Obligatory Why I Deleted Facebook Post

Earlier I read this article on Jonathan Pizarro’s blog: Radio Free Mister Pizarro. In it he describes why he left Facebook recently. Some of his story mirrors my own, in how networks like these

I deleted my account about six weeks ago, but like Jonathan, my discontent and disinterest in the platform began much earlier. I removed all of my interests, likes, friends, and non-essential groups and pages about two years ago, around the same time that I unlinked my Twitter account from Facebook, which removed around 95% of the content that I’d previously been posting to the platform.

Here’s a handy demonstration since it’s not easy to find the delete page

Why was I ever on Facebook?

Honestly it was never really something that interested me. I’m generally behind the curve on social media, though I enjoy the fact that cultures can exist online. I never paid much mind to Myspace, and I only signed up for Facebook in the Fall of 2005 due to school. It was my first semester at UCF, and a classmate on a group project told us that she’d post info for our project to her Facebook page.

I assumed that it functioned the same as Myspace, where visitors who weren’t logged in would still be able to see what was posted, but from the start Facebook was a highly walled garden. I created an account because I didn’t give much thought to the bargain that I was striking, one that I don’t think many of us do.

That bargain is one that many people have taken to discussing over the past few months, but I’ve not seen many accounts of people actually changing behavior due to any scandal that hits the company. Indeed, while there may have been temporary drop-off, there’s proof that the Facebook app is addicting based on download numbers in March of this year, as news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal was becoming widely reported.

How much does it provide me?

Right now it’s providing minor headaches, at best. But they are small compared to the larger headaches that I was feeling beforehand. If you’ve ever seen that South Park episode about Facebook, you know some of those headaches too. The social obligation and freemium gaming ones, not the Tronesque nightmare. Or maybe you do, and if so fine, live your own life.

Seriously, I’ve lived the above almost verbatim.

I no longer have access to the WordPress Orlando Facebook group that I started, but the group already had several administrators. I handed off ownership to other organizers, and not only trust that they will do a good job managing it, but won’t be personally affected if they don’t.

I no longer get to use my business pages, but I’ll be totally honest and say that I never used them, and the bit that I did was mainly out of the exhortations that if I didn’t have them my business wasn’t going to thrive. I can’t say that having a Facebook page would hurt my business, but I certainly never used it to get any leads.

I don’t see event invites, but for the events that I would be going to, I’ll know about them in other ways. If I don’t hear about an event, then in a solipsistic view, did it ever really happen?

So why did I leave?

I’m already used to the conversation with others that I missed something that they or someone else posted since I’m not following them, but that’s one area that I’ve been able to avoid FOMO for years. I have the privilege of not relying on someone else’s news to define how I act, and if it directly relates to me, they would know other ways to contact me. If they don’t find another way to contact me I consider it just as much on them. I don’t think that it’s an unacceptable burden to have someone who wants to contact me have to look at a second source, many of which are readily available and searchable.

But still, none of those are the real reason that I deleted my account. I quit years ago due to the disgust at myself for the enchantment with a feed that can be called toxic at the best of times even when solely populated by a friends list.

The real reason for deletion had as much to do with making a statement and sticking to ideals as anything else. While I’m not a first-class builder or user of decentralized and Indieweb technologies (though I’m actively working to change that), I agree with the idea that we should have viable alternatives to handing over all of our stuff to one company. I did write last week about running an Alternative to Twitter, which right now is more of a testbed and experiment than anything else. I don’t think that services like Mastodon will get widespread adoption without an as-yet-unseen killer app, but they are a starting point for a conversation that is gaining ground.

I don’t want to worry about what a company will do with my data. Or as I described on Saturday, whether I can even request that data be deleted when I’m done with the service. I want to be part of that idealized world where we get to have a say in what we do on the internet. It seems like more and more is already technically feasible, and it’s just the will of creators and consumers (and hopefully more overlap of the two) to put decentralized systems to use. I want to be a part of that solution.

Deleting Facebook doesn’t directly help with that in my case. But it doesn’t hurt either. And it’s only personally doing me good.

No, “Your Content Here” Did Not Break the Internet

I feel like it’s time for a bit of a rant. There’s a new phrase that I’ve begun noticing more frequently over the past year: that “____ Broke the Internet”. Fill in the blanks with whatever thing you deem important enough to command the intention of millions of people, and it is quite literally smashing the internet to pieces as we speak. When you have formerly reputable journalism organizations reduced to listicles to get readers , you have Time making a Top 10 Things that Broke the Internet retrospective.

When you search for the phrase, the event that popularized and encouraged comparison of the term was Paper magazine publishing nude photos of Kim Kardashian last year. Paul Ford did a good, non-tech overview of how Paper worked in the week leading up to the release of the photos to scale their servers to handle the load. He spends a good amount of time talking about how their team wanted to ensure a high load of potentially hundreds of millions of viewers. They ended up being overly optimistic by a full order of magnitude, but did still have a highly discussed topic.

Other events have come up that people claim “broke the internet”. Last week, a photo of a dress was posted to Tumblr, which became s viral phenomenon, being shared and discussed by millions of people.

tweet from Taylor Swift about dress
Even T-Swift had to weigh in

Why is it that we’re so quick to describe something on the internet in such bombastic terms? If you think of certain websites and applications that are used by tens or hundreds of millions of people per day, you don’t hear people talking like that. Google and Facebook don’t “break” the internet every day while serving up content (including most of the content that is discussed).

I think that it’s a shared cultural moment. There’s much talk about the media landscape becoming more fractured, with niches existing to please every individual taste. Up until the 2010 Super Bowl, the most watched television event was the M.A.S.H. series finale, barely missing maintaining it’s 1983 record of 105.9 million live viewers. A list of the highest attended movies of all time shows that you have to jump down to 2009’s ‘Avatar’ at #24 just to find a movie released in the past 15 years.

