Principle I of my Experimental Principles states: Finish Your Things! I have a a great love of starting Things, and sometimes have trouble finishing Things. These Principles are fluid, and Finishing Things at the moment is top priority. I’ve become too multi-threaded! In modern terms, I am an aging machine, my processor and RAM are not quite cut out for so many concurrent tasks; I need a general tune up and a defrag. Metaphors.
I started two connected Things about thirteen days ago: a needed break from Facebook, and a blog entry intended to bookend the front half of the experiment, wherein I give my reasons for needing a break from Facebook. It was an easy argument to make; had I not taken that break, a number of these blog entries wouldn’t have gotten completed. I would rather practice writing in this new (to me) medium, than continue to swim around randomly in discussions on that other one. I had come to wonder what exactly I was doing there with all of my time and energy. I believe many users of social media can relate.
I like Facebook. In fact, I think I love it. Not because the experience of being there is itself all that enriching these days – on the contrary, it can get downright distracting and exhausting.
I love Facebook because of its immense (but still imperfect, to be sure) success at connecting great swaths of humanity in this grand experiment of trying to get along with one another with (relatively) few Big-Brother-ish constraints.
This is no small ask – just look at us. We like fighting a lot. We love getting butt-hurt. We enjoy feeling superior. We enjoy trolling and triggering each other. Our feathers are easily ruffled. We feel threatened by that which we do not yet understand. We all have different points of view, and differing levels of luck and privilege. We speak different languages and are informed by different cultural norms. On and on.
How could such an experiment go smoothly, in its formative years? And yet, I am connected to more people, in more places, with wider and more varied backgrounds, than I have ever been before, or could possibly have been, up until quite recently, in spite of these significant challenges.
Where is it even going? Other Mark Z’s have, and will continue to have a say in this, you can be sure. Maybe you want the kids and young folk in your life to know something about computer technology, so they can be a part of shaping that future too, or at least better understand, navigate, and help regulate it, once they arrive there.
You can find some disturbing and hateful stuff on Facebook. I won’t crosslink that – you’re welcome. You can and do also volunteer (knowingly or otherwise) your data and personal profile to the larger world of business and politics and other things whenever you wander around online, to be used for whatever purpose the data aggregators might choose to innovate. When you sign up for free online services, this is the implicit (and usually, explicit) contract that you sign. You get connectivity of a previously unprecedented nature for free, in return for your data, which is bought and sold as a kind of infoSlurry, consumed by models and causes of any sort and nature. That’s what keeps the lights on. We all get how that works, or should.
Consider this too. Whatever else might have recently or in the past been done with your data, and by whom, that stuff is never going away. It can and will be mined well into the future – these days, often by software intended to reveal patterns (such as voting patterns, consumption patterns, social patterns, and so on), and eventually by all sorts of other things, such as semi-automated research projects by the fourteen-year-olds of the future, digging through the digital remains of their parents’ and grandparents’ virtual activities and artifacts, like Internet Archeologists.
Artificial Intelligences of our near and (hopefully) distant future will crawl through your browsing patterns, your friends lists, your Likes and Shares and flaming indignations, in an attempt to understand better what makes Humans tick, what makes them Human at all, and how we all got to this point. We’re all being watched right now, by present and future watchers, noticers, and learners.
This stuff is never going away, barring some global EMP event or other general catastrophe. What’s more, each Thing you do while online will continue to be logged and then eventually stitched and assembled together in increasingly sophisticated ways with other bits and pieces of your scattered footprints going forward, using intersections and analyses of your GPS locations, your behaviour profiles, your shopping lists, your bookmarks and Wishlist items, your IP addresses, your device names, your friends lists, your activity timestamps, and on and on, creating a time lapse of your journey through this era of human history, and an increasingly detailed profile of you, or at least, the you that logs onto the Internet of Things. You will be sussed out by who-and-what-knows-what, as the means of sussing, and the field of suss-able material continues to grow, and interconnect.
None of this is Mark Zuckerberg’s fault – this was going to happen regardless. I will fist-fight you on this point, if I must. Mark’s taking hits these days for being a technology guy who has perhaps an overestimation of our collective maturity and honesty. He built – with the help and buy-in of a great many intelligent and talented people, and in a social climate where a demand existed for just such a thing – a platform that achieved relative ubiquity in a large and troubled world, and now many of us use it as a kind of global telephone/television/bulletin board/soapbox.
