that when Silicon Valley entrepreneurs say “social,” they mean only a specific slice of human sociality. (more…)
Can being a ‘generalized other’ feel like being a friend?
How did the Awkward Party Comment shift from “I know, I read your Livejournal” to “You read what I posted on Facebook, right?” As I explained last week, this change is related to what I call the devolution of friendship. In devolved friendship, we expect our friends to take on a greater share of the friendship-labor involved in being friends with us. I link the devolution of friendship to the affordances of social media sites, and particularly to general broadcasting and frictionless sharing. While I don’t go so far as to say devolved friendship is necessarily a bad thing (or a good thing), at least two of its characteristics deserve a closer examination: the non-uniform rationalization of friendship-labor and the depersonalization of friendship-labor. I explore both below.