The Ending of Facebook is a Difficult Matter

I watched The Social Dilemma along with the rest of America. Mmmhmmm. Got it.

Then I watched two TED talks by Zeynep Tufekci. You need to type that letter by letter if you’re doing a search; I guarantee you will get it wrong the first time, and sympathize. Her 2017 TED talk is a 20-minute version of what Dilemma tried to do in a more entertaining way. Tufekci is less convoluted or trying to persuade with subtlety than giving up-front examples of what’s going wrong and why. The title of her talk might give you a clue as to her straightforwardness: We’re Building a Dystopia just to make People Click on Ads.

Really summed it up well for me. But the gathering of a thousand points of data every time I click or don’t click on an ad, a suggested content page below my home screen, one of those cute little quizzes to determine which Disney Princess I would be, those aren’t actually why I left Facebook for the time being.

We are not meant to know everything everyone else is thinking 24/7. If there really were clairvoyants, they would go crazy under the weight of all that emotional sound. I have friends who will argue about how to peel potatoes. And I have friends who will argue that peeling the potato the wrong way is a plot from QAnon or the Democrats.

No thanks; I actually like to eat the potato peel when possible. Lotta vitamins in there and the texture adds interest to the mashed spuds. (Oh crap, did I just argue my case?)

Thing is, I have seen Facebook do many wonderful things, and with careful control, maybe it would still. I’m working with a plan for a social media manager to organize the difference between my writing and my social time. Most of the issues with FB for me started after publication of our latest book. Even Amazon went crazy; someone tried to post a review and because of the title Amazon blocked some of the words.

The free flow of ideas in America has always depended on platform access. And a little bit of human empathy. And maybe even kindness or at least wisdom. I blocked a guy in DC for being certain that no one from DC could ever be wrong about interpreting what rural people thought. He didn’t see it that way. In fact, he didn’t see anything except his own status. That’s always the case with some men, and has nothing to do with FB except that because of his importance he had a group of yes-sirs about him. He had a pile-up of people who needed him to see loyalty, and he was counting on that. Had we been in a small town hall meeting, it would have been the same dynamic. Not down to Facebook.

A friend’s mom had ALS and was slowly deteriorating. A woman of faith and infinite kindness, she remarried two years before her death to a guy who really loved her and looked after her. One night, in a fit of insomnia, I was online and a status came up on her timeline. More or less it said, I feel so lost and scared and I know I’m going to see Jesus, but what if I’m wrong, or it’s not true, or I wasn’t good enough, or it hurts….

Three minutes later she had a pile-up. Some 47 people were simultaneously saying 1) I know you. If anyone was ever going to meet Jesus and have him carry her up the steps to the Golden City, it’s you. You’re nothing but love in human form. 2) It’s true. You’re just scared. How could you not be, going through what you’re going through? Doubt during fear doesn’t disqualify you from everything we said about number 1. 3) If it hurts, we will pray for you. A few people who had ALS said, we understand. Those who didn’t have ALS said, we’re here for you.

It was beautiful. In the middle of the night, she had a community–of many people she didn’t even know–for the best possible reason. They comforted her. That couldn’t have happened without Facebook.

I have no answers for whether some ideas are so bad, we shouldn’t have access to them. I have no answers for how many things advertisers and potentially other actors know about us because of our casual use of an intense service with little regulation. No answers for the very bad times that could be coming because of what Zeynep Tufekci et al outline, or when its arrival will be noticed in the rear view mirror instead of distant thunder from dark clouds on the horizon. That is actually a separate problem to the choices made by people to listen or not listen to each other. The algorithms will always listen.

I will get back on FB eventually, after a little judicious managing and deeper insights. No clicking on notifications, suggested content, ads or quizzes. That can manage the computer side. But the other decisions, empathy over outrage, listening over posturing, are mine. When and if I get involved in a pile-up, I will pray it is for the right reasons.

Grandma was Right?!

seriouslyWhen I was a little girl we lived next door to my father’s parents. They were strict people: no short sleeves, no jewelry (including wedding rings) no music except hymns on Sundays.

But they were also great fun, being crazier than anyone else I knew. In my house, books lined the hallway, flowed across bedroom floors, covered every flat surface. In theirs lived just three: a Bible (KJV and don’t you forget it); a strange novel from the 1920s called something like Mary of the Hazel Woods, about a mountain girl’s search for book larnin’ so she could get herself a Bible – which she did months later after taking in sewing and then walking barefoot through the woods for eight miles to buy one second-hand, repairing the cover with her sewing needle; and, for some unknown reason, a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

I don’t think they’d read the sonnets. I read every book in their house at least three times in the years they babysat me after school, and by age eleven understood that a bunch of those poems were about sex. I didn’t let on, though; I’d had enough of that self-righteous prig Mary o’ Hazel Woods.

Everyone in my family but them liked books. And although everyone in my family liked God and talked about Him a lot, Grandma and Grandpa said things the rest of us didn’t. Like He didn’t like it when people with straight hair used curlers.

So¬† I grew up viewing my grandparents with equal parts love and suspicion, learning not to rely too much on Grandma’s little homilies, delivered as we were cooking or sewing together. Among other things, Grandma believed women should not go to college, that when Catholics died they shot down a specially reserved chute straight into Hell, and that the people across the street were spies for the CIA.

“Why would that matter, Grandma?” I asked, still kinda stuck on the “girls shouldn’t go to college” part.

“Because they’re spying on me.”

“The CIA wants to spy on you?”

“‘Course they do. They wanna know ever’thin’ ’bout ‘ever’body in America.”

“Uhh, okay, Grandma. How do I turn this seam?”

As the years flew by, it grew simpler to filter out the silly stuff–like not having sex except to have children (which explained why some of the extended family had so many, but I kept my mouth shut)–and hang onto the stuff that seemed wise–like darning socks over a light bulb, and putting the milk into the biscuit batter last.

Trouble is, I missed a good one. All these years later, with Grandma long gone and her granddaughter crocheting her own socks after getting a PhD and then opening a bookstore, I have to admit Grandma was right about the spying. The CIA does watch everybody – or maybe it’s that NSA, or whoever’s in charge of the Internet now. Everywhere you turn it’s Edward Snowden, data mining, privacy rights, and on and on and on.

Who knew?

Sorry, Gran, you were right the whole time. About that. I’m still not buying that women should stay home with three books and not go to college. Love you, though, and thanks for the recipes!