Fakecrack Nation by Billee Sharp
I’m not going to apologize for revisiting Facebook in my ruminations this time around. Why should I? Every week there are a slew of articles published which touch on the social networking phenomenon, I read them avidly because I’m ready to be illuminated as to all aspects of the lucrative and evolutionary device. Most of the pieces disappoint me: the vapid satisfaction of those who comment on the IPO status of Zuckerberg’s baby declared by the Bloomsberg Business Week to be “ the biggest flop of the decade”. There were also scribblings about dodgy insider trading pre-IPO, but that story seems dead in the water. I understand why the fat fiscal success of the premier networking site is endlessly noteworthy but the tepid sociological commentaries are not worth wrapping fish and chips up in.
Suffering from insomnia? Keep a copy of an article like Tara Parker-Pope’s “Does Facebook Turn People Into Narcissists?” ( nyt.com/2012/05/17/) next to your bed. P-P’s article relies on a recent study by Western Illinois University, we learn that Facebook users who are frequent updaters, taggers and have large volume of virtual friends are more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits. No specific department is cited as generating this lifeless analysis and I can only imagine it came from Statistics as there is no trace of awareness of the kind of social complexity engendered by Facebook and social networks generally.
The explosion of social networking on contemporary society has many and various ramifications, not least the inter-generational connectivity, the creation of viral community, semantic developments, the new tools of communication and so forth. However the shock-horror of narcissism is the by-word for any commentary on social networking and it’s a ridiculously callow observation. To reduce a few trends to a social aberration is to miss the complexity of evolving behavioral networking strategies. For example, most of my “friends” are creative types of some hue, all using the network to promote their art as well as interact socially: the two, when intelligently invoked, are nicely complimentary, this is not narcissism, it is social marketing. Amber Case, a technological authority who emerged from the Cyborg Anthroplogy discipline is both an academic and a tech guru and her understanding of society and its relationship to it’s technology is grounded in the social sciences. Case herself does not indulge in a Facebook profile and this is the place that I fall out of step with her: for if the crucial tenet of social anthropological research, namely, participant observation, still holds, how can researchers abstain from the network? How can the network be understood from outside? This is why the technological whizzkids at Facebook do so well, they are on the network and their innovations are intuited on perceived behaviors, not least their own.
It seems to me being involved in the network mindset is revelatory and a fast changing experience. Early updating behavior posited most adopters as wild egotists: there was nothing too vacuous or insignificant not to warrant a post or tweet. Then there was the celebrity-collecting trend, where characters like GaGa and Stephen Fry aggregated millions of twitfriends. Lowly mortals satisfied themselves with scraping up a thousand or two “friends” and then lost sleep over getting these dimly perceived mates to respond en masse to every bleated “whats on your mind?” one-liner.
As things progressed ranting about any old thing got old and increasingly “friends” shared digital data: less mindless observations and more favorite tunes, art, writing, news-stories, and this was the point where the network really started to glow with connectivity: watching important stories, or fabulous art go viral warmed the veritable cockles of our hard drives.
Then the specter of Big Brother emerged, the colorless demeanor of megafriend Zuckerberg, his casual townhall appearance with Obama and his stupendous wealth brought on the conspiracy theorists’ neurosis: the fact that Facebook owns everything that hallows it’s walls began to produce self-censored posts. The viral Occupy/Bradley/Anonymous/LucSec/ posts diminished, less horrifying photos of deformed babies from Fallujah and drone deaths were circulating.
Perhaps our social evolution is on a trajectory where the distasteful vibe of making money for a bunch of rich Sili Valley types while exposing our true beliefs might lead to the demise of Facebook. The emergence of truly narcissistic networks like the sickening Klout seems to suggest otherwise. Klout gives you a rating, publicly displayed, on how relevant you are on the networks, this makes some people very excited and they get special promos from businesses because they are network bigwigs. To get a high Klout score you have to post/tweet a lot ( 20-40 times daily) get a big response from your network contacts and change your knickers every day ( actually you don’t have to wear clean underwear).
I’ve had a good slurry of Klout invitations coming my way in the last few months but somehow the desire for more meaningless interactions and a position to maintain in the network meritocracy failed to appeal to me. I was surprised to see a “friend” post on the book just yesterday:
“Klout is the new swag. So annoying yet people can’t stop mentioning it. My score is 81”. I had thought that person, a promoter of underground music and a contemporary counterculturist of sorts was more sophisticated than Klout, but what do I know, I have no klout!
