One day soon, FB will only be a platform for: 1.beautiful photos 2. advertising 3. Wordlers.
-Carol Bergman on Facebook 2/17/2022
I had yet another robotic experience with a bank this week, got tangled in a labyrinth, and could not get in touch with a person who was not reading from a script, asking me about my day, or thanking me for my business. I was angry and disconsolate, not to mention that my "problem" had not been solved. I refused to do the survey. Why all these surveys? I then posted a provocative statement on Facebook, which reminded me that I have not ruminated about social media, declarations of love and war on social media, or the degradation of social media, in a while, so this post is both directly and obliquely related to yesterday's robotic de-humanizing experience with the bank, if that makes any sense. Does it?
I wrote about Facebook when it first began in 2004, soon after I got my MA in Media Studies from The New School where I had read McLuhan, among others. I applauded the platform as useful, enjoyable, an amplification of global discourse, a safe space to be playful and/or serious, all this long before the abuses of the platform by bad actors and the Congressional hearings about social media irresponsibility and regulation v The First Amendment, a difficult subject. I had found an old college friend who was a FB friend of a FB cousin, and was warmed by the reconnection. Stories such as these were commonplace, and still are, thankfully. Even the acronym FB is now solidly integrated into our daily digital and real-time conversations. We now understand that social media platforms can be humanizing or de-humanizing, used or abused, vectors of hate or love, a platform to bully or celebrate. It is our responsibility—what Graham Greene called the human factor—that evolves the medium, or devolves the medium.
During Covid isolation, our dependency on social media platforms has deepened. These are portals into a larger world from which, for so many months, we have been banished. But when I click onto Facebook these days, I feel queasy. I have noted for a while now that an interesting landscape and snapshots of happy families on vacation will get more "likes" than a serious statement, for example, or a post about Afghan women. Videos have become addictive—dogs and animals for me—and even the tart satire of Randy Rainbow and Trevor Noah has faded away from my feeds. Maybe I don't have enough friends, or the "wrong" friends, is that it? Or has this platform diluted so significantly that it will soon morph into a game show, a physical phenomenon known as entropy. Are we, as humans, also suffering from entropy? Are we so exhausted by—everything—that we can no longer sustain a serious conversation, or feel compassion and act on it? Is this a fall-out reaction from the pandemic, or would it have happened anyway?
As I mentioned Wordle in my FB post, a reminder here that it is owned by the NY Times, a venerable and formidable institution I revere; it now has 7,000 journalists and a strict code of conduct. But what is Wordle beyond an enjoyable word game, exactly? Connective tissue? Scrabble on wheels, or a cash cow? Does it do any harm? Obviously not, or probably not? Is it addictive? Is it meant to deliver the user to an advertiser, change an algorithm? I'm not sure. My main complaint is its effect: my Wordle FB friends have stopped posting other comments. They seem obsessed.
This morning I woke to a howling wind and rain spattering hard on the windows. Wires went down again and there was a post from the New Paltz police that their telephone service was disrupted. I knew they would find a way to protect this small town regardless, as they did during the recent ice storm. I asked Alexa to play some piano jazz—yes, I have a robot in my apartment collecting data—and over a hearty breakfast, I read George Packer's disturbing article in The Atlantic, "We Are All Realists Now." I thought of the humanitarian workers I'd met and worked with when I compiled Another Day in Paradise. I am still occasionally in touch with four of them, all of whom continue with humanitarian work; they have not retired or lost their idealism. What explains their tenacity, their refusal to become disenchanted, discouraged, or robotic? Why are they the exception and not the rule? What if all of us shut down our phone and computers, stepped outside the door, and walked into the howling wind, regardless of the danger, or the interruption to our privileged digital lives?
#socialmedia #wordle #humanitarianinitiatives