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"Nowhere Man"

It has been a while since I posted because things have been a bit crazy and are not going according to the way I thought they would. Regardless, things are still moving forward. We are still working on creating content from FIRESTORM – The First 12 Hours for the Sonoma County History Museum - the Director has been working very hard with our Editor on that piece. In the meantime, I have been working hard on learning social media to help promote the project – like learning how to do this blog thing.

In my quest to learn as much as I can about social media, and being the avid reader that I am, I picked up the book “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy” By Siva Vaidhyanathan to learn more about the social impacts of social media. I found the book very provocative and I want to share with you my thoughts about it in the form of a quasi book-review.

One of the things that struck me is how much data about us Facebook collects for their purposes without thoughtful oversight. It reminded me of how out of control social media is in general.

In the book, Vaidhyanathan chronicles the history of Facebook and describers its evolution from a simple application to connect people (originally called “FaceMash”) to a platform that could generate massive amounts of money through advertising, and then into one of the two largest data collection tools the world has ever seen.

I will share a couple things in the book that really struck me by paraphrasing what the author said and elaborating.

First Vaidhyanathan described his observation of how Mark Zuckerberg lacked the life experiences and understanding necessary to make serious predictions about how people would respond to his ambition to “connect people” by using data about people to help make those connections. The very mechanisms that FB uses to join people to each other together have created “tribes” of like thinking people who end up in a “box” that they are reluctant to think outside of. Add to this set of demographics targeted messages, not just advertisements for products but, messages with false content that motivates people into action and you get a recipe for disaster. Such a disaster we are now very familiar with…

The second thing Vaidhyanathan did was draw a conclusion that the users of Facebook are actually not getting something for “free” when they use the service without paying money for it. Vaidhyanathan described the users of Facebook as “Cows that Facebook milks for information” - essentially “tools” that the company uses to get a job done. That is something I totally agree with.

To be fair, Vaidhyanathan does go into some of the advantages of the platform and he describes its potential for good and not evil. However, until we become a republic that is willing to institute standards, norms and regulations (similar to what some countries are just beginning to do) it is just going to get further out of control. Then it won’t be long before nobody can tell what’s real anymore because they only see what they want to see – kind of like the lyrics in the song Nowhere Man by the Beatles “He’s as blind as he can be, Just sees what he wants to see, Nowhere Man can you see me at all?”

Thank you and good day.

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