No amount of human monitoring or good intention will prevent dishonest people from using a telephone, television, bulletin board, or soapbox for dishonest purposes. Do you credit or blame the people who designed or built that phone, TV, board, or box, for what gets done with, and said atop them? I don’t. I credit or blame the user, pretty much every time. Tools are tools – Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Back at ya. Do I want the designers or builders of those tools to heavily police what their users do with those free things? Well, this is a complicated question, perhaps best left for the comments below (someday, when I have comments! All in Good Time, as Bee might say). I won’t touch that at this point with a twelve-foot pole, but am more than happy to engage in a continued conversation about it, assuming it can remain non-flamey. I trust WordPress to be less flamey than Facebook, at this point in things.
Facebook gets hot every now and then – the first time I personally experienced this was during the lead-up and immediate aftermath of the last US presidential election. Holy Hannah, were people angry at each other! I saw people shaming people all over the place, for voting in this manner, or that manner. All fighting about who had the better strategy for being the better person. All having opinions about who was the least-worst choice, as though that state of having only sub-par choices to begin with was just acceptable business-as-usual. I jumped in a couple of times myself, said things I regretted to people who were already raw about it, and finally had to just back away from a good portion of the themed content flying around. I kept my head low. I didn’t want to add to the Hurt and Turmoil.
Having Facebook mildly explode with commentary about its own founder was a bit surreal as well. Here was a kind of public roasting that could not have taken place at all in the way that it had – globally, virally, and (as far as we know) uncensored, at least in some parts of the world. What other platform could have permitted M.Z. from being such an ongoing subject of public opinion, but his own? He might not have anticipated that would happen, but I suspect it didn’t surprise him much, and I doubt he would have had it any other way – this creation was working, in the sense that we all got to speak, read, shout, and share our opinions about whether free platforms enabling a kind of free speech only recently made possible by technology, subsidized by business interests (advertisers, data miners, and so on) was a good idea or not. We were, and of course always are, arguing about how best to communicate freely, while retaining our privacy, and considering the fidelity of the information we’re being presented with, and helping to spread around.
What else can we do, but innovate, make mistakes, and move on? That is, as far as my layman’s perspective understands, how technology advances. It does not always improve. It is not always well-advised to begin with. We should not fetish-ize it, and we should not blindly worship those who create it either. I would argue though, respectfully, that if we freely agree to use it, that we, as responsible users, do at least these things:
- Read the service agreements and understand them (or else be OK with the occasional surprise).
- Question the veracity of information we are exposed to while using them.
- Question the service’s need to collect the information it is collecting of us – is it all necessary?
- Understand who is at fault for mis-using our information, when it happens.
- Take responsibility for our role in freely providing information about ourselves to n-number of people and organizations who might have ideas about how to use it, that we might not agree with.
I started this entry with the intention of logging back onto Facebook and describing in general terms what kind of mess I found waiting for me, but once my fingers started moving, I realized I needed to get the above off my chest first, and see whether it created a discussion or just a bunch of rushing air. Probably the latter – I am still in a talking-to-myself stage with this thing (mostly – thank you to the handful of folks who pop in to read – this makes all the difference really).
I have no doubt however that someday, bots and algorithms and maybe even young digital archeologists will find this and perhaps connect my ever-expanding online profile of opinions, leanings, ideas, hopes, and fears, to some larger sets of these things, and that perhaps by then, somebody or some Thing will have figured out how the aggregation of our individualities can be designed, run, and respectfully monitored (this last thing is very open to debate, as it’s about censorship and general surveillance) to ensure it is all of demonstrably greater benefit to humanity and our shared environment and future, than it is of potential harm to those things.
I have hope this will happen. We’re still stumbling around like a toddler at the moment – our first steps as a real-time connected species might necessarily involve some serious mishaps. It’s learning.
Apparently, I owe myself and the FutureBots a Part III, wherein I (presumably) go through my Facebook alerts and notifications and updates, and then blog about that.
So in the end, I still haven’t Finished The Thing. Typical.
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