The State of “Social” (Redux)

This post, back in 2018, mused a little about the general state of social networking, and the failure of Mastadon to gain any traction. Despite the obvious and ongoing twin clusterfucks of Facebook and Twitter, little seems to have changed.

Since 2018 i’ve (not for the first time) deleted my Twitter account, and will not be going back. They don’t seem to have noticed…

Both Facebook and Twitter appear to have doubled down on the strategy of “outrage generates engagement. engagement generates profits”, despite the obvious and one might say catastrophic impact it has had on civil society. Even the mainstream press is driven by the vagaries of tweet storms. Facebook looks (from the outside) to be an high stakes version of the Stanford Prison Experiment being run as a profit centre. WhatsApp and Instagram? Please don’t look behind the curtain!

The group of humans with whom i’ve been luck enough to become acquainted are, to varying degrees: intelligent, socially liberal, technically savvy, literate, politically aware, beautiful, artistic, and, er… lovely. That’s why i try to stay in touch with them despite them being spread out over multiple continents.

Unfortunately keeping in touch is not easy. This is, mea maxima culpa, entirely a problem of my own making. Currently there are sets of friends or individuals spread across a large number of … systems. These range from Email (it should be called GMail at this point), XMPP and SMS to iMessage, Signal, and even Discord. Not including Mastadon as nobody ever even remembers it exists.

A large majority of those people are active on Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, others on Facebook. The path of least resistance would definitely be to surrender to the herd, and i completely understand that it’s me that makes all this difficult… and yet, i’m not going back.

Everything has a price. Some aspect of the performative / promotional / social engagement with traditional public social networks makes it worthwhile for my friends to continue that relationship. The balance of power has definitely shifted, but people who profited from the early phase largesse are struggling to move on now the situation has become borderline abusive. The societal damage is spread thin enough, especially for those of us who have the free time to waste worrying about it, that it makes sense to try wait it out. Maybe the balance will shift again? It won’t, at least not back from whence it came!

The idea that a new form of social networking, one that reflects and respects the real life boundaries of our actual friendships, will evolve or emerge from the current mess of highly commercialized exploitation now seems ridiculous to me. Prior transitions (MySpace to Facebook, etc) feel like poor guides to the future as the context in which they happened is entirely different. Sure the kids are gravitating to different venues, away from their parents, but the owners of new venues are that same predatory ad tech creeps, with a bag full of “How do you do, Fellow Kids” memes slung over their shoulder.

[As an aside, i’m really intrigued by the concept of posting being in some way “performative”, the micro-doses of attention coming from posting to something like Twitter has become meaningful enough to be habit forming. Future studies of this phenomenom are going to be a rough read…]

A system like Secure Scuttlebutt seems like it would be a far more “human” venue in which to interact. I still love the idea of staying in touch with a geographically dispersed circle of friends, with the possibility of serendipitous encounters of friends-of-friends, having friends help friends… but not all happening under the Unblinking Algorithmic Eye.

Going Underground

And the public wants what the public gets
But I don’t get what this society wants
I’m going underground, (going underground)
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground, (going underground)
(So) let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow

We talk and we talk until my head explodes
I turn on the news and my body froze
The braying sheep on my TV screen
Make this boy shout, make this boy scream!

Going underground, I’m going underground!

Going Underground – The Jam (1977)

Nineteen-fucking-seventy-seven! Forty years… but i still don’t get what this society wants.

(Righteous) Anger

Anger gets a bad name. That’s probably a good thing… but at the same time, some anger is productive. Don’t grow old and lose your anger. Grow up and hone it. Anger can be righteous. Anger can be motivating. Anger can change you and your world for the better.

In a roundabout way, what i’m trying to say is, don’t vote tory.. you’re better than that, your anger is worth more than that.

Prophecy?

Screenshot 2019-11-21 at 09.54.47.png

“Johnson becomes PM” … eek. Quite the accidental heading.

With all the usual caveats that the polls haven’t felt accurate for a while, etc.

It’s hard to fathom anyone living through the last 9 years of nastiness / incompetence, and thinking, “you know what we need is more of this style of Conservatism!” Who are these people? What kind of life do you have to be living to think Boris “liar with a bus” Johnson is a good idea?

(Yes, “liar with a bus” is very weak… but filling that set of quotes could literally keep me here typing all day!)

Wilde on Art and Individualism

Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism is poorly named, given it’s age (first published in 1900) perhaps intentionally so, but is still very much worth reading. His real point is anti-capitalist – raging against the ills of private property, charity, wage slaving, but where he is most eloquent is in the relationship between art and individualism:

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.  Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is.  It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want.  Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman.  He has no further claim to be considered as an artist.  Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.

In the current ‘attention economy’ age it has become too easy to confuse the “worth” of art with the views, likes, impressions it generates. This is, of course, intentional on the part of the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. the data aggregators. In terms of “art for it’s own sake” it is sad to see how easily (and hard) we’ve all fallen into their trap.

A Sequence of (Unlikely) Events

This is not written in the expectation that it is at all likely, but as an exercise in understanding what might be possible with adults in the room who were able to put their factionalism aside. Which is to say that it’s not going to happen!

  • Vote of no confidence is tabled by the leader of the opposition (Corbyn)
  • a caretaker government is installed, lead by whomever can command a majority of parliament for the proposed actions (apparently not Corbyn)
  • an extension is requested with the explicit goal of taking the proposed actions
  • representations are made to the EU for a withdrawal agreement in alignment with the restrictions of the Good Friday Agreement (this likely means remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market, but leaving the political union. Something akin to Norway / Switzerland)
  • a referendum is scheduled with the option to accept the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement or continue the current arrangements (EU membership, A50 revoked)
  • the caretaker government implements the legislation required based on the outcome of the referendum
  • a general election is called
  • the caretaker government steps aside

Despite the obvious issues of using referenda (see 2016!) to solve political issues, given that the current state of affairs it might be the only way to get the toothpaste back in the tube. This is at least more inline with the principle of only going direct to the people for confirmatory votes, ie. where the options are clear and the outcome obvious in all eventualities.

Of course, it might also be too late for all that – a general election could return a Tory + Brexit Party majority, but at least the above sequencing has some possibility of actually delivering closure.

[Note: there will be no more discussion of these issues here. Let the pieces fall where they… May! Sorry that was awful.]