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That all-important "■"
July 27, 2011 8:17 AM   Subscribe

I do not enjoy Facebook - I find it cloying and impossible - but I am there every day. Paul Ford writes about social media, the ceaseless flow of time, and narratives - or, "Facebook and the Epiphanator".
posted by WalterMitty (53 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why do people take FB so seriously? Is it because we have fewer meaningful personal connections in the real world?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:22 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


There should be a word for that feeling you get when an older person — and not much older, so quickly are things changing — shames him or herself by telling young people how to live.

I vote for lawnch, this being the method by which old men get you off their lawns.
  • My old man caught me texting at the family reunion and lawnched me out of the yard
  • This story is so old-fashioned I feel like I'm being lawnched
  • He never does anything apart from complain! He's a rocket lawncher!
posted by LogicalDash at 8:25 AM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Why do people take FB so seriously?

I think it's because of articles like this one. Basically, if reactionary people didn't react so much, we wouldn't have self-identified liberals.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:26 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do not enjoy Facebook - I find it cloying and impossible - but I am there every day.

Masochist. Just don't use it. It is possible to do. Even easy. Rediscover the world outside the walled garden.
posted by DU at 8:28 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This fellow spent an awful long time getting to the point of "I don't understand Facebook".
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:30 AM on July 27, 2011


I don't really see a substantive difference between old people telling young people how to live and x people telling y people how to live, for any value of x and y except x = y. It's a distinction of category, not character.

Right? Or do I just think that because I'm an old person now.

I'm saying that there are a lot of reasons to dislike or refuse to use Facebook, and a lot of reasons to tell other people about how they shouldn't use Facebook, and although most of those reasons probably aren't great, they have more in common with each other than differences from each other.
posted by penduluum at 8:33 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm at a loss to figure out what Paul Ford is trying to say.

Maybe if he was limited to 420 characters, he'd be able to get to the point.
posted by John Farrier at 8:34 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


POST THIS ARTICLE ON YOUR PROFILE IF YOU AGREE!!!
posted by orme at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


What really confuses me, is how suddenly social media is this new "thing" that hand-wringers and Luddites think will remove the ability for people to build meaningful relationships. Aside from that being absurd, it's not like "social media" is truly any different from BBSs or large scale forums. We've had this exact technology for 30+ years, but since it's got a nice new buzz-word -- and movie associated with said buzz-word -- we've got to suffer through pedantic spates of verbal diarrhea like this.

I think I would have taken him more seriously if he'd be warning me about SkyNet. Not much more seriously, but still...
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


But this guy is not against Facebook at all, and is certainly not criticizing people for using it. On the contrary, he's saying that Facebook, with its strange juxtapositions and lack of imposed narrative, is much more true to life than the products of the traditional media world he represents. The real world is often cloying and impossible too, but the recognition of this fact is not a recommendation that people avoid going outside.
posted by escabeche at 8:40 AM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


If Paul Ford finds Facebook "cloying and impossible," then maybe he needs fewer cloying, impossible friends.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:44 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone with Franzendentalist roots and Epiphinator tendencies, who consumes too many hours of social media, I keep sensing some serious hurt feelings from the older-media side — "Why would you love that thing instead of me?" They act like my wife would if I brought home a RealDoll. But it's not like that. I don't think people love Twitter or Facebook in the same way they might love Parks and Recreation or Twilight. Rather, we like the beer and tolerate the bottle. And even if we have those other browser tabs open, we're still hungry for endings.

Facebook is a means of delivery for real-life stories - stories that don't necessarily have a nicely packaged narrative the way a journalist or a writer delivers them - and the reason we consume Facebook so voraciously (well, some of us, anyway) is that human appetite for narrative is insatiable. Narrative-shaping will take new forms, and there's not a god-damned thing anyone can do about it.

