We’ve been betrayed. Zuckerberg and the rat bastards at Cambridge Analytica have done had their way with us.
Listen on Twitter and it sounds like everyone’s freaking out. Rightly so, in some regards. You’d think there was a mass exodus from the social network, but upon monitoring my followers and friends, it doesn’t seem like anyone has walked away from it just yet. The numbers are the same today as they were last weekend, before the bombshell detonated.
I know I’ve tightened my settings up, deleted all the apps that had access to me.
But, beyond that, not much.
I’ve been hip to Cambridge Analytica for over a year. I’ve known that Facebook quizzes were datamining for at least two.
So, I’m not shocked. I’m disappointed that Facebook is so complicit in the situation. It disgusts me that Facebook has had such a hand in manipulating the election. My hint of betrayal began as far back as when Zuckerberg got lambasted by the GOP for what they felt was over-liberalizing the site, and he bent over backward to calm them down. It was around then that content got WEIRD on the social network and shit went sideways. Betrayal began then.
The out-of-control indignation shouted by some people, though, is beyond the pale.
Really? You had no clue you were the product? You didn’t know Big Brother was watching you to see how they could manipulate you? No clue? None?
Seems to me blaming others for such naivete is a bit rich.
The Forever of the Internets
Now, me, I walked out of the wastelands recently to resurrect this blog. The “why” on that is all over the place – so many reasons, so many motivations.
But part of why I stopped writing here was largely to do with some of what’s going on now – too much information about me out there. Too much history, too much background, too much access. I got a little “that’s not for you” about my life and pulled the curtains shut in at least one area.
It was futile though. Let’s not pretend. The stuff’s still out there. Even if I deleted the blog, took a flamethrower to the site, you could claw back through it all on the Wayback Machine, or the Internet Archive, as the normies call it.
Google is forever, man. Don’t kid yourself.
We like to think it’s all so impermanent on Facebook and Twitter. The marketing nerds will tell you the average tweet has a shelf-life of 12 minutes and the average Facebook update something like 23 hours. But, really?
It creeps me out sometimes that people will be combing through my content for days after the fact, and suddenly some follower makes a note about a six-day old tweet, where, for me, it was a throwaway comment in a moment in time.
Awesome illustration by Davide Bonazzi, from http://www.copyrightuser.org/understand/exceptions/text-data-mining/
It Just Seems Fleeting
And that’s how the social networks get us. We think it’s unimportant or temporary, a time-waster or distraction at best.
Oh, look, a quiz about what character you are on Downton Abbey. Great, do that. Really?
I used to routinely comment on these and say, “Well, you know that’s a datamining operation, right? They just want access to your profile?”
Invariably, I’d get “Yeah, I know, but it’s only Facebook.”
Well, “only Facebook” allowed information to become weaponized and then used against us in a way that has made society more divisive now than arguably any time since the Vietnam War, or even the American Civil War.
Storytime: The Blog Before This Blog
Part of why I brought this blog back from the dead was because I’ve had kind of a reckoning of identity here in Greece. It’s one of those times where I’m in the middle still, so I can’t really see around me yet, but… things are changing in me, in my mind, in who I am. And while that’s happening, I’m also taking ownership of who I’ve been and from whence I’ve come.
So, as part of that, about 8-10 days ago, I finally undertook the task of getting my first blog – it’s this shitty little Blogspot blog I called The Last Ditch – archived because I lost access to it years ago and Google, who own Blogspot, are completely useless. That’s how I came to pay some dude on Fiverr $20 to archive the whole site.
I’m thinking, “hey, in two or three days, I can finally stop sweating about this site crashing and me losing a few years of writing.”
But nerd writes me back. “Okay, wait. I will be done in a few minutes.”
Seriously? Six years of blog posts, scraped and archived in an Excel sheet in just a few minutes? But, yeah, that’s what happened.
Now, suddenly, I feel so naïve for all those times I thought, “Hey, I’ll just quickly take the quiz and delete access to my account immediately after I’m done.”
Because, well, obviously if some nerd on Fiverr can scrape my blog on in five minutes with the archive buttons broken on it, then clearly some high-end analytics and hacking company can do a whole lot more than that on Facebook.
We’ve Always Been the Product
There’s a whole world out there that lives and dies by information alone, because information spurs whole markets. We’re the commodity. We’re the meal ticket. They need to know about us, and the more they know, the more they profit.
This is the world model now, and it’s not just Facebook. Facebook’s just who got caught. Are you kidding me?
Our radio habits, TV habits, reading habits – they’ve been scrutinized for nearly a century. From the Nielsen Ratings to Facebook “likes,” it’s all the same. We’re just bigger participants than we’ve ever been, giving them more and more data sets by which to judge us, watch us, learn from us.
Opting Out A Little at a Time
I’ve gone nomad, so I live out of my duffle bag. I can’t buy stuff, ‘cause I got no place to put stuff. Do you have any idea how categorically life-changing it is to have nowhere to put stuff, to not be a stuff-buyer anymore?
Think about all the times you browse shops mindlessly with friends. The last time I did that, it was August 2015, and I realized how this wasn’t a thing I could do, or wanted to do, anymore. Why look at things I can’t buy? Why browse? I distinctly remember standing in that Chinatown shop with my friends J and B, and their two kids, as they all pored over the knickknacks, and I stood looking out at the street, realizing I was no longer someone who could browse and impulse-buy. My life was designed against that.
