Recently, I had an interesting talk with my mother who fervently refuses to be pulled into the fangs of the Social Network.
She said something to the effect of: “Well, you see I’m not sitting in front of the screen all day long, I do understand that people who are working with computers will often quickly check Facebook during the day, but I just don’t have time for that.”
Thinking about this, it seems that her concept of Facebooking (far from being any kind of “productivity tool”) relates more to the cigarette or coffee break of 20th century office workers: to quickly check out of work and into some idle conversation.
Now, these breaks have been keeping office drones alive for decades, head above the waterline of work, quick injections of socialized and caffeinated distraction.
But there are only so many breaks a worker can take during a day before her work will stack up and his boss come knocking.
The Infinite Coffee Break
With the Facebook Break on the other hand, we have an entirely different species of diversion.
In the innocent belief that it’s “only a few seconds” the worker will continuously check in, while these seconds silently add up to minutes and hours. Facebook is a never-ending coffee-break, in other words. And not just that, it’s constantly accessible, just a click away.
Add to this the fact that Facebook has encroached so much onto our work and private lives that your job may even require going to Facebook, whether to retrieve a client’s lost email or phone-number or to invite colleagues (who don’t read their email but do check their Facebook) to an important meeting.
In this sense, Facebook is the perfect example how our modern concept of work is increasingly fused with pleasure. Another example are the offices of Google or Lego that look more like playgrounds than workplaces. The Workplace has long ago stopped to be just a place of work. Now it’s the hipster’s first frontier, a surrogate family, a lifestyle choice.
Peculiarities Of Facebook Standard Time
I’ve already discussed the problem of Facebook striving to become an Internet within the Internet, a walled garden, pruned of all dangers and excitement: flattened blue & white boredom. Read the article Why Facebook is Not the Internet or: The Difference between Leading and Cheerleading for more information)
The implications of this are hard to exaggerate, for it seems that anything posted on Facebook enters some kind of gargantuan centrifuge that strips it of all meaning and context.
I’m not sure how this works exactly, but it seems to have to do with the fact that anything dropped into this well is dressed up in blue & white uniform and set marching in line – flanked by billions of fellow Newsfeed items – all racing towards some end-point of absolute meaninglessness.
Somehow, the word Gleichschaltung comes to mind.
Even the most controversial or despicable content seems to be flattened out by this Great Equalizer, stripped of its dimension and context by likes and comments, spiraling towards some kind of lobotomized permanent repository along with billions of holiday snapshots and drooling pets or babies.
Delete History: A Mission Impossible
These latent feelings regarding Facebook recently became amplified when I set out for a simple experiment: to see if it was possible to “reset” a profile by removing all likes and posts and start out fresh.
What started out as an idle idea quickly turned into hours of frustrated and ultimately futile attempts. I looked for a “delete history” button: negative. I tried to use different macros to automate the task of deleting items, one by one, off the wall. Many of the “recipes” posted by other users trying to accomplish the same didn’t work, some of them just a few weeks old, posted along with their apologies that Facebook “kept changing stuff”. Some of them worked partially, they deleted parts of the new “Timeline”. But ultimately, there seems to be no way to “wipe” a Facebook profile.
In doing all of this I noticed a few things:
- Facebook fastidiously categorizes all actions on their Network in groups such as “Likes”, “Posts”, etc. making it impossible to centrally access all of the data.
- As easy as it is to add new stuff, once you start trying to remove it, a lot of bugs appear, among them:
switching to the old profile view by downgrading the “user-agent” to Internet Explorer 6 or 7, only a part of the posts show up. – switching between the mobile site and the main site, there seem to be severe discrepancies between content: what shows here doesn’t show there. – trying to delete “likes” of pages, companies, etc. on a personal profile keeps older “likes” present even after removing everything on screen, making the former essentially immortal and irremovable aspects of a user profile.
It may be that these bugs were only related to the browser or system that I was using, but for that they seemed far too diverse and commonplace.
I couldn’t help shake the feeling that Facebook was either really clumsily built or militantly asserting its territory and protecting my content from deletion.
In the end, you can’t blame them. It’s their servers. Whatever you put there, it’s theirs. Your content and preferences, meticulously entered into its database is the fabric of their business model. It’s the old “If You’re Not Paying for It You’re the Product” and never did I realize it more than after this little experiment.
And as usual, I have to admit that while Facebook is an easy target, Google and Twitter and others are no saints, either.
In the end, if you want a certain amount of control on the net, you’ll have to rent your own web space. Period.