(I think that's what he's saying, not so much FACEBOOK GRAR.)
posted by WalterMitty at 8:45 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


But this guy is not against Facebook at all, and is certainly not criticizing people for using it

I consider myself a decent reader, but I will admit, I got lost a couple of times in the word salad.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:45 AM on July 27, 2011


Google+, bitches.
posted by zzazazz at 8:46 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The article is actually quite a good read.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:48 AM on July 27, 2011


I'm no Facebook fanboy, but Google+ lacks so much polish the Japanese would consider it a masterwork of wabi-sabi.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


pedantic spates of verbal diarrhea

Really? I actually thought it was an enjoyable, brilliantly written, to-the-point read. (A few sentences elicited involuntary giggles of delight; I would be happy to furnish quotes upon request.)
posted by joshuahhh at 8:53 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't like _________, don't use it. If you don't like ________ and don't use _________, then feel free to refrain from making snide remarks about ___________ and the people that use ___________. Obviously _________ has a place for some people and some people find ________ useful / fun / attractive / entertaining / informative / whatever. In turn, if I like and use ________, I'm happy to listen to your opinion about ________ as long as you don't project it on me.

Feel free to to insert Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google+, McDonalds, The Real Housewives of New Jersey or whatever else occurs to you.
posted by Gronk at 8:54 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]




I really liked the article, in part because it was a lot more nuanced then "facebook good" or "facebook bad."

He begins by stating his dislike for facebook, but also acknowledges how irrelevant his feelings about it are. Then he tries to reconcile the changes that facebook has made to the media landscape with the types of media he favors. He ends up arguing that there will be a place for all the old types of media even in a world that is obsessed with social media.

I found it reassuring to read that someone out there is as bothered by the facebook as I am, but has found a reaction a least a little more subtle than pure luddism.
posted by mai at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I found it a pleasure to read, and haven't stopped thinking about its pied beauty since I first encountered it (via Twitter). In other news, I have very few friends.
posted by Haruspex at 9:07 AM on July 27, 2011


What really confuses me, is how suddenly social media is this new "thing" that hand-wringers and Luddites think will remove the ability for people to build meaningful relationships. Aside from that being absurd, it's not like "social media" is truly any different from BBSs or large scale forums. We've had this exact technology for 30+ years, but since it's got a nice new buzz-word -- and movie associated with said buzz-word -- we've got to suffer through pedantic spates of verbal diarrhea like this.

Really? I find there's an equal number of people evangelizing social media as this new "thing" you need to get on board with, but that may be because I'm friends with a fair few people in marketing. Your insurance company didn't need presence on BBSs or large scale forums. Frito Lay wasn't asking you to follow them on their Live Journal. That's a big part of the difference in my mind.

I'm no Facebook fanboy, but Google+ lacks so much polish the Japanese would consider it a masterwork of wabi-sabi.


I have no idea what this means. Do you mean there aren't enough bells and whistles? because to me that's actually a big plus.
posted by Hoopo at 9:07 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


His opening line really throws you off the substance of his piece, I think. It's not about criticizing Facebook; he's talking about how Old Media is scared of, and therefore disdainful of, social media, because it doesn't operate in ways they're used to; and that yes, things are changing, but a lot of what Old Media brings to the table is still going to be necessary because social media can't provide it.

I avoided Facebook for a long time because of privacy issues. I still have trouble with it, for that, but when I finally joined I realized it really is quite a powerful tool. It helps forge and maintain connections at the acquaintance level like nothing else I can think of, and that is key to expanding your world and building a network of friendships.
posted by flex at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


His opening line really throws you off the substance of his piece, I think.

Fair enough, I probably should have picked something else as the hook.
posted by WalterMitty at 9:10 AM on July 27, 2011


What really confuses me about Facebook is how all the Luddites from 5 years ago are now all on Facebook. Without the slightest of hesitations.

You will not find me on Facebook.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:14 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It is possible to do.

I'm living proof; I haven't logged into Facebook in better than six months, and I bet that if you totaled up all the time I've spent there it would come to less than three hours cumulatively.

But don't you dare try to take my Metafilter away, because I'll cut you, man, I swear.
posted by quin at 9:16 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fair enough, I probably should have picked something else as the hook.

