Dear Marta,

I've been thinking of going off F*c*b**k. There are all kinds of reasons not to like F*c*b**k, then again it is useful. 6 years or so ago my students loved F*c*b**k. Today, nobody loves F*c*b**k. But everybody uses it. Today F*c*b**k is like the Phone Book. Nobody loves the phone book. But that doesn't mean it isn't useful.

a year without F*c*b**k

Here's a few reasons not to love F*c*b**k:

  1. Spacetime Distortion
  2. Nymwars
  3. Context Collapse
  4. Banality
  5. Privacy & Publicness

1. Spacetime Distortion

I think this is the biggest reason for many peeps to think about jumping off the FB steamroller. It just drains too much of their time. This actually isn't a reason for me, as I spend very little time on FB. Then again, that could be part of why I experience it as a space of banality. I don't really participate on FB, I'm mostly just a linkspammer. Spending more time on FB might be annoying, but it also might contribute to a richer experience.

2. Nymwars

FB is very much about pouring the pancake batter of your life into the template of their waffle iron. This works great for lots of people. Sharing baby or pet pix or recent activities across the country or across the globe is wonderful. But the authoritarian space of FB also doesn't work great for lots of people. FB is up to something like 1.7 billion users now. But they also ban thousands of people every day.

Who does FB ban? People who choose to live their life on their own terms instead of living their life on F*c*b**k's terms. The term Nymwars was actually coined in response to then Google VP Vic Gundotra's Real Name Policy for Google+ and his subsequent witch hunt urging users to out people who used pseudonyms on G+ so he could ban them. It was pretty bad. If you used a pseudonym on G+ they'd not only ban you from G+, but also lock you out of years of Google Docs you'd created and other draconian acts. After a while Google fired Vic Gundotra. They never exactly apologized for the damage their real names policy did, but at least of the real names policy they finally said, "never mind."

Meanwhile, F*c*b**k has chugged along, the dominant communications platform on the planet, selectively choosing who is allowed to have a voice and who is not.

The United Nations has defined the ability to participate in culture as a basic human right. When 1.7B people speak on your platform, I don't think selectively choosing who can be heard is acceptable. If you don't like our terms, go somewhere else, doesn't work when you are the conversation. For me then, F*c*b**k is a human rights violator because they regularly deny certain people the ability to participate in culture.

Who does F*c*b**k ban?

  1. Drag Queens
  2. Avatars
  3. Abuse Survivors
  4. Dissident Bloggers
  5. Teachers
  6. Celebrities*
  7. Identity Explorers

and many others. I put an asterisk on Celebrities, because while it's true that public figures often want to have a pseudonymous presence where then can participate unstalked, it's also true that F*c*b**k has an if you're famous, the rules don't apply to you policy.

3. Context Collapse

Here in the United States, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was often characterized as "crazy," but I thought in maintaining power for 40 years he was a masterful communicator. Ironically the dance that Gaddafi had to do for 40 years is today a dance that every teenager on FB has to do.

Before mass media and fast news dissemination, you could say different things to different audiences. American politicians have done this since forever. Their issues change depending on what part of the country they're speaking in. They literally speak with a bit of a Southern accent in the South, and a New England accent in New England. They got away with this because people in different areas usually didn't hear much of their speeches to other audiences.

Gaddafi didn't have that luxury. His control of a nation dangled by a thread wedged between The United States and Hamas. If he speech went a little too far one way, he was bombed by The United States. A little too far the other way, he was overthrown by Hamas. No doubt after decades on a tightrope, people would think I was crazy too. The Context Collapse he experienced, the inability to segment his audiences, to give one message to one group and a varied message to another group, is the way we exist on FB today.

Internet sociologist danah boyd tells the story of a girl who broke up with her boyfriend. She didn't want her mom to worry about her. But she also wanted her friends to know how depressed she felt. So she put on her Facebook wall "Look on the sunny side of life." Her mom read that and thought she was doing ok. But her friends read it and knew it was from Monty Python. It was the song they sang when they were marching off to be executed.

That teen did a masterful job of coding her message for multiple audiences. Many of us don't do such an elegant job. Our FB posts are seen by Family, Friends, Coworkers, and others. A lot of my students are respectful with their families, they cuss with their friends, and they try to be professional with coworkers. That's hard on FB. Increasingly peeps consider FB to be their Permanent Record and only make occasional summary posts there, saving the actual moments of their lives for a more managed space like Snapchat.

When I post something with progressive leanings on FB, I might get a few likes from art friends, but I also create a bit of friction with my large, and largely Born Again Christian, family. IDK if that stress is worth it. I'm not the leader of Libya. Although having a .ly domain name might be pretty cool! :P

4. Banality

The strongest argument for FB for me is that there's no denying it puts your work in front of more eyeballs, a lot more, than any other communications platform.

But FB is also a space of banality. It's a place where even smart people say stupid things. You might write a finely articulated 1600-word piece, but most peeps on FB will only see the title and one sentence on FB. Many will just give that a like because they like you. Of the few who actually comment, most will be commenting on the FB snippet, not your elegantly argued 1600 words.

Standing in stark contrast to this is the beautiful and elegant work of an artist like Micol Hebron. She's used FB for projects like her Gallery Tally. Ignoring or deleting the banality of FB might be nice, turning it into a powerful tool for the social production of compelling artworks is brilliant!

5. Privacy & Publicness

Like Spacetime Distortion, this one applies differently to me than to many others. A lot of peeps today, certainly many more of my students than a few years ago, are concerned with privacy in cyberspace. I am not. I'm not trying to be more private, I'm trying to be more public.

For sure everyone should find their own comfort zone in this regard. And they should be allowed to changed it over time and in different contexts.

