This Is Us

It’s not Facebook. It’s us.

I’m not letting ZuckerLand off the hook. Choices were made, corporate choices. Conceptual choices. Choices based on a worldview, and a concept. Good, bad: it is what it became, and that path wasn’t random. Facebook owns itself.

But it’s a platform. There would have been a Facebook, always. And Facebook just won that particular battle; others saw where we were going and tried to design our landing spot. Facebook just won.

So, I need to set that aside. I’ve been worrying and kvetching and ranting about it for a long time, distracted by the big bull’s eye. It’s always been us.

And we were warned.

The prophets were there. Andy Warhol nailed the irresistible lure of imaginary celebrity. Ray Bradbury extrapolated his uneasiness into fiction that felt uncomfortably possible. Karl Jung opened the door to our secret lives. Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin all saw the fragility of self-rule, and how it could easily break.

And Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, called it. Such a cliché. Such a truth.

As U.S. intelligence agencies became more alarmed and more about Russian spread of disinformation on social media during the election, it became clear that there were a lot of sites that looked official and were just propaganda. The media and others began referring to these as “fake news.”

And almost immediately, the Trump campaign (and others, but mostly them) began diluting the term and erasing its origins. Suddenly all news that didn’t praise Trump became “fake news.” Are we at war with Oceania or Eurasia? What day is it?

Now we have the alt-left. Now we have “many sides.” Now we have the notion that people standing up to white supremacy and fascist ideology are just as bad as, if not worse than, those Nazi-saluting, goose-stepping, hate-spewing thugs who shout about the Jews and the blacks and the browns and the gays and the women and everyone else who isn’t their sad reflection in that cracked mirror.

This is from the playbook. Facebook just makes it easier, now.

Rejecting Facebook now would be like an author rejecting Amazon. Your principles will remain intact, and your book will remain unread. You can survive without it, easily, and probably be better off, but your world will be less complete. You’ll miss stuff. You’ll live, but you’ll miss stuff. And if social media has taught us anything, it’s that FoMO is a real thing.

Facebook can’t police us. It can try. It will fail. The tools they’ve trickled out are useful but incomplete, because more control leads us away from the concept. We can curate, but it’s limited, all or nothing, blunt instruments when we could use a few sharp knives. If I want to see the pictures of your vacation, I also have to see the various things you like, and comment on. Leading me to all sorts of places I wish I couldn’t go.

This is the Facebook siren. It calls us to engage, that’s the mission statement, and we’re led to engagement by our worst impulses. Someone on the Internet is wrong. We need to correct, and so on.

Not ever gonna end well. Or end.

I still haven’t figured out what to do. It’s not a new problem for me; years before Facebook, my target was instant messaging, primitive Twitter, ripe for misunderstandings and miscommunication. We’re not built to communicate this way, we have no skills for this.

But as I said on (wait for it) Facebook yesterday, it’s not a niche platform. It’s how we touch base these days. Again, if Facebook didn’t exist, someone would have invented it anyway.

And if someone builds a monument to Mark Zuckerberg someday, if they haven’t already, I wonder who might protest, and how. Because by that time, history will not be able to be erased. History will be cached. Good luck to us.

Chuck SigarsComment