Tag Archives: facebook

No, Facebook Isn’t Making You Lonely. But It Is Making You An Asshole.

It always bugs me when people complain about Facebook, like ‘argh people with kids always post pictures of their kids’ or ‘Everyone puts their lame political opinions or what they had for breakfast.’

I always want to ask these people, Is this your first time having friends? Hearing about the short-term (Cheerios!) and long-term (children!) events that happen in their lives is sort of the qualifying definition of the term. If you are truly so unconcerned with the thoughts and experiences that a particular individual finds meaningful, then you should not only delete them from facebook, but you should run them over with your car.

For everyone else, their minutiae and their milestones aren’t an obstacle to friendship, they’re the reason for one.

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What If Social Media Makes You Smarter?

Every year I read Dave Eggers’s ‘Best American Nonrequired Reading.’ It’s a collection of essays, articles, speeches and comics with no thematic similarities other than that they’re all awesome.

The 2011 edition includes a speech by William Deresiewicz (whoever that is) to The United States Military Academy at West Point called ‘Solitude and Leadership’. For some reason, this passage made me feel simultaneously guilty and inspired:

A study by a team of researchers at Stanford came out a couple of months ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked.

The answer, they discovered—and this is by no means what they expected—is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there.

In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: The more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself. […]

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. […]

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all of the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea.

By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, the defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.  

I really struggle with this. I have the attention span of a fruit fly, and whenever I’m in a situation where stimulus isn’t readily available—waiting in line, riding the bus—I usually create my own by reading a book or listening to a podcast. It’s vanishingly rare for me to just sit there and think. 

I had an unpleasant airport experience the other day in which I basically waited around for about five hours without knowing whether I would be leaving Argentina or would have to stay another day. If I wasn’t reading this essay collection, Deresiewicz’s among them, I would have been round-and-round fixating on my immediate surroundings—Am I going to get a flight? Will my luggage be there when I arrive? Should I change my currency now, or should I wait until a departure time is announced? Blah Blah Blah. Without stimulus, my brain skips analysis and goes straight to anxiety.

It’s in those types of situations that I find I need new ideas and stories the most. Absorbing new information prevents me from pointlessly fixating on my immediate surroundings.  It’s become kind of a compulsion: The bus is an hour late? Where’s my earbuds?!

What Deresiewicz is saying is that information isn’t osmosis. You can’t just absorb ideas and forget about them until the next flight delay. Information has to be summarized, analysed and discussed to have any effect.

In that excerpt, I edited out a sentence where Deresiewicz says ‘You simply cannot [think for yourself] in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod’.

While its probably true that constant interruption of any kind is bad for concentration, I disagree with the implication that social media and the internet are keeping us from deeply engaging with new ideas.

Personally, when I put down my book or pop out by earbuds, I don’t begin a systematic analysis of the information I’ve just absorbed. I just fixate on my immediate surroundings and start gazing ahead in my day until I find something to be anxious about — What am I going to have for dinner? Will it rain while I’m biking home? Etc.

The only way I can concentrate on an idea is to reconfigure it for a conversation, an e-mail or, yes, a fucking Tweet.

Summarizing an idea for a specific target audience (a whip-smart friend, a simpleton co-worker, an anonymous blog commenter) is how a lot of us discover what and how we think.  If you needed to sum up John Rawls’s ‘Theory of Justice’ in 140 characters, you’d have to think pretty hard about it. If you wanted to tell all your Facebook friends why you liked reading Moby Dick and they would too, you’d have to have a reasonably good grasp of it.

I agree with Deresiewicz that concentration, and the deliberate solitude that implies, is an important characteristic in a leader. But technology doesn’t prevent us from concentrating. It forces us to.

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Check your Facebook privacy settings

This is really well put:

I suspect that while Zuckerberg spins publicity as a social good, he actually believes it’s a moral one. It’s a theme that’s become pretty common among execs of data-collecting, data-publicizing companies: making it so that anything anyone does can be seen by anyone they know is a way of keeping them honest. Check out this quote he gave David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, in an interview:

“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly…Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Easy for Mark Zuckerberg to say. He’s a white, cisgendered, presumably straight male who went to Exeter and Harvard and has only ever been his own boss. It’s fair to say that he’s been on the short end of a power dynamic much less frequently than the overwhelming majority of his users. The notion that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” is the sentiment of someone who’s never had to code-switch, someone who’s never had to be in the closet for fear of getting kicked out of the house, someone who’s familiar with the world of white-collar “networking” in which bosses are expected to have semi-social bonds with their employees rather than the world of enforced hierarchy in which bosses are on the lookout for off-the-job indiscretions to punish or exploit. For many, many people, having more than one identity isn’t a sign of “lack of integrity” because it’s not even really a personal choice. It’s the only way to survive in a world that isn’t always perfectly willing to accept and respect them for who they are.

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De-friend indeed

I love the craggy, unmapped moral landscape of social media:

Dear Answer Lady,

I need help. I grew up in Idaho, a pretty, if somewhat backwards, state. Recently, an acquaintance from high school posted this on Facebook: "Isnt this great? Americans have put a socialist into the White House – a socialist who wants to indoctrinate our youth with his socialist agenda. Hitler was able to spread his ideas by appealing to German youngsters. Dont let obama get a hold of our children. Socialism always fails."

