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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

Facebook. Ever heard of it? THIS IS NOT A TEST #38 (transcript)

Published September 12, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Hey gibblety goblins, what’s the word on the street? How are you doing? It’s your old pal Michael Phillips, back to regale you with another THIS IS NOT A TEST. Just like always. Nothing to see here, move along. Wait, don’t move along. Not for half an hour or so anyway. So yeah, this county clerk down in Kentucky who refused to issue licenses for same sex marriages because the idea of same sex marriage is against her personal beliefs…I have a question: since when do your personal beliefs have anything to do with doing your fucking job? Your civil servant’s job, no less, but any job really. “Oh…sorry, I can’t climb that pole and fix your electricity. You have cats and my god told me that cats are henchmen for the dark overlord. So, sorry bro, but I rebuke your cats, and you too, as a cat owner. I’m out of here.” Your beliefs are your beliefs, and you’re welcome to them no matter how wrongheaded or idiotic they are. You are welcome to them. You. Not me, not anyone else. Go live in your cat-free or queer-free bubble. No one is stopping you. Go pray somewhere. That should keep you busy for a while. There’s a lot of shit to pray for. But if you bring it into your job, as a person representing a government, you should expect that it’s not going to end well, as our friend in Kentucky found out when she had to cool her heels in jail for a few days. But the problem with locking up an extremist is you just end up making them into a martyr in the eyes of their cohorts.

The idea that some fundamnetalists want to put forward is that they fear an erosion of their religious liberty, which, if you think about it, is the only way they can couch ridiculous arguments like theirs without coming across as bigoted. It’s an empty and false argument though, and I’d respect them more if they just embraced their bigotry rather than trying to hide it or spin it. They’d still be wrong, but I’d respect them for being honest. Your “religious liberty” is intact whatever the rest of the heathens of the world do. You are still free to do what your religion dictates. Unless your religion tells you to have multiple wives. You can’t do that. I don’t know why you can’t, but laws is laws. If the fundamnetalists were being honest they would say they fear their religious liberty is being marginalized. That the world just isn’t going to be the way they’d like it to be. That they aren’t going to be able to force everyone to conform to their beliefs. But as we see elsewhere in the world, fundamnetalists aren’t really up for admitting they are insignificant. They’d rather kill you than admit that. Literally. So what’s the difference between ISIS and Christian fundamnetalists? Nothing. There is no difference. Sorry, I take that back: ISIS has the courage of their convictions. There’s the difference. That extremist groups down through the ages are always and inevitably eradicated and sent back to the shadows doesn’t seem to concern this lot. Becasue, you know, god is on their side.

Well, the pendulum swings, baby, history shows us that, but the thing is, every time it swings back things get a little better. But it still takes longer than any of us have left, so I guess if you don’t expect too much change you won’t be disappointed. Women got the vote in 1920 but they’re still second class citizens in every way you can measure. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, more than 50 years ago, and cops still murder black people without seeming to give it very much thought at all. It’s like seeing transgender people everywhere you look these days. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. You can’t swing a knock off Prada bag without hitting a trans person. People say, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful, transgender people are becoming mainstream,” and I just think, yeah, right now maybe. Wait a year until it’s not trendy to be trans anymore. Wait until the backlash comes. As for progress made by the LG-BLT on rye community, well — Kentucky. You’ve come a long way, baby! Now sit down and shut up. And so it goes.

But on to something more important than religion or civil rights: Facebook! Have you seen the Facebook? It’s on the computer. Ask your mother to show you. I was never a big Facebook user, but when Google + came along a few years ago I thought, “Here’s a good alternative to that dusty shit-pie called Facebook, yay, I embrace you,” and it is good. Aside from the technical benefits that you get by using it if you’re concerned with being found in Google search, it’s just a more pleasant visual and psychic experience. I called Facebook’s design “Soviet inspired,” and I think that’s a good way to put it. It’s crappy and buggy and just barely utilitarian, like a Soviet car or apartment. So when G+ came along I said adios to Facebook, and I invited everyone I knew on Facebook to come with me to the promised land of Google. They didn’t, for the most part, and that’s the point of all of this. Stay with me. We’ll get there. I say I abandoned Facebook, but I still checked in there from time to time. I didn’t post anything, except links to this podcast every week.