My perception is that MeFi is more reactionary and impatient - and less nuanced - than it likes to think it is. But also it's not so much your framing as it was his choice to lead off his thoughts with it - maybe he went with it because he thought it'd be catchy and draw people in with its juxtapositioning, but I think many people like us read that line and automatically expect Yet Another Complaint About Facebook, That New Thing All The Kids Are Doing, What Is Up With That?
posted by flex at 9:18 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, much of the discussion in this thread is unrelated to the point of the linked article, but it's fair to say that the article lede is misleading. His dislike of facebook is never backed up. The opposite seems to be the case. He seems compelled to speak a dislike for facebook, and social media in general, while actually enjoying it and the only reason given is because AMERICA'S GREATEST LIVING AUTHOR (ymmv, mine does) says that it's a bad thing. (Or maybe my own experience with the Internet and this "social media" thing can't see any of his points as bad.)
posted by eyeballkid at 9:27 AM on July 27, 2011


it's not like "social media" is truly any different from BBSs or large scale forums. We've had this exact technology for 30+ years

It's not the technology that's different — well, not the software, anyway, from a functional perspective — but it's the users.

BBSes and most large-scale forums, at least until very recently, were pretty limited in terms of demographics. They skewed young and male, not to mention white and middle class and up. Anyone who has been on the Internet for more than a decade or so can remember when "no girls on the Internet" used to be a pretty standard (bad) joke.

What makes Facebook different is that not only are there non-geeks on there, but my mom is on it. Lots of people's moms are on it, along with fathers and grandparents and middle-school kids and people who don't know the difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox. And that's why it's a cultural phenomenon.

I don't think the credit really belongs to Facebook, though. Like Microsoft with DOS, they just happened to show up and produce the right product at the right time, when the world was ready for it, and then rode the wave to billionaredom. A few months earlier or later and they'd be an also-ran, like Friendster. (About the only particularly clever thing that I think they did was rolling it out to colleges, starting with elite ones and then going down from there, thus keeping it from being populated out of the gate by too many uncool proles. That was their bit of cunning, like Gates' licensing deal with IBM; the rest was luck.)

tl;dr: The difference between BBSes and Facebook is that normal people can use Facebook to get laid.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:31 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Quitting Facebook was damn easy and I have no regrets. Besides, it gives me plenty of time to play with Google+!!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:36 AM on July 27, 2011


I'm no Facebook fanboy, but Google+ lacks so much polish the Japanese would consider it a masterwork of wabi-sabi.

It's not even officially "out" yet!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:38 AM on July 27, 2011


After a short time on Facebook, I pared down my friend list to just a handful of people, locked down my settings so that I'm difficult to find, and never posted anything to it. I'm kind of squatting on my Facebook identity; I don't particularly want it, but I certainly don't want anyone else to have it either.

Every so often, I log in and look at what the people on my friend list are posting. The biggest result of this is that instead of wondering what all my old friends from my past are doing these days, and imagining all sorts of glamorous and exciting lives for them, I now know that, to a person, they're all leading very normal, unexciting lives.

I think that's the greatest thing that Facebook (and the internet in general) has done for society, to be honest. Suddenly, instead of comparing ourselves to the lives that we imagine people live, we're faced with the realities of everyone's lives instead. As the author points out, there are no endings, no narrative structures to the lives on Facebook, but there are also no dramatic climaxes, no decisive triumphs, no utter defeats. We're all just muddling through as best we can.

We're all pretty boring. It's good to know.
posted by MrVisible at 9:44 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm at a loss to figure out what Paul Ford is trying to say.

Me, too. Sort of. The piece reads like someone thinking-out-loud ... and not really arriving anywhere notable other than, gee, all this info-tech keeps changing things and Facebook's the latest ... but humans still want stories with endings.

A half-interesting essay without a particularly strong epiphany.
posted by philip-random at 9:47 AM on July 27, 2011


Google+, bitches.
I have a Google+ account. As far as I can tell, it's basically Facebook except that they can also see my search history and read my email. Yay?

Mind you, I use Gmail, depend on Google Calendar to run my life and have an Android phone, so Google pretty much owned my soul already.

I think that's the greatest thing that Facebook (and the internet in general) has done for society, to be honest. Suddenly, instead of comparing ourselves to the lives that we imagine people live, we're faced with the realities of everyone's lives instead.

