[P2P-F] death by social media

Eric Hunting erichunting at gmail.com
Mon Feb 23 18:51:48 CET 2015

I noticed this trend some years ago, to my own despair. I first noticed 
it in the way, month by month, the quality of many mailing list 
discussions deteriorated and then fell mostly silent. I noticed it in 
how I encountered increasingly vitriolic responses to posts on any topic 
that exceeded more than a single paragraph. The act of reading was 
becoming an ever-worsening imposition, making coherent on-line 
discussion increasingly difficult. In space advocacy forums, people 
would complain about how no one ever presented any 'plans' for doing 
anything then, when those plans were posted, those same people would 
complain about being expected to read them--like you were supposed to 
reduce every highly technical discussion to a bullet list.

Increasingly, mailing list based groups moved to Facebook pages on the 
premise that this was now where all the people were, which was true, but 
when my own forums went there I cautioned that the mode of use compelled 
by the Facebook interface was tailored to mobile devices and didn't 
allow for any form of coherent discussion. You could see this in how 
crude its text editing was, and how quickly you hit the wall in 
character count. It was a 'browsing' platform--a form originating in 
bulletin board and news aggregator sites--prone to what I call 
'browser's syndrome'; a cyclic scanning of 'news' in small chunks that 
creates a sort of hypnotic state which is disrupted by text that compels 
active conscious thought. It's a way of coping with an overwhelming 
volume of information by applying a kind of compartmentalization and 
rhythm to its assimilation. In effect, when people seemed to act 
compulsively angrily at any long post it was because they were 
responding to it the way a commuter does when encountering a traffic 
jam. It breaks the rhythm of the browsing routine. Disrupts the flow. 
Demands attention when people really want that steady thought-quelling 
rhythm of news-bytes, like the rocking of a cradle, or maybe the drum 
beat of the hortator... I worried that a lot of these groups would be 
killed by going to Facebook, their subject matter too sophisticated for 
such structure, and I was proved right. But what could you do? Facebook 
had all the eyeballs and it didn't so much shape the trend as conform to 
it. Personal computing itself was shifting from big screens to small. 
The ergonomics of reading was being changed to suit.

Facebook's appeal rests in the still intractable problem of the 
internet's vast scale and 'structurelessness', which relates to the 
limitations of the search engine to function as a coherent internet 
front-end. Facebook sort of crudely solves today the problem the 
Semantic Web is intended to solve some time in the future--and which 
used to be characterized by past futurists in the idea of the 
'personalized electronic daily newspaper'. I used to describe UNIX as 
being like visiting Tokyo during a blackout--having to navigate a vast 
city by flashlight. This is pretty-much what the Internet has long been 
like; passive, invisible, waiting for you to make some effort to go in 
and explore it with some collection of tools like a spelunker. You can't 
really do anything useful with, or get benefit from, the internet until 
you've established a kind of sub-net of your own into it that you can 
navigate, more-or-less, in a routine. This is what the features of web 
browsers were, crudely, about; creating default entry points into the 
net, giving you a memory of frequently used locations. News aggregators, 
like Reddit, emerged as a means to pool effort into making the internet 
more visible through a sort of centralized community window organized by 
topics, replacing the flashlight with a spotlight. As these became 
larger they became a kind of push-information front-end to the newest 
information on-line that you could brows like a newspaper. Facebook 
offers a kind of personalized push-info view into a certain portion of 
the internet--albeit rather crude. That personal electronic newspaper 
spit out of your combination toaster/coffeemaker/computer. You could 
argue it's what the web browser itself was really supposed to evolve 
into but didn't. Recently, analysts have discovered that, in many 
countries, large numbers of people can't tell the difference between the 
internet and Facebook because they don't really understand the 
relationship between the two. They will deny being 'internet users' 
while being avid Facebook users. They think they're two completely 
different things; the internet a 'computer thing' and Facebook what you 
use on a smartphone. Facebook has become a kind of Windows OS over the 
Internet (often, people's first interaction with it), with people no 
longer cognizant there's still something like DOS underneath.

Facebook may command the biggest mainstream mass of eyeballs, but it's a 
fundamentally inadequate communication medium and I think that will 
succumb to other media concepts in time. We're in a phase now where real 
competitors haven't yet been invented because developers of alternatives 
are still reacting to its scale and 'corporateness' rather than its form 
and structural and functional inadequacies as a communications medium. 
The form itself is not yet getting questioned. It's who's running it 
that people object to. The ironic thing about Facebook is that, for a 
social media platform, it's not really very much about social 
communication. It's really more of a short-form news/blog aggregator. 
It's still just another kind of bulletin board.

On 2/22/15 10:02 AM, p2p-foundation-request at lists.ourproject.org wrote:
> Death by Ten Billion Status Updates
>   How Facebook Killed the Internet
> Facebook killed the internet, and I’m pretty sure that the vast 
> majority of people didn’t even notice.
> I can see the look on many of your faces, and hear the thoughts. 
> /Someone’s complaining about Facebook again. Yes, I know it’s a 
> massive corporation, but it’s the platform we’re all using.  It’s like 
> complaining about Starbucks.  After all the independent cafes have 
> been driven out of town and you’re an espresso addict, what to do?  
> What do you mean “killed”?  What was killed?/
> I’ll try to explain.  I’ll start by saying that I don’t know what the 
> solution is.  But I think any solution has to start with solidly 
> identifying the nature of the problem.
> First of all, Facebook killed the internet, but if it wasn’t Facebook, 
> it would have been something else.  The evolution of social media was 
> probably as inevitable as the development of cell phones that could 
> surf the internet.  It was the natural direction for the internet to 
> go in.
> Which is why it’s so especially disturbing.  Because the solution is 
> not Znet or Ello.  The solution is not better social media, better 
> algorithms, or social media run by a nonprofit rather than a 
> multibillion-dollar corporation. Just as the solution to the social 
> alienation caused by everybody having their own private car is not 
> more electric vehicles.  Just as the solution to the social alienation 
> caused by everyone having their own cell phone to stare at is not a 
> collectively-owned phone company.
> Many people from the grassroots to the elites are thrilled about the 
> social media phenomenon.  Surely some of the few people who will read 
> this are among them.  We throw around phrases like “Facebook 
> revolution” and we hail these new internet platforms that are bringing 
> people together all over the world.  And I’m not suggesting they don’t 
> have their various bright sides.  Nor am I suggesting you should stop 
> using social media platforms, including Facebook.  That would be like 
> telling someone in Texas they should bike to work, when the whole 
> infrastructure of every city in the state is built for sports utility 
> vehicles.

Eric Hunting
erichunting at gmail.com

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