On leaving Facebook

I began by removing from my list of Facebook friends people who persistently declared themselves to be fans of asinine, obvious things, like "sleep".

No, quite frankly, I do not wish to know that you appreciate Saturdays, toast, or Kramer from "Seinfeld". This does not improve my opinion of you. In fact, I hardly have any opinion of you other than what I see you doing on Facebook! I haven't seen you since primary school! If, indeed, I've ever even met you!

Some people find this stuff as annoying as I do and simply ignore it all, but then some people don't use Adblock because they can put up with moving objects in their peripheral vision all day every day. As for me, I find "unfriend" to be the most effective ignore. Don't get me wrong. I'm still pro-toast. Toaist, if you will. But I don't need Facebook to express that, nor (due to nagging security concerns and the simple fact that Facebook is their site, not mine) is Facebook the medium I want to use to express that. So eventually I gave up and I left entirely.

It feels like sites like Facebook channel all of our free expression into neat, pre-moulded boxes. "Susie is a fan of writing!" "Ed is in love with Tina!" Dang it, show us the writing! Show us the love! It's like it's become impossible to express any relationship below "friend", and it's impossible to express any feeling below "is a fan of". It's like talking using corporation-manufactured language, in which all we can do is proclaim our fondness for a product, or else keep silent. It reduces everything to a binary love/don't love choice. Personality tests? Great! Answer all these questions, and we will tell you that you, like all humans, fall into one of these eight categories of people! Isn't that INFORMATIVE? Didn't you learn something?

And Twitter? One hundred and forty characters is not, and should not be, enough to express yourself. These days it seems like brevity equates with legitimacy, because if you can summarise your opinion in fewer syllables than your opponent then you can repeat your message more times in a given space, which means people are more swayed, and you can fit your message into smaller commercial spaces, which means more people will bother to read it. Truly important and meaningful statements are big thoughts with great nuance and irreducible complexity, becoming meaningless if interrupted halfway. Arguments cannot be easily dissected into two opposing viewpoints. You are not a) wholly right or b) wholly wrong.

You will not be able to stay home, blogger.

You will not be able to dial up, log in and cop out.

You will not be able to watch the revolution unfold on your RSS feed because the revolution will not be tweeted.

The revolution will not be tweeted; the revolution will not cost ninety-nine cents from iTunes; the revolution will not appear on Fark, Digg, Reddit or Metafilter, nor be brought to you by Randall Munroe, Ben Croshaw, Jack Thompson, Ron Paul or Stephen Colbert. The revolution will not be tagged "nsfw" or locked for editing by newly-registered users due to persistent vandalism.

The revolution will not have rounded corners because the revolution will not be tweeted.

etc.

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Discussion (26)

2009-05-02 18:24:52 by Ian:

I was certainly not expecting you to go with that ending.

However, abject rejection of the sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. because of a perceived dumbing down or corporatization isn't exactly fair. At least, I wouldn't think so. Certainly, the behavior can be despised, but to suggest that because someone participates in an activity like those inanities you present as examples they are wholly consistent of that mindset that they are "wholly right" or "wholly wrong" is silly.

Though, honestly, while I love the presentation, I'm a bit confused on your point. Are you complaining about people? Are you complaining about the sites? Are you complaining about the popularity? Are you complaining about what the sites may be doing to people?

2009-05-02 21:20:26 by qntm:

On the one hand I'm lamenting the Ray Bradbury future we've found ourselves in. Instead of expressing ourselves with our own words, we're encouraged to push the succinctly-labelled button which most closely resembles our own feelings. A button which is always on *some other guy's machine*. And because of that, we come to believe that all opinions and statements can be expressed by pushing the appropriate button.

On the other hand, I'm making a lame attempt to update "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" for this decade before it ends.

2009-05-03 02:42:44 by Crotalus:

I never thought about the problem that way; thanks for the enlightenment. If people are told that they can only feel one out of twelve emotions, then guess what? They'll only ever feel those twelve emotions. They allow boundaries to close around themselves and slowly turn into simple one-dimensional creatures. Those personality quizes and "what [media franchise] character you?" are absolutely horrible. I won't let them neatly classify my being!

2009-05-03 20:44:37 by EthZee:

Interesting piece. I don't use Twitter, and although I am signed onto Facebook it is very rarely I update it. In my case, however, I believe I do so because I personally don't think I have anything of much value to say. Saying aforementioned asinine things like "EthZee is having toast", then twittering "Hey! Isn't toast great?", to me, seems fairly dumb.