But then a few weeks ago I logged in there and got some really bad news, a good friend of mine had died. Trevy, I talked about him here a couple weeks ago. I didn’t see the news on Google + or Twitter or Tumblr or any of the other five thousand social media sites, I saw it on Facebook. Why? because everyone in the god damned world has a Facebook account. And since Facebook is where everyone is, that’s where I continued to get my news about Trevy and talk to people I know that knew him, and probably most surprisingly, talk to a lot of people I don’t know who knew him. After a few days as the news started to reach more people and I continued to post, I started getting “friend” requests from people I’d never heard of. But they knew Trevy and they saw something I wrote or a picture or video I posted, so they wanted to connect. I’ve been dicking around here on the web since the web was invented, and I’ve seen a lot of amazing things, and I’ve seen a people rally around causes or ideas, and I’ve seen people mourn. But the outpouring of emotion and remembrance on Facebook for Trevy was impressive. I knew that he knew a lot of people, but you really start to see how those connections go out beyond the people you know directly and trickle out to so many more people than you could imagine.

Which has always been Facebook’s saving grace, I suppose, that ubiquity. The fact that almost everyone is on there, at least once in awhile. They don’t have to make Facebook nice to look at or less annoying to use because you have to use it no matter how annoying and convoluted it is, so what do they care. Every improvement they’ve made in the past few years has been directly related to Google doing something on Google +. Do you enjoy being able to edit your Facebook posts? Of course you do, but you couldn’t do that before Google + came along and gave people that ability. Putting your friends into groups? That all changed when the G+ circles appeared. But again, none of that matters, because people will use Facebook regardless of how it works. Or whether it works. It’s just a critical mass thing. And it will go away too, just like previous critical mass applications of platforms went away. Do I have to say it? Are you going to make me say it? Okay, MySpace. Once it was everywhere, now it’s gone. Remember Friendster? Even if you don’t, it’s someplace where everyone was at one time. And how can we talk about the web without talking about that shining beacon on the hill, that democratic place where everyone had a website and we were all there frolicking in the sun together – yes, I’m talking about geocities!

Go ahead and laugh, but at one point 70% of the web was geocities sites. Okay, I just said that, I don’t know how much of the web was made up of geocities sites, but it sure seemed like 70% of it sometimes. All of which is to say that this is a fragile and fickle place, the Internet, and being at the top of the heap today doesn’t mean anything tomorrow. But for now, the people have voted with their feet. Technology sometimes presents us with options, but human nature makes the masses sway toward a single thing. They make a choice, either consciously or through hive mentality or path of least resistance – whatever the reason, the people choose. How much of that choice is steered or influenced by other sources depends on what we’re talking about. But technologies can shoot themselves in the foot too. The Betamax was a technically superior machine and recording method, but JVC came along with VHS and said, “Hey, look – you can record for six hours on this fucker. Can’t do that with a Betamax,” and that war was over almost overnight. The people chose convenience over quality, which the people will almost always do.

And the thing that is Facebook’s Achilles heel is the very thing that many see as its strength: everyone has an account. Now I’m sure that some of us say the same things to our friends that we’d say to our parents or distant relatives, but I’d hazard a guess that most of us do not. So there’s a kind of schizophrenic feel to Facebook sometimes. And if you talk to people who have left Facebook you are likely to hear that they got tired of hearing people’s political views, or conspiracy theories or seeing their god damned memes. I’ve said before that we all have more in common than we have differences, and I will always believe that’s true, but it can be hard to hold on to your fond feelings for that friend from high school when you have to see examples of their ignorance or racism or hatred or a combination of all of those things every day. Examples they proudly post to the world, and which some part of the world agrees with and congratulates them for. I can talk to anyone or hang around with anyone, but seeing someone in the flesh is a different thing, you can steer conversations, people can read each other’s reactions to things and adjust the conversation to stay away from things that make the other person wince. But of course there’s no such grace available on Facebook. Except the “see fewer posts like this” button, I suppose. Or if all else fails, the “stop seeing posts but stay friends” button. I love my brother, but he’s a state public safety guy and all he posts are pictures of car wrecks or eulogies for dead highway patrolmen. I don’t need to see that shit.

But the block functions at Facebook are interesting, they demonstrate very well the other thing the crowd does, which is influence development of software, or the direction of communities. The Internet was born as an ad-free place, but that didn’t last long. Advertising became part of the scenery very early on, and it has never gone away. Google became one of the biggest companies in the world not by providing great search results, but by selling advertising on those search results. And they are very good at it. The company I work for probably wouldn’t exist if we weren’t able to advertise on Google early on and build a paying customer base that way. That goes for a lot of companies. But as soon as advertising sprouted up, the people said, “What is this shit, it’s an eyesore!” and the ad-blocking browser plugin was born. If you’ve heard the rumblings from Apple lately, you know that they’re going to be integrating some new forms of ad blocking right into their operating system. That’s likely more a corporate and competitive decision than a user-motivated decision, but the end result will be the same. People love the Internet, but they don’t love the ads that pay for the Internet, so they find a way around them. Which is not in the best Interest of the Internet overall, but the same way people chose convenience over quality, they also choose self-interest over the good of the community. How else can you explain hedge funds?

