Blog Topic : This is the Way the World(Wide Web) Ends

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Regis: So, Kate, was exploring social media this semester worth it?

Kate: More than anything I have done thus far in the grad school.

Regis: Does this whole world of social media do more harm than good?

Kate: Absolutely. Definitely not.

Regis: What do you think of the social media will you still be using in six months?

Kate: Well, Rege, six months is a long time, and I almost deleted my Facebook account last night (Kelly gasps and looks faint.).

Regis: Talk about switching costs! (*cue cheesy audience laugh track)

Kate: Well, there are other costs to consider, I think.

Kelly: Tell ‘em, girl! My son asked me for $10 last night to save his best friend’s pig from imminent death on Farmville! (* Audience is now in stitches. If only I could be so easily amused.)

Kate: Well, that definitely one kind of cost.

Regis: But not the kind of cost you’re talking about?

Kate: Not quite. I was really referring more to the toll social media is taking on the richness of our human experiences, and the way it is altering the amount of living we get out of life.

Regis and Kelly: …

Kate: But I’ll save that for my blog. For now, all I’m willing to guarantee is that in a year, I’ll still have a special place in my heart for Wikipedia.

Regis: Final answer?

Kate: Final answer.

Regis: Well, there you have it, folks. The kid likes Wikipedia.

Kate: (nodding in affirmation) The kid likes Wikipedia.


So I lied to Regis. But who doesn’t?

I appreciate so much more in my online life than just Wikipedia. I love YouTube (especially this). I see great value in Google (though, as much as I hate to admit any kind of intimidation, I am also now very leery of it). I am no gamer, and probably never will be, but I can appreciate the entertainment and enjoyment others derive from it.

But let me tell you something: I truly, passionately, and dedicatedly loathe Facebook, and am waiting for the moment in the next few weeks that I work up the nerve to scrap the thing, or at the very least strip it bare and pledge not to log on until I receive a message from a long-long friend in Prague or my long-lost twin, á la Parent Trap. I am all-too aware that until I do so, I loathe it as a hypocrite. But loathe it I do. I hate everything about what it has become. There is a reason why Facebook has consistently been the first example to be vocalized every time we have discussed betrayals of acceptable bargains.

In my mind, Facebook is the outlier of the course that skews everything away from the long tail that I so appreciate and admire and towards the bulky head. While this isn’t exactly on-point with long tail philosophy, it’s the only way I know to describe my feelings about it. And unfortunately, the head of the tail is so huge and overwhelming that it outweighs the small, quirky pleasures residing in the tail. I feel as if Facebook is beating me over the head daily. Yes, it’s partially masochistic because I’m the one choosing to log on. But at the same time, the stress of not logging on, not knowing what my friends are doing this weekend so that I can join them, not having seen the most recent viral video, not being “with it,” is equally as debilitating. Or is it? Is it really?

I don’t really feel that it’s Metcalfe’s Law that has ruined Facebook for me. It’s not the sheer bulk of users, nor the fact that my own Facebook universe has ruinously exceeded Dunbar’s Number. Facebook ruined Facebook. Facebook ruined its own tool. And by ruining the tool, it ruined the way people use the tool. And now I have a hard time not feeling great antipathy towards both the tool and the way people use it. In other words, I dislike the tool and the people it is turning my friends into, the person it is turning me into.  People who used to seem wonderfully mysterious and complex to me have ruined their mystique by doing things like “checking in” to Whole Foods and inviting me to pet their cow. Goodbye, Holden Caulfield. Hello, Cher Horowitz.

And accordingly, I fear that with every damn article I stream to Facebook, every insipid status update I am inspired to post, I am ruining a tiny piece of something that was once discoverable about myself by rendering it searchable instead.

I used to drive my dad insane by taking so long to unwrap each present on Christmas morning. To my mother’s disappointment, I didn’t do so out of appreciation for the beauty of the wrapping paper. The beauty I saw was in maximizing the discovery, heightening the anticipation of what lay within. Because until it was revealed, anything could be in that box. Sometimes the present was better than that feeling of possibility. Sometimes it wasn’t.

And the same goes for people. The greatest gift I have ever received is the opportunity to unwrap others (get your mind out of the gutter!) who fascinate, intrigue, and enchant me. I used to fall in love with people so easily – not the kind of love that leads to two rings and a picket fence, but the kind that renders you captive with each revelation and story shared. My gratitude for these stories used to be so great that it could make my throat hurt.

But in the past few years, it strikes me that I haven’t felt this way very often. I don’t think I have enough opportunities to unwrap people anymore. Before I really know a person, their life is offered up on a platter to me – for free – on Facebook. And I am expected to reveal mine in return or suffer the consequence of losing the opportunity to get to know anyone at all. Because God knows my chance of getting to know someone is now greater on Facebook than it is at a dinner in which everyone’s concentration is more on their Blackberries than the faces in front of them.

God, ourselves. Of all the commodities to just give away.

I don’t want to go too much into what Powers discusses Hamlet’s Blackberry, as the majority of my final personal post revolves around these themes, but I will say that I have agreed with him for some time, and his book was a great comfort to me. As embarrassing as that is to admit, I have to. After all, I was seriously nerdy before nerdy became cool (and I’m not sure that real nerdiness ever made the cut…call me when watching Bill Nye the Science Guy while reading Sideways Stories From Wayside School doesn’t earn looks comparable to having a second head) so it only goes to reason that I be seriously concerned by all of this awesome technology that, in all likelihood, most people will never find reason to be concerned by. Ironically, many of these unconcerned people likely fall into that large and dangerous category of Americans who are using the internet badly, people who are so affected by it that they take on the belief that the moon landing was filming in a California basement. But that’s a problem for another day, and another class — #MPPR 851: Elements of Unstable Paranoia and Conspiracy Theorizing.

This post has circumnavigated what I am supposed to speak to, what I want to say: This course has been of greater utility to me than any I have taken thus far in my graduate career. Not just because it informed me of tools I didn’t yet know of, and not just because it taught me to more effectively use and understand those I already did. The best part for me has been this: We have spend a good deal of time discussing how all of this affects what it is to be human in this very modern world of ours. And isn’t that what we should really be talking about in every class? Isn’t that the most important thing? Not just what this means for my communications plan, or what that means for my job prospects. What the technologies of this world mean for humanity. For our identities. For how we relate to one another. For revealing how we’re different and how we’re the same. For connecting us. For disconnecting us. For helping us not lie on our deathbeds wondering why we spent so much time sending IMs.

And one more thing, classmates of mine: I love all of you. A million thanks for allowing yourselves to be unwrapped.

* Image from: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3343/3479491687_6fb8b34835.jpg?v=0

  1. Nice rant. Just get it all out. 😉

    So, what do you think about the new Facebook redesign?

    • I’m glad I rant nicely, because I really like to rant 🙂
      You know, the pathetic thing is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to figure out exactly what all has changed every time they change Facebook these days. The changes obviously go beyond the obvious aesthetic alterations, which worries me. And serves as yet another tiny poke towards the emergency exit…

  2. Loved it, Kate! Could NOT agree more (well except for the Facebook hatred, haha). Check out my response blog to your fabulous post: http://jessiegillman.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/response-blog-2-sideways-stories/

  3. Cheers, Kate. A golden nugget as usual. By the way, I thought we were in #MPPR 851: Elements of Unstable Paranoia and Conspiracy Theorizing — maybe just me.

  4. […] Undoubtedly, yes. This course was not about exploring tools or technology for me. Similar to Kate, it was about discovering human behavior. As Shirky states, this whole Web 2.0 movement is not […]

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