It's sort of ironic that people like Mark Zuckerberg, and corporations like Facebook want their many millions and billions of users to be as Public as possible, yet Zuckerberg's own life, and Facebook's corporate dealings are largely private.

The world would be a better place if corporations and governments had less privacy and more publicness, and if citizens had more privacy options. More transparency for governments and corporations, less surveillance for citizens. This, by the way, is why Edward Snowden currently finds his freedom in, of all places, Vladimir Putin's Moscow.

BTW, in last week's California Presidential Primary Election, I wrote in Edward Snowden as my vote for President. Or at least I tried to. At my local polling place at The Taiwan Center on the corner of Garvey & Walnut Grove (see, I told you I lived in New Taipei!) they told me there are no write-ins!? I showed them the info on my sample ballot that showed how to write-in someone's name for an office. They said, yeah, we don't do that. I asked if I could still write my candidate's name in the write in box on the ballot. They gave me a pen to do it, but told me they don't count write-ins. The also told me I was the 1st person in the local precinct to ever want to write-in a candidate's name!

Silhouettes against a blue background Image: Independent.co.uk

What Next?

Given that I've just written 2,000 words on why FB sucks, it kind of seems like I should stop using it, and stop talking about it, already. After all, there are plenty of awful things in this world that I don't go on and on about!

While my concerns are real, I also wonder if I'm just wanting to make a point and in the process making communication more difficult. I don't actually have Phone Books anymore, but back in the Phone Book era, I didn't try to rip up my phone books. I didn't love them, but they were useful. Aren't FB and other social platforms just that? Useful?

Last week Puja from Nepal started talking about a small garden in my backyard. Almost every word she said was a precise echo of what Eleonora from Venezuela said 6 months ago. So what did I do? What else!? I hopped on FB and sent a message introducing Puja to Eleonora and offered to put up a webcam if they wanted to remotely monitor the RULA Farm.

Celebrityville

The German fashion & beauty photographer Tamara Williams was here for 3 weeks. She did many photoshoots, and also shot the pix of me you saw in my previous letter, and some more I'll share in the next letter. Every time a modeling agency would suggest a model to her, the first thing she'd do is check and see how many followers that model had on Instagram. As a professional photographer in that field, her instincts were probably appropriate. Still, it's a curious way to evaluate someone. But let's play along anyway!

Here are the 5 most followed "people" on each platform (not counting the platform itself, like @Facebook, @Twitter, or @Instagram)

F*c*b**k

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo - 110 million
  2. Shakira - 104 million
  3. Vin Diesel - 98 million
  4. Coca-Cola - 97 million
  5. Eminem - 92 million

Twitter

  1. Katy Perry - 89 million
  2. Justin Bieber - 82 million
  3. Taylor Swift - 78 million
  4. Barack Obama - 75 million
  5. YouTube - 62 million

Instagram

  1. Selena Gomez - 69.26 million
  2. Taylor Swift - 69.13 million
  3. Kim Kardashian - 63.56 million
  4. Ariana Grande - 63.08 million
  5. Beyonce - 62.94 million

Just because celebrities have followings larger than the population of many countries isn't a reason to shun the platform. After all, I'm sure that peeps like Pablo Picasso would be on top of MOMAbook, and Andy Warhol might dominate Sothebygram.

Inspired by You

In part my thought about a world without F*c*b**k is inspired by you. A while back you moved out from the roommates you loved, and did so again recently in leaving the houseboat, not because you were unhappy there, but because you felt that your investigation needed you to press on into other spaces. I think you left places you were comfortable and happy in, in order to challenge yourself to discover new things.

I once read a passage by David Hockney where he said something like poor Frank Stella, he's actually admitted that he can't draw. Where as I, David Hockney, can do a realist portrait of my mother one day, an abstraction the next, and a photo collage the day after that. Isn't having more options better?

In one sense, Hockney was right. But in another, by taking the traditional tool of drawing off the table, Stella may have forced, or invited, himself to go deeper into abstraction, to explore new spaces.

Perhaps like you with your changing homes, or Frank Stella with his not drawing, not using spaces like F*c*b**k would be an opportunity to think about other things.

Or maybe it would just be tearing up the phone book and then finding it hard to call people.

There was a panel discussion What Can Art Do? at OCCCA yesterday. I live blogged it. After the panel I chatted with Michael and Kiyomi for a while. You remember them? Michael was the compost guy, and Kiyomi had the Green Thumb MFA exhibition when you were here. They had a sort of simple solution to my FB question. Instead of a big, public declaration that I'm going off FB for a year or whatever, what about just a silent decision not to log in for 3 months. Less drama, just a subtle shift.

Dharma's Equation

The other day Dharma said that if you thought about an 80 year life, that the 1st 20 are about getting started, the last 20 are about resting in retirement, and of the middle 40, a lot will be dedicated to putting a roof over your family and other essentials. So realistically the years and hours he estimates having to make the world a slightly better place are small. He's committed to investing those few hours and making his small impact, but he thinks hoping for something more grandiose isn't realistic.

I'm never going to "fix" FB, and most people are perfectly happy with it the way it is anyway. Maybe I should just step away from that conversation. The way Kyle stepped away from Social Media. The way you stepped away from the roommates you loved. The way Kevin Kelley chooses very selectively which tools he uses, and which he does not.

I can't believe I just said all this about stoopid FB. I'd really kind of like to delete the previous 2,290 words I just wrote. But I guess since I wrote them, I'll let them stay.

I want to talk about your (awesome!) BFA exhibition and other things, but since this has pretty much become The F*c*b**k Letter, I guess I'll just let it be that.

More about more interesting topics soon!

Love,

Glenn

Article by Glenn Zucman

Cyberspace Wanderlust