But back to Facebook, some people have a lot of privacy concerns with it, since we know how much personal information Facebook gathers about its users. That really bothers some people and they spend a lot of time wading through the endless clicks and settings that you can use to control how much information Facebook uses. Notice I didn’t say how much information Facebook gathers, because they are gathering the same amount of information on someone who doesn’t change any privacy settings – which is most people because most people don’t care – but they’re gathering the same amount of information on them as they are on someone who has locked their account up so that only their best friend and their cat can see it. Gathering and using are two different things, but Facebook – and to be fair, most online companies – don’t want you to think about that too much. Facebook sells a lot of advertising too, you can’t escape it there. You can’t opt out of it or block it. Which is part of the reason Google + is attractive to a lot of people, because there are no ads on there. Though naturally Google is also hoarding all of the personal data about you that they can, because it helps them make their advertising more relevant, which makes them more money. But the privacy and advertising concerns do bother some people, and that’s part of the reason that new social networks like ello spring up.

Never heard of ello? It launched a little over a year ago, as what they called “a beautiful, ad-free” social network. Rather than a typical “about” page that you see on every website, ello had a manifesto. It said that your current social network was using you, making you into a soulless product to be bought and sold. They said, “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. No a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life. You are not a product.” Which all sounds very high-minded, but now that some time has passed they have a typical about page and the network itself is pretty sad. I work the Internets for a living, so I was in there a few weeks after it launched, because hey, who doesn’t want to see a new social network? But the people who were very active in there at the start, and who remain the most active in there, aren’t really my kind of folks. The people who run and use ello think they are creative. What they really are is 21st century creatives, which is to say, they’ve never created a god damned thing. They worship design, they’re incredibly narcissistic, and they are, for the most part, delusional, coddled twats. Ever seen the Holstee Manifesto? It’s a poster that’s just type and it says things like: THIS IS YOUR LIFE. DO WHAT YOU LOVE. HAVE PASSION. QUIT YOUR JOB AND TRAVEL THE WORLD. You’ve seen it. If you haven’t, I wrote a blog post about it, I’ll link to it here on the site. I’d read it to you, but it would take up 10 minutes of our precious time.

Anyway, I was trying to give ello a chance, but the design cult turned me off. I couldn’t take seeing yet another picture of a pillow embroidered with the motto, “I just want to drink coffee create stuff and sleep.” Just couldn’t take it. That’s a real pillow you can buy, by the way. And coffee cup and hoodie. But what really turned me off were the founders, one of whom builds – sorry, DESIGNS – and sells five thousand dollar bicycles. His bio on the ello site is one line: “Conceives and creates beautiful products that change the world.” His five thousand dollar bicycles are changing the world! And they continue to insist that ello is “beautiful,” when in fact, it’s ugly as shit. I mean it’s a white background which is nothing, that’s not design, it’s lack of design, but the text they use for everything is a ridiculous monospace font and the navigation is what we used to call “mystery meat.” Meaning nothing is labeled and you have to mouse or click around to see what the few little tools do. What’s funny is the people who “created” mystery meat navigation in the first place were design students. The first wave of design students to hit the web around 1998 or 99 were one of the worst things that ever happened to it. Their two page websites that said nothing, restricted to a little box in the middle of the screen with 6 pixel type. When they would bother to use type. So yeah, the cult of design, here they come, step aside! There are millions of them, fresh out of design school, they’ve come to create and drink up all of your coffee and change your world!

Does that sound like your kind of social network? If so, you’re in luck. Your people await you. I don’t know man, I always thought of the whole Internet as a social network. Email is a social network. And really, all of it is just a bunch of distractions and snake oil. A way to stay connected without all the mess and inconvenience of actually connecting. Are we better off with these things? I thought the Internet and the web were miraculous when they sprouted up, but I’m not sure that we’ve done much with them yet. The ability to order a pizza with your phone can’t be all there is. I don’t think we’ve realized yet what this thing can be, what it can do. But I look forward to one of you thinking that up and making it happen. I can’t. I’m busy. What’s the alternative anyway? We could all be like the people in an article that Jordan from Chance Press showed me. It’s about a couple who live as if it’s the 1880s. I’ll link to that too, you have to read it. They bought a Victorian house and use kerosene lamps and an ice box that takes block ice. They wear Victorian clothes and ride around in the clothes on those bikes with the giant wheels. The female half of the couple, who wrote the article, says, “The late Victorian era was an incredibly dynamic time, with so many new and extraordinary inventions it seemed anything was possible.” Anything, like, the Internet I guess, since they also have a website, and write for blogs.