Now, when I visit towns, people invariably tell me about some cute shop or consumer district I have to browse. Why? Nothing’s coming with me when I pack up in a month. I might as well just throw my time in the garbage, because there’s nothing for me in those shops. To browse is actively opting into feeling a sense of loss and desire, neither of which I can quell, because buying shit ain’t my solution. It can’t be. I gotta weigh in at another airport soon, and there’s nothing else I can take with me.
You’re Becoming Fuller, Not Fulfilled
Through all this when I started to realize how much of life is designed to make us unhappy with what we have, so we spend more. Because, face it, life on Planet Earth is about spending money we don’t need to spend, so we can buy things we don’t need, all so that industries that don’t care about our happiness can stay flush with our cash.
The advertisements, the commercials, the product reviews, the featured technology – it’s everywhere, all around us, and all of it designed to do one thing: To distract us from the fact that modern life is not fulfilling.
We don’t make stuff, most of us don’t see anything created from our day-to-day jobs – we see code. We see numbers. We see saved files. But we don’t make anything, we have no sense of creative pride. It’s just cogs turning on a wheel.
“Happiness” For Sale!
So, our Facebook trackers track us as we mindlessly browse the web, looking for some momentary sense of fulfilment or spectacle. Soon, a pop-up advertisement says, “Hey. Remember those Fluevog shoes you were browsing? We have those. Buy those! Come to our site! You’ll feel better with new shoes in your life. Because Fluevog!”
But do you? Do you feel better? Or is it just another hour or a day of distraction that you’ve rented to keep from being aware of how little you’re really satisfied with in your life?
Unfortunately, we’ve created a world where nearly all of us are cogs in this machine. We’re all involved in the conspiracy to make people buy stuff, acquire stuff, need stuff. Without them getting stuff, we’re out of a job. Quite the cycle.
And industry, it wants more ways to make money off us, and that’s where Facebook and social media come in. Never has marketing been able to watch us squirm under a microscope, but now they can.
But we’ve also never had a megaphone for our discontent like we do now, either. So, now people like me can speak up and say, “Whoa… whatcha doing? You don’t NEED that. Stop buying things. Stop being a part of the big machine.”
For every voice like mine, there’s another machination going to work to make sure you don’t listen to me. Algorithms. The matrix. It’s a thing. Of course you need a new phone. Pfft, no you don’t have enough shoes. How could you ever be happy without that sunflower jacket? Come on, spend a little, live a little. Buy joy!
Put your money where your happy is, little proletariat. Do it. Do it!
And God forbid you actually feel happy. Happy people are the worst possible outcome for business and politics.
If you’re happy, you’re content, and if you’re content, you don’t need anything, and if you don’t need anything, you’re not spending money, and if you’re not spending money, then industry can’t profit off you, and if industry can’t profit off you, the local politician can’t woo them to open a factory so they can employ locals to make more shit to sell to more people.
Am I oversimplifying? Pfft, of course I am. But I’m not far off the mark. The unhappier you are, the better it is for society, and when Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest can stoke the fires of discontent, it’s better for the bottom dollar on everything but you.
Saying No, That’s Also a Thing
Being content? It’s nice. Not buying shit? It’s good for the morale. Not having clutter? Great for the soul. Not racking up debt? Good for the sanity.
Unfortunately, we’re in the age of outrage. That’s a whole ‘nother post for another time. We’re far more likely to feel rage than joy, sadness than happiness. I’d like to say that’s all a choice, but it’s more complicated than choosing life, choosing joy.
Especially when social media is basically the harbinger of the winter of our discontent.
John Steinbeck wrote, in The Winter of Our Discontent, “Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms.” Maybe the same can be said of Facebook and other forms of social media.
Social media didn’t change my sickness, just my symptoms. I spoke up, shouted, said my piece, and things never got better, things didn’t change. I wrote and raged and roared, but still I was unhappy. I was locked into a lifestyle. Like Billy Corgan sang, despite all my rage I was just a rat in a cage.
In a lot of ways, going nomadic probably saved my life. I wasn’t suicidal or anything, but I’d fallen into such a state of apathy and discontent that my life felt meaningless and soulless. It wasn’t until I walked away from the status quo and told myself “I am not my stuff” and sold everything that I began to plug into the matrix a little less.
I still had my plug in the wall. Just not as many of them.
Choose Better (At Least Some of the Time)
As time goes on, I realize this nomad life I’m living – a simple life where I collect snapshots of times, moments in different lives, in different corners of the world – helps me find my contentment and my joy in different ways. It’s in a sandwich or a coffee, a glass of wine as I watch the sun sink over my latest city. It’s in picking up a bunch of papers knocked over by an old Greek lady who can’t pick ‘em up, but who flushes a string of Greek gratitude for my momentary act of kindness. My fulfilment comes in small, strange ways every day, and nearly none of them are breaking the bank or filling my bag.
And yet I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. The Mueller investigation kicks sand in my face. My friends with nice cars and boats and new beds and comfy homes make me realize I have this but want that too. So, I’m not fully content. I’m not completely happy with the life I live. Will I ever be? Is anyone?
Meh. I don’t know.
But in the meantime, Facebook will know if I am. You probably will too. Twitter will. The datamining motherfuckers crawling beneath it all, they’ll know too.
At least I know they know, and I understand their motivations. Maybe, in this brave new world of the winter of our discontent, that’s the only kinda winning we’ll achieve. Take my victories, however small and fleeting, where I can, right?
And I can keep clicking on all the ads on Facebook and Twitter, choosing to “hide ad” and then say the reason is, “it’s offensive.” Because, hey, man. It is. My happy ain’t for sale. Not anymore.