I'm not totally convinced about this. Sure, some people do just use it as a tool for communication in a very neutral way, but there are definitely plenty of others who seem to view their FB persona as a brand management excercise: only the most exciting events, most flattering photos and cleverest witticisms make it to being mentioned, with many of them crafted specifically to look good online. So you end up comparing your life not to the ordinary peolpe you see around you, but to carefully managed, idealised avatars of your friends and acquaintances. Maybe not for Proper Grown-UpsTM, but I can especially imagine stereotypically status-concious teenagers getting heavilty sucked into this.

Some sociologists must've thought of this before me, unless it's a more idiotic idea than I think. Has anyone heard of relevent work on how people portray themselves and perceive others on FB?
posted by metaBugs at 9:57 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one that read this with the voice of Andy Rooney?
posted by samsara at 10:03 AM on July 27, 2011


What makes Facebook different is that not only are there non-geeks on there, but my mom is on it. Lots of people's moms are on it, along with fathers and grandparents and middle-school kids and people who don't know the difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox.

This is what perplexes me: in my day this is exactly what would have made the young and the non-square flee the place like it was full of Captain Trips-spewing zombies. A few years ago, when my boring (yes, I am boring too) coworkers started talking up Facebook, I anticipated a mass exodus. But no, apparently my 16 year old niece has no problem whatsoever with her mother eavesdropping on her conversations with friends.

What the hell good is it to be young if you can't disdain your parents (and their ilk) and conceal every meaningful thing in your life from them?
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Google+ is pretty boring. It just seems like all the straight males I know are on it and post regularly- they do that on GoogleBuzz, too. I agree that it is the 'sausage fest' that I heard it called recently!
posted by cherryflute at 10:34 AM on July 27, 2011


> apparently my 16 year old niece has no problem whatsoever with her mother eavesdropping on her conversations with friends.

That encapsulates the phenomenon for me. It is a generation gap. Facebook may be OK for people who have been helicopter parented, but the whole thing makes me shudder. My parents could be in their 90's and need a magnifying glass to read and I would not want (much of) what I put onto the internet google-attached to my real name.
posted by bukvich at 10:40 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also I was not able to grok his usage of "epiphanator". If anybody did and could dumb it down that might be useful. I thought an epiphany is something that could happen once every five years, or so, max. He seems to imply that twenty years ago it could be gotten in the weekly Time magazine, which I would think is totally wrong.
posted by bukvich at 10:43 AM on July 27, 2011


I just took epiphanator to mean that, in old school journalism, stories had endings, had meanings. They built up to something definitive, succinct, new ... or else why bother reporting them?
posted by philip-random at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2011


Obviously, the Epiphinator will need to slim down in order to thrive, but a careful study of history shows how impossible it is to determine whether it can return to both power and glory, or whether its demise is imminent.

Obviously, things will change, but a careful study of history shows how impossible it is to determine whether they will change for the better, or for the worse, or whether they will stay about the same. Only one thing is certain: Paul Ford ran out of ideas about two-thirds of the way through this article.
posted by verstegan at 11:14 AM on July 27, 2011


I am nowhere NEAR out of ideas.
posted by ftrain at 11:20 AM on July 27, 2011


Facebook, having already swallowed up enormous chunks of discretionary media consumption time, has its old-school media counterparts chasing after "Likes" as if they were cocaine being dispensed in a lab rat's cage.

You like this. [Unlike]
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:22 AM on July 27, 2011


Am I the only one that read this with the voice of Andy Rooney?

I tried to, but I got a terrible case of rünschmerz.
posted by homunculus at 11:25 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am nowhere NEAR out of ideas.
posted by ftrain at 2:20 PM on July 27 [+] [!]


Heh. I was scrolling down to ask whether any of you knee-jerkers upthread actually read the freaking article, and also that since people are not getting it you must not be familiar with Ford from ftrain.com.

And then here I see: MeFi's Own, etc.
posted by aught at 1:10 PM on July 27, 2011


I liked the article, it actually describes all the reasons I LIKE Facebook.

People never made sense to me, small talk is alien, and I don't know how to make friends. Facebook and things like it even the playing field so social interaction can become efficient, organized, and not just sifting through regular competitions of "who can be the loudest asshole" that group conversation often devolves into.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a Google+ account. As far as I can tell, it's basically Facebook except that they can also see my search history and read my email. Yay?