These two are design cult people too, even if it’s not the first thing you think when you look at them. The only difference between them and the Holstee Manifesto crowd is their design boner is for things from the 19th century. They fetishize the objects that they live with the way every good design cultist does. Listen to this, here’s a few lines taken from the article, “My inkwell and the blotter I use to dry the ink on each page before I turn it are antiques from the 1890s; I buy my ink from a company founded in 1670. My sealing wax for personal letters comes from the same company, and my letter opener was made sometime in the late Victorian era from a taxidermied deer foot. When Gabriel and I have company we use early electric lightbulbs, based on the first patents of Tesla and Edison. When it’s just the two of us, we use oil lamps. Our heat comes from 19th-century gas heaters and from an antique kerosene space heater. In the winter we tuck hot water bottles into bed with us, and even the cotton covers that I sewed for those bottles are made from period-appropriate fabric. Our bed itself is an antique, and since it didn’t have a mattress when we bought it, I sewed one by hand and stuffed it with feathers. I bathe with a bowl and pitcher every morning, and for a nice long soak I use our cast-iron clawfoot bathtub. I wash my hair using Castile bar soap from a company established in 1839. My hairbrush is a 130-year-old design, and my toothbrush has natural boar bristles.”

No, the article wasn’t on The Onion. They appear to be actual people. But aside from fetishizing the objects, they seem to completely miss the idea of the Victorian era, which was progress, not regression. People invent new things because they are not satisfied with the way things are. If you would have given a typical Victorian era woman an electric refrigerator or central heat, she would have thrown the old icebox and kerosene heaters out into the yard and let the scrap dealer take them when he came by with his cart and donkey. It’s like people who insist on using typewriters today. Do you know what everyone with a typewriter did as soon as they could buy a word processor or a computer? They threw the typewriter out into the yard with the oil lamps. Just because old things give us a nostalgic feeling or were built to be more durable than your computer doesn’t make them superior tools. They are just well made things that are now obsolete. I have an 80 year old tool box, but I have it because I needed a bigger tool box than I had, and the old one is better than any tool box I can buy now. Just so you know that I do value old things that are still useful. But my hammer isn’t 80 years old. Because a hammer you buy today is better than an 80 year old hammer. But an ice box that you have to put a block of ice in every day is not useful. It’s stupid.

I admire people who can live off the grid. One day that’s where you’ll find me, out in the desert right next to some of them. But if there’s electricity running past my place, I’m going to be hooked up to it. I don’t look at what the Victorian couple are doing as living off the grid anyway. Their house has electricity, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to use those marvelous electric light bulbs based on the first patents of Tesla and Edison. And I assume it has running water, since she didn’t write a paragraph about what a genuine experience it is to shit in an outhouse and wipe your ass with a corncob. And listen man, having things at your fingertips but not using them isn’t necessarily bad either. I’m not saying that. Using less electricity, less water, less of anything. I just think that when you do it in costume you’re onto a whole different thing that has nothing to do with less conspicuous consumption and more to do with just taking a fetish too far. Somehow I imagine the next thing we’ll hear from them is their campaign to ban cars from the street they live on because cars are an erosion of their lifestyle liberties.

Ah well. Live and let live. Who said that? Who coined that phrase? I would guess some puritan, but then that wasn’t really their philosophy, was it. Let’s just say it was Ben Franklin. Any old saying without a specific origin can be attributed to Ben Franklin. I know one thing, whoever said September is the beginning of fall was full of shit though, that I know for sure. September is always the hottest month around here, and right now is no exception. It’s still ridiculously hot, and my neighbors are still insane. I haven’t updated you on the alarm chirp for a couple of weeks, so I can tell you now that it is still chirping, every 15 seconds. I’ve lost track of how long this has been going on. But I guess things could be worse. I could have to smell their kerosene lamps every night. Or their outhouse. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they built an outhouse. I really wouldn’t. Hey, next week, same bat time, same bat channel, yeah?