Also, I find more and more nowadays that I can't bring myself to think of a point and argue it, to present an argument concisely and in a detailed fashion. I'm not sure whether I ever could. I don't know; I think I just wanted to respond to your post because it made me feel uneasy and slightly annoyed. I don't know why, so I don't want to try and come up with an excuse. Maybe that's why I don't argue specific points; I tend to feel that they can be more easily reduced to their base motivations; I, for example, would like to post something vaguely antagonistic because this piece made me feel guilty and wrong for being on facebook, for being a part of the online community.

So, as I can't come with a good reason why, I am content to call you a big jerkface in response. Thhbbbpptptpt!

2009-05-04 00:59:04 by Dustin:

Was it intentional that everything I wanted to quote from this was too long for Twitter?

2009-05-04 07:44:45 by MJ:

Except that the revolution has already been tweeted:
http://neteffect.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/04/07/moldovas_twitter_revolution
http://neteffect.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/04/10/moldovas_twitter_revolution_is_not_a_myth
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8018017.stm
And Facebooked:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7225824.stm
http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0204/p04s02-woam.html

Don't assume that just because some people use a service for inane ramblings, that this automatically means all users of said service do the same.

2009-05-04 10:42:45 by Imbenarion:

You just have to know why you use these things in the first place. If you don't like inane posts such as that, get new friends (or delete them as you did). These sites aren't only used for personal communication either, for instance in Twitter you can follow business as they release information on products or add political figures on facebook. You can still get the communication you want, you just have to know who you are adding. It is a common thing to accumulate friends for the sole purpose getting a larger number (or it could be something about not rejecting people, or some sort of "why not" feeling, I'm not any sort of psychologist). If you are complaining about seeing inane posts it is really your own fault in this sense.

As for your security concerns, yes it is their site but there are privacy features you can use that help to some extent, and I don't think you should really be taking the quiz things that seriously, I don't know anyone who has ever studied for one.

Also, short communications are not always bad. Sometimes getting 100 fragments of ideas across is better than understanding only a handful of them completely; it's why news feeds exist. Yes it is almost damaging when used as a primary (or sole) form of communication, but if these fragments interest a person then perhaps they will try to find the bigger statements and ideas out there to get a better picture. In the end, people just don't have time to know everything about everything, and I don't think knowing a lot about very little is a better alternative.

We still have time for long emails, going out for a coffee and other things that matter and take time, but we don't have time to do that with everyone and everything. The revolution WAS tweeted, televised and tagged, it was in how we communicate. Oh god did I just say that the revolution was "F1RST P05T!!!!1"...

2009-05-04 21:47:01 by Crotalus:

I think most of you are missing the point.

The inane comments aren't that relevant, and there's nothing wrong with short communication. Sam probably doesn't care too much about either of those things. The real problem is that people are letting Facebook and Twitter govern the way they express themselves. People are limiting themselves by following Facebook's example of rigid categorization and structure. You can only be one of ten types of people, you can only have one of four types of relationships, you can only express love in binary terms...etc. There are no gray areas, it's all black and white.

2009-05-05 11:25:57 by Joe:

Just because people only react in binary terms on Facebook doesn't mean that the only way they can experience life is in those terms. Black and white television didn't cause people to stop being able to see in color. No one who is interesting enough to matter is going to be so consumed that they lose themselves to something like that.

2009-05-06 00:03:18 by kabu:

Ironically enough, I just set my facebook status to "The revolution will not be tweeted."

Sorry.

2009-05-10 16:31:34 by randallsquared:

But "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was wrong. EVERYTHING will be televised from now on.

2009-05-11 01:38:08 by Ian:

If you think that, then you missed the entire point of the song.

Or you're being intentionally obtuse.

2009-05-15 15:55:39 by dankuck:

"The revolution will not be televised" indicates that the people controlling the media will not cover the revolution. They may not even notice it. But the people who create the content on "social media" sites ARE the revolution. And so, aside from any censorship, it seems the revolution will be tweeted. But the tweet will probably include a link to something more substantial.

The problem is the one that you mentioned: these sites aren't ours. But we're almost ready to do something about that.

2009-05-15 20:34:09 by qntm:

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was as incorrect a statement then as "The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted" is now. So my version is still in the spirit of the original.

2009-05-20 14:03:52 by dankuck:

lol, good point.

2009-05-28 04:08:52 by EvilSam:

I've found myself withdrawing from the entire Internet. First Facebook, then most forums, and all but the most inactive IRC channels. What is left to keep track of? A mailing list with one post a week. A forum with a large average post size. A website with occasional updates. I can't tell you what the latest meme or fad programming language is. I've become an internet redneck.

2009-06-05 00:18:05 by zite:

you could fix one of those problems by writing more :D

2009-06-08 02:27:08 by scarf:

I had opened a 'compose' email window before I scrolled down a little further and was reminded that you've since constructed a comments machine. Hello, comments machine.