Again it seems the development of social networking reduces our interactions to the lowest denominator rather than elevating our sensibilities to our lofty potentiality.
I fear we are so caught up in the present tense of communicating we are missing the biggest picture, in other words: what we can achieve now that we can communicate as a network. Terence McKenna warned us of getting into a labyrinthine relationship with technological developments, getting sidetracked by the spectacle. Likewise Roland Barthes whose early critiques of the effects of mass culture in the 1950s anticipated a time when culture critique would constitute culture itself. Barthes has passed away but the moment he anticipated seems to have arrived and McLuhan’s dictum, “ the medium is the message” has become a truism, if perhaps only momentarily.
The networks will not be abandoned wholesale, some participants will leave in disgust but the joy of network communication is palpable and workable for many. Stammets, the world’s leading mycologist, sees that the computer network model mimics the biological model of mushrooms and fungi: some of the most intricate sophisticated communities we are aware of. Probably the evolution of network communication will oscillate back and forth between the commercially simulated experience and the deep interaction of “the Well”, the precursor of social networking and one of the first initiatives perpetrated by online intellectuals like Stewart Brand.
Leaving Facebook would mean promotional ennui for the projects, my own and my friends’, that I hold dear and as I resist smart phone ownership, Twitter remains a partially explored medium for my promotional lust.
In closing I’ll itemize the best and worst of my networking experiences and leave it at that:
Bad Fakecracking Moments: 1) Out of the gloom of a nightclub dancefloor somebody says, “Hey Billee!” I do not recognize the person or his voice, but buying time I reply cordially, if hesitantly, “Hey!” Mr X is no fool though, “You don’t recognize me do you?” “No,” I say coyly, “But its awfully dark and I’m awfully drunk/stoned, give me a clue.” “I played with your husband at DNA in 1998 at Dinkle Rave” Nothing is clicking. “We talk on Facebook ALL THE TIME” , Mr X is running out of patience. I segue into some spurious rant about my fear that my facial recognition brain cell has been acting up err.. since I started having kids err.. 19 years ago. Later that night, sober enough to scroll through my 800 friends, I found him, Mr X, looking extremely unlike his present incarnation, his profile picture probably taken way back at the long forgotten Dingle Rave. Note to self: Busted 2) Having a high speed scroll down the newsfeed, see a cute dog. Like. Comment: “Cute dog!” Comment reply: “she died last night.” Note to self: No more high speed liking. 3) Getting worked up over how vacuous/ narcissistic/ politically naive/badly spelt!/boring/ indulgent/ poorly phrased/unfunny/ impulse uncontrolled many of my fakefriends’ updates are. Note to self: Check yourself.
Great Fakecracking Moments: 1) Promoting an underground party solely on the f-crack which was a total unmitigated success. However, now I get around 30 party notifications daily I rarely open a single one. Note to self: this is why you missed Jeff Mills at Monarch, watch out, Moodymann dates will be revealed on fakecrack. 2) My firstborn now lives in London, I miss him terribly, I go to Fakecrack every day for the merest morsel of digital contact, if he hasn’t posted I can look at his photos for the billionth time. Note to self: If you can’t stop stalking your kid, get a therapist. 3.) I want to share: If I read an article or see some art, or something funny and I think its worthwhile I “share” it, I enjoy a lot of what other fakefriends’ read and share, we share that stuff ourselves, our stuff gets shared. This is called “going viral” and it definitely tweaks my pleasure receptors. Note to self: Don’t ever share while in an altered state 4) I’ve made some new friends, notably, a some really cool activists from Belgium, Palestine, Eygpt, Israel, China and the UK. They may all be fake fakefriends created by The New World Order but to hell with it, I like them all. Note to self: defriend Zuckerberg 5) Birthdays! I love being able to say HBD for free & in 30 seconds, and I know it feels good, I bask in the birthday greetings I get on fakecrack, those good wishes are better than cake. Note to self: NEVER SCORN CAKE!
Photo credit: ripped from fakecrack and now unfindable, thx friend!
Billee Sharp’s book “Lemons & Lavender: the eco guide to better homekeeping” Viva Editions, 2012 is available at bookstores and on amazon.com.