so social media then

About three or four years ago I was very active on Twitter. I made several connections there that I still maintain and very much value. In recent years my online activity has been essentially Facebook.

The stated vision of the world’s most popular social networking site is about connecting people. No bad thing, you might think. Yet it provokes fear. The moral imperative of middle England roundly condemns most of its features, representing it as a kind of hell dimension where you are advised to be wary and heavily armed. ‘It’s a great way to keep an eye on what the kids are doing, but I wouldn’t dream of writing anything myself. Someone might see it.’ Middle England suspects overt high profile capitalism, so Zuckerberg comes in for some opprobrium in the guise of a skater boy grinning inanely while leeching away your privacy, your time and indirectly your money. That money now forms a central part of the business model of any organisation interested in its own survival or in communicating effectively with its customer base. Schools still largely regard Facebook as a threat: I have been asked by a manager on at least one occasion whether a purely functional Facebook page, put up by a student to promote a school related issue, represents a threat. The potential nature of the threat was not defined, but the question should perhaps have been along the lines of how the medium might better facilitate collaboration. However you see it, the money model applies. If schools don’t embrace it, they will lose customers and money. There will likely never be a time when the Ofsted framework includes criteria for the productive use of social networking in classrooms, but then there will likely never be a time when the Ofsted framework will have any real relevance to what happens in most classrooms.

I have posted many words on Facebook since 2009. It is a fragmented form, and as such I believe it would have been of interest to modernist poets. It now allows prolixity, having originally imposed a limit of 425 characters for status updates and then only about eighteen months ago having ramped this up to 63206. Someone may have left their workstation logged in over lunch, a passing co-worker seeing the code on the screen unable to resist the temptation to increase that variable’s maximum to an absurd value. So volatile code fossilises into material fact.

Almost by way of a metaphor for its underlying code, content posted on Facebook is volatile too. A post appears in your feed containing an opinion that you simply cannot agree with, or worse, the very presence of that opinion on your screen, when you didn’t ask for it to be there, annoys you so much that you have to respond. The thing is you have to do it before your eggs boil, before the cat pukes on the carpet, and before your feed refreshes and the offending snippet of opinion scrolls away. If you get into the notification loop by just posting any comment, your phone will apprise you of developments in that discussion for the rest of the weekend, and you can continue the chase. Problem is a hastily composed comment is very apt to be one that polarises, thus setting up a yes-it-is/no-it-isn’t dynamic that can last for several days before petering out. Facebook really does let you have the last word, as long as no-one else can be bothered to have it.

Of course it might not be an opinion. It could be a kitten sitting in cup, with some reverse block text to indicate what the kitten might be saying, or a puppy chewing a slipper. It could be a gecko lizard shitting into your pencil case and then innocently turning to you ask for a pen. There are also links, but then the posting of a link suggests an opinion too. A lot of what I’ve personally posted recently has been about the sudden passing of my mum in January. People are probably sick of this to an extent. In life, as well as online, most people in the end don’t know what to say to someone who has suffered profound loss, and certainly do not know how to interface with them. It also burns out those closest to you, so in the end you have to internalise it and get on. I look back with horror at the banality of the comments I have made over the years to people who have undergone bereavement. Sorry. I didn’t know the pain until now. One discovery I’ve made is that it is quite possible to get used to debilitating pain. But thank you to the many people who have said things that have helped.

To finish this characterisation of the social medium I have used most frequently in recent years, my overriding impression is of a bricolage that paints a picture of you. And if you don’t want pictures of you displayed publicly you really don’t want Facebook. I like to think that I have chosen my words carefully while on Facebook, whatever state of mind I have been in. I have always tried to avoid the FML statuses where you indicate that something is wrong and then refuse to say what it is. Hopefully I have not worried people too much, although I know I have sometimes. All this has an air of finality to it, and I’m aware that the last time I posted an extended analysis of a social medium (Twitter), not long afterwards I essentially stopped using it and have not used it to the same extent since. Whether this will happen with Facebook remains to be seen, but in the meantime, if you’re worried about me, perhaps give me a call while you still can.