This is why I can barely stand to look at Facebook.

But my real question is: Do I respond? And if so, how? My instinct is to stay out of it, because any response of mine will probably elicit a dozen angry responses from her right-wing cronies. I do think, though, that letting angry, uninformed attacks like this go unanswered is a problem. I cringe at my computer, and then do nothing. But is it possible to have a reasoned, thoughtful discussion about this? Without making her angry and without making me sound like the smug, condescending east coast liberal I have become?

I say: De-friend the shit out of him and don't look back.

The real issue here is that Facebook (which is objectively great, suck it contrarians) allows and encourages you to build and maintain friendships with people who, in 3D, you would have allowed to recede into the fog of acquaintanceship eons ago.

The greatest predictor of whether two people will be friends isn't whether they're from the same social class, or the same race, or the same age. It's simply, do they see each other every day? Proximity is friendship's petri dish. This is why you're fond of the people you work with, even though they don't have anything in common with you and steal your gouda out of the fridge.

The best — and worst — thing about social media like Facebook is that they simulate this proximity. You see your friends' pictures and updates every day. Oh, Susan has a new job! Mark's baby turned two this weekend! Ryan is out of toothpaste! This proximity, more than any of the technical features, is what makes social media so indispensable. All of us have Hometown Friends and Work Friends and Study Abroad Friends. It's objectively useful to store them all in one place, and to be able to communicate with them not just instantly, but constantly.

The downside of this, of course, is that sometimes you forget that your friend-list is lousy with people you only met once, or haven't seen in 10 years, or who you've been frenemies with for two years but can't lance because it would be too drama. Every once in awhile, by status update or general stalkery, you realize: I don't even fucking know these people.

One minor mitigator of this problem is the European approach to social media. You know someone at least reasonably well (last-name basis, say) before you add them anywhere. And, importantly, you delete often and indiscriminately. Americans seem to add everyone they pass by on the street, and hem and haw over leaving twatmonsters like the above on the cutting-room floor. Gays browse promiscuously and add each others' hot friends to their lists, operating on the premise that the blending of their work, social and dating lives is a labor-saving device rather than a recipe for herpes and exile.

Me, I'm sticking with the hard-in, easy-out model. If I'm gonna spend pixely time with these people, then as a starting point, it shouldn't be too much to ask that I like them.

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Social networking 3.0: Widespread mockery

Shut the Fuck Up, Marrieds

Awful Facebook Status

These sites are good illustrations of the snowballing effect of social networking. You sign up to Facebook thinking it's going to help you keep track of events and make it easier to contact your friends. Before you know it, you've got 500 friends, the majority of whom you don't like or only met once, and all of a sudden you're an anthropologist: That's your status update?! Why did you take the 'which genocidal dictator are you?' quiz?! Who are these people?

… and then you post them elsewhere on the internet, so the rest of us can point and laugh. And we'd like to thank you.

UPDATE: OK, this is pretty great too.

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Do you ever get a random message from someone on Facebook

and then, based on the fake-sounding-ness of their friends' names, think that it's some kind of hoax? And sorta decide that it's gotta just be an ex fucking with you?

 

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Seriously, not one of those people sounds real. I feel like if I clicked 'show all' I'd meet Clobber N. Time and Dick Beninya.

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Totally agree

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For a long while—from about the late '80s to the late-middle '90s—carrying a mobile phone seemed like a haughty affectation. But as more people got phones, they became more useful for everyone—and then one day enough people had cell phones that everyone began to assume that you did, too. Your friends stopped prearranging where they would meet up on Saturday night because it was assumed that everyone would call from wherever they were to find out what was going on. From that moment on, it became an affectation not to carry a mobile phone; they'd grown so deeply entwined with modern life that the only reason to be without one was to make a statement by abstaining. Facebook is now at that same point—whether or not you intend it, you're saying something by staying away.

Seriously.

Every generation has the Thing that is going to lead to the End of Social Interaction as We Know It. Sixty years ago, it was the telephone. Then it was television. Then it was video games. Then it was the internet and chat rooms (remember Prodigy?). Now it's social networking sites.
 

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Look, humans aren't going to stop making friends or falling in love or making small talk or inflicting drama upon one another anytime soon. The way that we do it will change (I'm sure our generation will be bitching about the iTelepathy in 50 years), but the human need for companionship is not under any kind of threat.

On the contrary, tools such as Facebook and cell phones have made our lives easier and vastly expanded our ability to choose our friends upon wider criteria than their geographic location, social class or profession. Old people are just pissed off cuz they haven't figured out how to digitize their polaroids.  

That, and you wrote all your Christmas thank-you notes on your relatives' Walls.

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I denied my mom’s friend request

Dear Mom,

I know I still hold a series of deficits for the head-first labor, the bed-wetting, the braces, the moody angst, college tuition and that time I made you take me to see 'Problem Child 2'.

But can I make it up to you without adding you on Facebook? I'm not ready for you to see the genital references on my wall, the filthy verbing in my applications or my pictures tagged 'TUESDAY-DRUNK AGAIN'. My heart breaks a little bit every time I click 'ignore'.

… but I'm not going to stop clicking it.

Love,

Your ungrateful Mike

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