Anything that can get a few million people simultaneously discussing it gives us a taste of that collective culture that we’ve lost. It’s a way to connect with other people reliably outside of standard small talk. The excitement of shared experiences with all levels of social circles is harder and harder to come by with the echo chambers that we live in, and having them is a point of elation.

But please, don’t tell me that you broke the internet. We’re all fine here, thanks.

Using Film to Understand our Digital Lives

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of enjoying afternoon tea time at Infusion Tea (it’s tasty, whether it sounds snooty or not :D), followed by a screening of ‘Citizenfour’, Laura Poitras’ documentary on her interactions with Edward Snowden and the NSA file leak that he has become famous for.

Last weekend I watched ‘The Imitation Game’, a stylized biopic of the life of Alan Turing, considered to be the father of modern computing.

Yesterday, marking the two year anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, I watched ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’, a documentary about his life and work. The documentary is creative commons licensed, so in addition to supporting the filmmakers by buying or renting it, you can also freely and legally torrent it or watch it on Youtube and other sources.

There are always movies, large and small, that chronicle the lives and exploits of famous people, and many computer industry professionals are becoming famous in their own right. The dot-com bubble may have cast a long shadow over the industry of web entrepreneurs, but the successes of wunderkinds in shaping our digital lives (and filling their physical bank accounts) over the past decade has been a strong factor in making geek and nerd positive, rather than negative terms.

I have a lot that I could say about each of these three men profiled in these movies. I’ve spoken in the past about my love of ‘The Social Network’ and Mark Zuckerberg and ‘The Transcendent Man’ as a biography of Ray Kurzweil, among others. I could talk about how I can identify with Alan Turing, both in inability to connect oftentimes, as well as the outsider status of being homosexual. I could talk about how both Edward Snowden and Aaron Swartz made key decisions informed on their digital prowess, something that I try to do even if nowhere near as monumental as their decisions.

What I think I can say is that films like these – stylized or straightforward, spectacles or small-takes – give us insight into the inner workings of people who are potentially just like us, harnessing the power of computers to affect many others. Increasingly, we’re living in communities that transcend physical borders, but that are still constricted by cultural ones. Watch them, digest whatever lessons that you choose from them, and use that information to develop your own ideas and companies. Just let me know when a film is made of your life, so I can buy my ticket. 🙂

Photo of Aaron Swartz by gillyyouner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Joaquin Phoenix and the World of ‘Her’

If you’ve not seen the movie ‘Her’ yet, you may just know it as that movie where the guy falls in love with his computer. That’s a pretty simplistic overview of the plot, which revolves more around a vision of the near future as it’s likely coming, and what it means to be human. Joaquin Phoenix portrays Theodore, a man separated from his wife, who forms a relationship with an artificial OS, Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

The view of the future in this movie is quiet, almost comforting. Long gone are the large displays and acrobatic gestures of ‘Minority Report’, replaced instead with design that melds into the background, as I could easily imagine technology moving. The main point of control for devices isn’t touchscreens, but is instead vocal commands, removing a layer of mediation, making it easier for him to comfortably interact with Samantha. Over time, they learn more about one another, and Samantha moves from being a digital assistant to a digital paramour.

We may consider it odd or disconcerting now that someone could fall in love with a voice alone, knowing that it is not attached to a “real” person, but the point is more that reality is what you make of it, and that meaningful relationships can be different for different people. It has to be noted that Theodore is not alone in this world; it’s mentioned that other people, such as one of his close friends also going through a breakup, have begun relationships with their OS. His friends generally take it in stride, and several are even encouraging of the relationship. This frees us from the focus of “this guy is weird”, making the film more of a straightforward – albeit quirky – love story.

As I’d previously mentioned, the HyperPersonal Model of interaction allows for feedback loops through digitally mediated interaction which allows the highs and lows of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship to be clearly on display, allowing them to know each other more intimately than most people ever will.

‘Her’ is an overall excellent film, with writing, direction and performances that are all first-rate. The score to the film is soothing in this digital age, with mixtures of transformers humming and the like to keep the mood. I highly recommend it, and look forward to most of the advancements and changes that are suggested in the film to come to real life in the near future.

Digitally Mediated Interaction: Internet Dating

I met both my current boyfriend and my ex through online dating. This used to be fairly taboo to admit to, but it seems that the standards have shifted to apps like Tinder being cultural phenomena unto themselves. It seems that more people have tried internet mediated dating than not, making it a more “acceptable” method to meeting a mate, even if a lingering stigma can still be felt. Even though I can fall back upon the basis of pre-existing mutual friends and interests, a true connection was still forged first via the internet.

Statistic Brain, culling data from Reuters, Herald News, PC World and Washington Post has noted that online courtships before marriage are much shorter than offline, an average of 18 and a half months versus the more substantial 42 month average of those less technologically inclined. Impression Management is often stated to be an important task for online daters, similar to how self-censoring and selection drives the Hyperpersonal Model of digital communication. I would hypothesize that the shorter courtship is indicative of this sense of deeper understanding that many people describe the people that they connect with via online dating.

In one way that online dating does differ from this more hyperpersonal communication is through the casualty with which many users can approach it. Often described as a fear of missing out, many users admitted to pursuing relationships with multiple people at once online, testing the boundaries of what they can commit to while keeping options open. Choice of who to converse with is also artificially limited, by filters set by users on who they want to interact with (white straight women between 22-30, for instance), or by the apps themselves like Tinder that attempt to determine the most desirable profiles to display for each user. It seems that while relationships begun online tend to move faster and last longer/happier than those started solely offline, a self-selection bias can in this case be a benefit, rather than a detriment.