February 11, 2013

And Now, An Overdue Fisk

The trouble with Facebook is the people

Prepare yourself for one of the more unintentionally ironic editorials in recent memory, starting with the lead sentence:

Forget about the privacy concerns, the onslaught of ads, the annoying design of your profile page.

Keep in mind that was written by a newspaper columnist. While this editorial is essentially a diatribe against Facebook, that lead sentence perfectly describes what's wrong with 95 percent of newspapers online.

If people are slowly turning away from Facebook, it's not because the company has overreached or gone over to the dark side.

It's because we've come to realize that people are boring.

People. Newspapers. Take your pick. People have been turning away from newspapers in droves, well before Facebook came onto the scene, but that inconvenient bit of inconvenience apparently escapes this Boston Globe columnist.

Surely you've noticed this yourself, as you've scrolled through updates about vacations and restaurant meals, plus notices about how many of your friends are currently playing Candy Crush Saga.

Try writing that a different way: Surely you've noticed this yourself, as you've paged through newspaper sections about vacations and restaurants, plus obituary notices and pointless games like crosswords and Sodoku.

A survey released last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 61 percent of Facebook users have taken a "Facebook vacation," for reasons that had little to do with how the company behaves. "Too busy" was the most common complaint, followed by "just wasn't interested" and "it was a waste of time."

Aside from being the same complaints most people unsubscribing or not subscribing to newspapers would voice, I have to wonder whether Pew actually surveyed 61 of Facebook users. Seems high. Like, suspiciously, ridiculously high. But, we're not treated to any methodology or sampling tactics here. We're supposed to take it on faith that 61 percent of Facebook users (worldwide, presumably) are just up and taking a break. Gosh, far be it for a newspaper to provide incomplete context. That's something you'd expect, I don't know. . . Facebook friends to do, or something.

"It's a reckoning moment," said Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew project. "People are making little mental calculations about how much time do I want to devote to this, what's the quality of the material I get from my friends?"

Nothing like skipping over important details like methodology or sampling, when you can just ask for a quick quote from a Pew director.

This is, in some ways, a significant milestone in our growing relationship with social media.

If you say so, Boston Globe columnist who is basically plucking crap from her butt.

Early complaints about Facebook centered on the fact that interactions were fake: hand-picked, overglossed, idealized personal statements that were bound to make your friends feel insecure, and vice versa.

See also: The Letters to the Editor section of most major newspapers. The irony meter is just whistling off the charts here.

But now that we're all familiar with the Facebook mask, the problem might be that our posts are too real, and that reality isn't worth our time.

Wait. So what is it? A mask? Or reality? You can't have it both ways.

Earnest efforts to promote unplugging, such as the annual Screen Free Week, are gaining traction, and Facebook's policies have done their part to diminish our trust. But it turns out that our own inanity is also a powerful force.

Where is the proof the annual "Screen Free Week" is gaining traction? Again, are we just supposed to take the writer's incomplete word on that? And, while I won't disagree that Facebook's policies are annoying and trust eroding, they're no more egregious than the omnipresent sign-in and sign-up screens that have become the norm for most online newspapers. You can't tell me they're using that sign up information for altruistic pursuits like kissing baby seals and giving polar bears tummy rubs.

Not that it's time to fear for Mark Zuckerberg's welfare. Facebook is used by a mind-boggling 67 percent of adult Americans online, including your mother, your father, your great-aunt Hilda, and your long-lost friend from high school with a political vendetta. The fact that we're now settling into a mature routine is actually a sign of how intertwined our lives are with our feeds -- and how much we feel an obligation to take part.

That whole paragraph completely flies in the face of everything that appeared before it, including the Pew number of "61 percent of Facebook users are taking a break." So, nearly 70 percent of people online use Facebook, but maybe, possibly, 61 percent of those are taking a break from Facebook--which, by the way, never explains what "a break" entails. I took a break from Facebook over the weekend, so does that lump me in with this 61 percent? It's like saying "60 percent of the time, Facebook users take a break every time."

As much as I grumble, after all, I still feel compelled to dip into the Facebook universe every few days, posting photos of depressingly minor life events -- Attention, world! My child went to the dentist! -- or scrolling down the news feed and "liking" 15 items in one sitting. I'm marking my presence, like a dog. If I lay off the site for a few days, I invariably miss six birthdays and feel like a jerk. If I stay away for longer, I worry I'll miss big news.

As much as you grumble, indeed. So, you hate Facebook, but you can't stay away, because you're a dog. Or something. As for missing "big news," you presumably work in a newsroom with an AP and Reuters feed. . . I think you'll catch the big news. Facebook won't miss you.

Every new medium eventually finds its purpose. Twitter works great as a news aggregator and wisecrack-sharing platform. Pinterest is a gallery for home-decor ideas. Facebook has become the accepted repository for information about births, deaths, and traumatic family events. It's also reasonably good for mobilizing social movements and conducting virtual yard sales.

This is simultaneously rich in irony and deeply perplexing. So, she doesn't care for Facebook much, but she thinks Twitter is GREAT?! She likes Pinterest, but seems oblivious how much cross-over there is between Pinterest and Facebook. Then there's just so much she leaves out about what Facebook is used for. I use it for. . . wait for it. . . a wisecrack-sharing platform, for example, and repository for self-deprecating humor and general silliness. On the professional side, we use Facebook to promote our store, thereby sidestepping the traditional avenue of. . . newspaper advertising. To have this columnist explain Facebook, you'd think it consists entirely of people telling the world about dead grandmas. It's almost like she doesn't know what she's even writing about.

For photos of kids and vacations? Well, there's this nifty thing called paper. A few weeks ago, we finally took down our display of holiday cards, those cheery family photos that Facebook should have rendered obsolete. They still feel more valuable than the average digital post, precisely because they're worth the cost of bulk printing and a stamp, and because they require the physical act of opening an envelope.

Or, here's a thought: do both. There's nothing stopping you from sending cards with cheery family photos AND posting those same photos to Facebook. In fact, I would estimate roughly 70 percent of photos we received in the mail I also saw on Facebook. The world can handle both without going into some sort of photo-absorbing meltdown.

Holiday cards are one of the last remaining things that we still instinctively send by mail, along with thank-you notes and the occasional party invitation. Right after the Pew Facebook study came out, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it was dropping Saturday delivery, prompting a flood of lamentations -- on social media, of course -- from people who may not have written a letter by hand in years. I, too, will miss the weekend mail, but it's hard to argue with reality. The other day, the sum total of my mail was an electric bill and a flier from Costco.

This woman doesn't seem to quite grasp when she's contradicting herself in glorious fashion, does she? She gets an electric bill and a Costco flier in the mail, but she read all about postal service lamentations -- on social media, of course. Good thing she has editors, I guess.

If someone sent you a snail-mail photo of his kids every day or every week, you'd think he suffered from a personality disorder. But holiday cards are an annual thrill, precisely because they come once a year. Looking for a new, Facebook 2.0 standard for how much we ought to share? It turns out we might have had it all along.

Well, except you can post multiple photos on Facebook at once, in something called an "Album," whereas if you attempted to send an album via snail mail, someone might just think you suffered from a personality disorder. Plus, sending an entire album via snail mail to everybody you know would probably require a loan. Each year. At Christmas.

Posted by Ryan at February 11, 2013 11:09 AM | TrackBack
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