I already used Gmail and used Google to search anyway, so nothing lost there.

The main feature that stands out, for me anyways, is the circles. Many of us don't want to invest all that much time in social networking and would rather use it to occasionally keep in touch with people we know. An old friend of mine who lives on the other side of the country came to visit on the weekend, he's now a consultant. Back home we used to hang out with a different type of crowd than we might these days, and some of our other old friends didn't exactly grow up. If you only log in once or twice a week/month like my friend the consultant, you can easily wind up with some good-natured but profane and/or offensive messages on your "wall", that his business contacts may see before you.

So yeah, the circles make it really easy to keep your warehouse worker buddies who like off-color jokes and nasty youtube videos separate from your parents and /or students and/or white collar business contacts without much effort. Because I don't want to put in much effort.
posted by Hoopo at 1:40 PM on July 27, 2011


FB. PSSSSHTTTT. The Super Duper Friendster! BAH!!!

Now, this Googly moogly pluser thinga, the kids are into, that sounds interesting...
posted by Skygazer at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2011


I swear Paul Ford is a MeFite... oooh wait look here: MeTa
posted by gen at 3:30 PM on July 27, 2011


Am old, but that's not news. Still though: reflexive defenders of *anything* with a corporate origin creep me out. Including the whole internet, I guess. Seriously- any time *anybody* on the internet criticizes the FB or the Goog or Apple or whatever, there's about a zillion folks pop up to shout "TAKE YOUR MEDS GRANDPA."

Because, if you don't like a new thing, that means you're too old to get it, obviously. *Obviously*. Prince criticizes the internet? Blasphemer! (despite that he's been on it since you were in grade school- look it up!) Paul Ford writes an article that you could skim as having less-than-complementary things to say about Facebook - HERETIC! Despite that he, um, makes his living on the internet etc, he obviously Doesn't Get It, Maaaan.

Well. I guess, if I'm past the age where I can win arguments by saying "You're just too old to understand, go die already," at least I've arrived at the point where I can lose them by saying "You're just too young to know any better, which you'll find out, to your detriment, long after I'll be unable to say I told you so.:"

TROLLING ASIDE, this wasn't, as far as I can tell, intended as an argument, it's an essay, which makes the point- as noted above- that the whole New Media/ Old Media thing can be seen a chasm between stories that *end*, that get tied up in discrete packages, vs. actual *life*, as depicted in a FB feed, where death, and births, and pictures of cakes, all just kind of arrive, and keep arriving, with no 'closure', no clear lessons, no killer final sentence, just... more life.

Mr Ford actually appears to be in favor of all of that. Since I'm apparently a curmudgeon, I suppose I can assume I'm opposed to births, deaths, cake, the internet, life, and young people. ESPECIALLY IF THEY DIDN'T READ THE DAMNED ARTICLE.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:31 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do people take FB so seriously? Is it because we have fewer meaningful personal connections in the real world?

*sigh*
Facebook is an OVERLAY on the real world, and I think the haters are missing that point. To give a basic example: I had an extra +1 for The Hives tonight. I posted that as my FB status. Somebody saw it and said she'd take it, so I'm taking her to the show. Once I'm there I'll check in, which will let me see who else is at the gig. Using this, I might meet up for pre or post show drinks with some of them.
If I'm not too hungover tomorrow I'll use FB to see what people are doing over the weekend and coordinate with that. On Saturday I'm gong to a friend's birthday drinks which she planned through FB. I did the same thing and got about 40 people.
Are there drama and issues? Yes. But the hyperbolic snobbery and hate directed at Facebook is one thing that I will never understand about Metafilter. It's based on older values that just don't make sense.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that's indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self."

Franzan thinks that's a bad thing? That's the beauty of technology! That's the point! That's why we need it to replace the natural world!

I like the start of the article. Sometimes I try and create little narratives and epiphanies through my updates but it's harder then on my blogs.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:15 PM on July 27, 2011


That was easily the best-written article I've read in weeks. Also the content was quite interesting.
posted by ropeladder at 11:08 PM on July 27, 2011


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