Today, I:

- joined Twitter

- read [http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article6409208.ece|this article]

The first I decided - of course - to anti-embrace. Live updates, marketing soundbites and global snippety conversation haven't interested me since I first was aware of Twitter in (Google and ridiculous Twitter tools have provided the following information) Feb 2007. But I now follow friends who make gentle, scenic-suggestive updates on who, how, where they are - this mode of being doesn't fit into the 'blogosphere' (just as I don't). I also follow fortune-cookie-like poetry [http://twitter.com/rilke]. I know how much of the form and content is created by the medium; I'm not sure I'm entirely in accord with it, but I do appreciate being able to find it, taste it and savour it. This is just a reflection on something a little less ordinary, really, rather than a rebuttal.

The article, on the other hand, speaks so much to me. I batter my poor consciousness with input every day - my feed-troughs are Facebook and [http://talk.guardian.co.uk/]. I used to spend my waking life on IRC. We read and read and, crucially, wait for responses - they come from the screen, not from us, of course. (I'm reminded of research reported that gamers suffer lower serotonin levels - the reason given, if I recall correctly, was something akin to the brain ending up primed to the response it gets, by constant stimulation - so bursts of the game's action becomes the only thing satisfying.) Most of all, I'm aware of this difference - this felt inability to cogitate at length, in depth, with breadth - and my eyes were opened, having it confirmed.

All that, and in the past few days I've found myself wanting to *expand*. It's batting precisely the feeling of constraint you describe - boxedness.

On the other hand, it's the terrible numinous *not*-black-and-white feeling that leads me away from participating in arguments! But on the other hand, that could well be a similar product - if our communication is so often boxed in, an irreducible thought becomes incommunicable.

It's really hippy concerns that fuel my distate for twitter and the blogosphere, frankly. It's filled with the corporate. Bloggers end up as consultants. And I don't care about your consumption. I care about your creation.

2009-06-15 08:15:36 by DTal:

Wow, you quit Facebook? Hats off, that's like quitting crack.

I would like to note that poetry, especially rhyming/metered poetry, is all about constraining one's form of expression; yet poetry is considered one of the more emotionally powerful forms of communication. However, I do think it does ultimately constrain thinking - you can't write in poetry all the time.

Facebook and Twitter are both essentially social pornography. As tribal primates, we are keyed to respond to news of those in our immediate group. All these Web-2.0-y things do is feed it to us in ever-smaller, more continuous dosages, until eventually we'll all be hooked up to an IV of meaningless chit-chat. All that is required in return is your privacy. Welcome to the revolution.

2009-06-18 23:13:44 by istari:

Sometimes I find the entire world conspiring against me just to prove some offhand comment of mine wrong. You ever get that feeling?

"The revolution will not be tweeted"

From Iran:
"the authorities shut down text messaging, blocked Facebook and YouTube and cut off the BBC Persian-language service — but they forgot about Twitter.

Because of that, the simple microblogging service has become Iran's lifeline to the outside"




2009-06-19 08:05:06 by qntm:

To repeat what I said above, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was as incorrect a statement then as "The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted" is now. So my version is still in the spirit of the original.

2009-07-03 18:31:42 by wigglesworth:

I'm still on FB, but didn't join because I wanted to. I was forced to by my company to use it for business puproses (we have a business group). For contacting old friends, it has been great, but it takes so much time. I've already been on it all morning, and it's now almost noon. What a waste of a day.

I wish I could get rid of my FB account, but that would mean getting rid of my job. . . .

2009-07-21 23:48:00 by Anonymous:

I'm with you.

2009-08-09 23:01:01 by abbeynormal:

It's a streamlined language. Like a cartoon. A cartoon of social interaction.
If figure once you step into language you're constrained to a digital palette anyway, so after that it's just a matter of degree.
It's a small, specialized dictionary on facebook. Look ma, I'm socializing.

Ya, it looks bad to me too. Those little fuckin games, Mafia and such - exchanging virtual buttslaps - I'm on facebook but I ignore it. I feel a little guilty too, for being so antisocial. I turned off all the email notices so my "friends" couldn't bug me. I figure it's patheticness is on par with primetime tv.

2010-05-08 23:41:09 by Solteur:

I actually think I have a good use for twitter. It's for those times when you want to say something trivial, and your cat isn't around to be a sounding board.

People who enthusiastically listen to said random, meaningless chatter, however, I just don't get.

2011-07-17 23:20:03 by mavhc:

apparently the revolution was tweeted, and facebook...ed

However the revolution will not be tweets