Friday, February 06, 2009

In which I pick sides between New and Old Media

I have some very, very serious reservations about the "social networking" site Facebook. Mostly, these revolve around the fact that Facebook (much like, um, blogger, which I am using now) is a commercial website that actively extracts information from its users for the benefit of advertisers. That makes it a fairly pernicious form of surveillance, leading to the very real possibility of the commodification of yet more of our existences, yet more opportunities for capital to take our lives away and sell them back to us.

Yet still, I have to admit, Facebook users have managed to build a fairly compelling social space within this sort of virtual shopping mall. That is what makes the danger of surveillance and commodification so dangerous. All that said, I thinl criticisms of the social habits of Facebookers like this one are badly off the mark.

This author sets out to criticize facebook's "25 Things" meme, which I had myself been annoyed with and had parodied a bit here. I had thought "25 Things" to be worth critique because it invited people to share facts about themselves in this environment of surveillance. And, I admit, sometimes I found people's facts a bit boring.

The author of the article I link to above, however, seems to take offense at the very notion that the proles might dare to write about themselves in this crass new medium made of tubes "the internets." First of all, it distracts them from their proper task of working their assigned jobs within the system! "Assuming it takes someone 10 minutes to come up with their list," she writes,"this recent bout of viral narcissism has sent roughly 800,000 hours of worktime productivity down the drain." Oh noes! Its not like our society is currently undergoing a "crisis of demand" where we can't come up with consumers for all our precious productivity! No, no... back to work proles! We see you slacking on your facebooks! Your role in life is to toil, never to write.

Her other critique is that Average people Suck and should not be permitted to express themselves. You think I'm being too hard on her. Here is what she says in her own words: "Most people aren't funny, they aren't insightful, and they share way too much. Facebook is a loose social network; a "friend" on Facebook might translate to someone you'd barely recognize in real life. I don't care that my college roommate's sister is anemic or that my stepcousin's boyfriend gets nervous around old people (apparently he's afraid they're going to die)." Hear that average people, you aren't funny or insightful! You must SHUT UP now and permit your duly appointed scribbling class the honor of expressing things for you. You couldn't possibly have anything to contribute.

You know, I'll admit it, I'm not always entertained by the things folks share on Facebook. Sometimes I'm even annoyed by what I see as clumsy language or cliched expressions. But listen, Time magazine writer person, shouldn't that make us wonder what is wrong with us, rather than them. People everywhere are clearly desperate to express themselves, to share something of their lives with a larger community, even through imperfect electronic means. There are important reasons to criticize the means, to try to make them better, but I don't think there is any reason to be so condescending to the people who are using them. Maybe, instead, we should take the time to listen, to get to know our fellow human beings, rather than insisting our knowledge of humanity come pre-packaged in pithy prose by writers who have been approved by the proper social elites and commercial enterprises.

One Thing

Just for the sake of updating the ol' blog. Wasn't tonight's Episode of "The Office" a pretty solid episode? I felt like the promo shot, with what's-her-face Jim's girlfriend from last season, heavily pregnant were meant to set us up a bit as viewers. Make us do the math in our heads. Make us wonder "will they really go there? I thought they were smarter than that?"

And ultimately, they were smarter than that. I like how they have steadfastly refused to break Pam and Jim up this season, and present us with a completely unbelievable "Ross and Rachel" style relationship-on-permanent-hold to somehow attempt to keep "tension" in the series. Instead they've tried to render two people trying to make things work, imperfectly but honestly, within the sit-com format. I think that has been a brave move, even if they have sometimes faltered in their execution (the whole "oh look they are having a crisis" resolved with a "wait no they aren't, they love each other EVEN MORE" bit is starting to wear a little thin).

So there, my opinion on the current season of The Office, for what it is worth, which is very little.

Oh and the new judge on Top Chef is a total ass. What a tool.