Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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Random Thoughts: Facebook Is a Utility

I listened to Ezra Klein’s podcast in which he interviewed Mark Zuckerberg yesterday. And there were a couple of things that troubled me. First, I was concerned to hear how quickly Mark Zuckerberg dismissed Ezra’s concerns around one of Zuckerberg’s, and therefor Facebooks’s, assumptions. The assumption is that a more connected and interacting world will result in a better world. Second, he brushed aside any suggestion that his current business model is incompatible with his stated goal of improving peoples lives based on the assumption just referenced.

What I heard was unexamined assumptions. Those are incredibly dangerous. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions the map itself is set out with unexamined assumptions.

Thanksgiving. Unless you have grown into having the exact same values as your whole family, this word should tell you that closer isn’t always better. While there are many aspects of this holiday I enjoy, it’s also a mine field of choosing between living your authentic self and avoiding unnecessary conflict.

There’s always at least one person who cannot gracefully handle conflict. Maybe your aunt is the lady who decided she would rather be right than be in relationships, rarely a choice that’s made consciously, rather one that springs from insecurity. And there’s always at least one person with fringe political believes who won’t respond kindly to any criticism of them. With these folk, the distance is precisely why you can manage Thanksgiving with them.

And that distance? It’s exactly what disappeared when Uncle Bob friended you on Facebook and started sharing link from freedom.eagle.com.ru twenty times a day during the last election. Now, you’ve got him 365 days of the year. Only now, his funny toasts and football commentary that you actually enjoy at Thanksgiving is drowned out in his political rage.
Some of the reasons we compartmentalize our lives are relationship sustaining rather than inhibiting.

I haven’t even touched the fact that psychologists are starting to put out research suggesting that time spent socializing though our phones doesn’t yield the same positive physiological results as face to face interaction. Nor have I touched on the FOMO effect that makes people less happy when they spend an excessive amount of time on social media. This gets around to the second worrying thing in that interview.

Facebook’s business model has been brought under more scrutiny since the Cambridge Analytica issue. Facebook makes money by selling us its users and our mountain of information and our attention. They have clear incentives to addict us to living in their app. Zuckerberg dismissed this as a real concern based on his assertion, which is that connected is better.

I don’t necessarily think Zuckerberg has mal-intent. But I am very troubled by the gaps in his thinking. He’s holding a stunning about of global power, and that interview demonstrated to me that he’s not intellectually rigorous enough to wield it. I think it’s time to consider regulating social media as a utility. I don’t know that the government will have any good ideas on what to do next either, but I don’t feel comfortable allowing shareholders and Zuckerberg to continue to hold all of the control.

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100 Books by 40: GOOD NIGHT, MR TOM

Picking up this book was a delightful break from the tedium that was reading The Count of Monte Cristo. The book is a young adult title about a boy that was evacuated from London during World War II. While the writing wasn’t challenging to read, the novel covered some heavy topics.

The boy, Willie, left an abusive mother and taken in by a man that had cut himself off from others after the death of his wife and young child. The story centers around the transformation of the boy and the man. They are wounded souls who find healing in each other’s company.

My facebook feed brings many things to my attention, but I would say the vast majority highlight the negative power that we have to belittle and harm both those around us and ourselves. It’s refreshing to contemplate the best that we can be versus the worst. On the rare occasion that someone shares something positive or beautiful, I feel relieved, but those things fail to over-power the negative emotions that I am often left with.

I know people have either left their facebook accounts or blocked certain posts from turning up in their feed, and I get that. There’s just some stuff that doesn’t add value to your life and only brings up negative emotions. There are moments were we can be constructively challenged, but social media is rarely the space for it.

I’ve already limited my consumption of certain types of news media for the reason stated above. Twenty-four hours news stations were among the first things to get winnowed out of my information diet. I’m considering┬áthat facebook might get a similar treatment. I am going to pare back my facebook browsing for a while, and see how that goes.

Mister Tom is a nice, easy read. The characters are charming. The setting reminds me how little Americans have been touched by war since the Civil War. The towns people in the book all pitch in to help with the war effort. Much like Americans accepted rationing and planted victory gardens to support WWII, people accepted a certain level of shared sacrifice for the greater good. We aren’t so far from that time to make it impossible for our culture to value self sacrifice again. In fact, I am sure that millions of people in their own small way are still doing this today. There’s a big world out there full of people who are doing their best, and social media isn’t a great lens to take a look at it.