A Modest Proposal Regarding Agency And The Internet

Let's Pull The Plug On Bad Habits
Let’s Pull The Plug On Bad Habits

Good Hello.

As you are well aware of, there are many elements of Facebook that make the interface less than ideal for social discourse these days.  Not only do the functions of the site change regularly, and at the whims of the elite that run the site, but these changes have been monetized, cluttering the content with ads and fake accounts used to promote suspicious agendas.  As the overall age-range of the users has decreased, as more and more political organizations and religious groups bog down the site with scare-tactic paranoia, and as the usefulness of the site has gone completely downhill, content has become lost in the signal-to-noise ratio.  For a site dedicated to offering users the chance to express themselves, their expressions have been stymied by the overdevelopment of features that serve no real useful function.

We are at a crossroads, my friends.  A number of alternatives exist that can easily replace the functions of this site, but digital inertia and peer pressure has kept users from trying anything new.  The few that have found themselves using any of the competing sites exist in a virtual vacuum (no pun intended).  Ironically, users have become embittered with Facebook, and a large number of posts revolve around the extreme frustration people have with the poor functionality and random censorship of content that Facebook seems so willing to offer.

And yet, users continue to stick with it.

It is usually a sign that the times are a-changin’ when celebrities begin to take up the cause, and no less a personality that George Takei – someone whose modern personality was forged by the Internet – has become extremely critical of the poor practices of Facebook.  An entire chapter of his forthcoming book is about his struggles with the site, and how they regularly prevent him from reaching fans that want to access his content.  The creators behind the film Beware of Images – a film that warns against how easily we are manipulated by simulacra – have been repeatedly censored by Facebook, more or less at random.  And while these are huge issues to consider, even worse is their blatant misuse of their own users’ personal information, and Facebook’s disregard for their own privacy agreements.

There is a point at which something has outgrown its usefulness.  We are several degrees past that point.

The inertia behind sticking with Facebook stems from the simple belief that, “Well, everyone else still uses Facebook.”  This is not only circular logic, but eliminates any amount of agency in the way we use the Internet.  Analogies could be drawn to jumping off bridges, following the Pied Piper, and a number of other sayings that all make the same point: we do not have to allow ourselves to be controlled like that.  The Internet is a place where we can use the amazing tools we’re all connected to in an effort to make our lives better, and if we are not bolstering the incredibly positive and awe-inspiring benefits this offers, why are we trying to connect to each other in the first place?

I have decided to change the role that Facebook plays in my life.  I have not chosen to eliminate it, but I have decided that I do not want to be caught in the inertia that keeps me using a site that continues to frustrate me, reinforce negativity, and create in me a feeling of dread when new and challenging features are rolled out, thus undermining why we use social networks in the first place.  There are a number of great tools the Internet offers that work to connect people, to allow them to have positive discourse, and to grow these connections in a way that do not leave me with a bad cache in my browser.  I’ve decided I would much rather spend my time focusing on these sites instead.

Facebook is an excellent resource when you would like to utilize apps and games.  Facebook works great for incoherent political rants and all-caps tirades about things you hate.  Facebook is fantastic when you want to stir up drama among your friends, alienate family, or make vague and uncomfortable statements about how much you are hurting yourself.  When I need these things, I know where to find them.  Facebook is not going away, and it is still an excellent resource for bands and artists, and for creative organizations to spread your content far and wide, and I will continue to use it in this respect.

Until I can no longer afford the costs they have added to these uses.

To replace what Facebook had done for me, I will be using Google+ for the time being.  This is not a perfect site, by any means.  They are still relatively new, and for those who have been weaned on Facebook’s interface, it may seem a little counter-intuitive.  But Google+ has a number of extremely robust features, and it accomplishes many of the things that I feel are important in a site like this.  The level of discourse is fairly high, and while I do miss my friends, as I continue to use it I find that it actually offers much more that Facebook, at a much lower intellectual cost, and in ways that I am looking forward to utilizing.  Google does have its drawbacks, their relationship to user privacy and censorship isn’t exactly as good as I would like it, and in many ways I am just trading one digital monolith for another.  This is really a Firefox-for-Chrome kind of shift, at the end of the day.

But I can stop using them when I get sick of G+, too.  Remember MySpace?  Friendster?  Geocities?  Social networks come and go, but why we use them remains the same.

Friends, I urge you to break the hold that Facebook has on our lives, and move on to a new form of discourse.  If we all choose to move on to a new service – together – there will be no inertia that will keep us using something we hate just because everyone else is.  Being able to leave a service that no longer works for us will benefit us in the long run, because we’ll be able to drop Google when they begin to clutter our feeds, and the next service after that when they sell our names and addresses on the digital black market after that.  By reclaiming agency in our lives, we can learn to forge our own paths in a number of areas.

Or, at least, find a social network that doesn’t suck.

I will continue to touch base of Facebook, and I won’t completely disappear.  I have family to communicate with, and bands and pages I would like to follow.  But if you are wondering why you aren’t seeing much of my content in your feed, it will be one of the few things you can’t blame on Facebook’s poor content management policies.  It simply means I have moved to somewhere a little more my speed.

You can find me at austinrich@gmail.com.  I really hope to see you there.