Facebook & Twitter

March 14th, 2011

Some musings on communication technologies …

In case anyone missed it, Alison Lebron had a nice piece in Sunday’s magazine about the challenges and dynamics of “migratory friendships” — those that begin online and then transition to in-person friendships.

A not-yet-migrated friend of mine, Chris S., recently wrote this about Facebook:

In my view, Facebook is the cafe down the road where I can go to meet friends, express my opinion (and maybe rant a bit), and get a high-five for my point of view (and maybe some friendly jabs). Thus, I do not apologize for my point of view, nor my expression of how I feel. If you are unable to “entertain an idea without accepting it,” please move on to the next table, cafe, or social platform.

I really liked this, and thought it summarized a good philosophy of when and how to comment, and how to treat the venue overall. (A number of people in Lebron’s article also used the cafe or pub metaphor to describe Facebook.)

Finally, I wrote in my other blog last week about my difficulties figuring out how to optimize Twitter, and there were some thoughtful responses. This piece in the NYT discusses the benefits, and dangers, of Twitter for journalists, although I expect the insights would apply to many different kinds of people who use Twitter professionally.

Finally, thanks for your comments on the new blog design! We’ll be making some tweaks over the next week or so, so please continue to point out if anything isn’t working right. (It is not rude to point out flaws in a person’s appearance, virtual or real, if you are asked to do so.) Merci!

Posts from the Illuminati

December 24th, 2010

When I told my friends on Facebook that I’d gone on the Illuminations Tour, one of them responded, “The Illuminations Tour is great. My favorite comments from the guide who narrated ours was: 1.) ‘There’s Roger’s Rubber Foam Factory – best fire of my childhood!’ and, 2.) he singled out a display for ‘Best use of a lobster trap as a manger.’”

The second comment inspired my friend Molly — yes, that Molly, she who wrote “The Pirate’s Prayer” and “Bitchin’ Menorah,” to come up with this:

Away in a manger, down on the sea bed
The little crustacean lay down its wee head
Blissfully unknowing what fate was in store
Perhaps dipped in butter, perhaps Thermidor.

Be near me, wee lobster, stay here with us Jews
For our Christmas dinner, we’ll have Chinese food
You will not be eaten, of that I am sure
Because, although tasty, you are not kosher.

A year in review

December 7th, 2010

Watching the seasons change on Facebook means watching endless updates about the desirability of pumpkin lattes slowly turn into collages of the year’s updates. Here is a collage of my Facebook updates from 2010:

Is this time of the year — or any time, really — a nostalgic one for you? Are you the sort who likes to look through photo albums (or scroll through old text messages) and reviews their calendar at year’s end? Or does that sort of thing bore you?

Why I love Facebook

November 11th, 2010

Because of things like this:

And because when I posted this:

IKEA! I’m going to a store called IKEA! And suddenly I’ve found, how beautiful a sound can be! IKEA! Say it loud and there’s music playing; say it soft and it’s almost like praying … I’ll never stop saying IKEA!

One of my friends responded with:

Shall I compare thee to IKEA?
Thou art closer than the nearest IKEA (Stoughton?) and yet,
IKEA is chock-full of compelling bargains with funny names.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
Apples to oranges will this comparison be.

Emotionally nuanced Facebook buttons

September 21st, 2010

All of us Facebook fans realize that the “like” button is insufficient. A friend posts an article about some political outrage, so you “like” it. A friend complains about her sinus infection or broken dishwasher in a particularly amusing way, so you “like” it. Then you have to make the comment below saying, “Not that I ‘like’ genocide, but I’m so glad you posted this important article” or “I’m not happy you’re sick, but you have such a great sense of humor!” even though the other person knows perfectly well what your “like” meant, and you know they know it, and they know you know they know it, but you still have to explain it because otherwise it feels weird.

There’s already a campaign for a “dislike” and a “that’s what she said” button, but I think this is setting the bar too low. Given the advances in technology, should not Facebook be at least as nuanced as a Magic 8 Ball?

Here are some buttons I’d certainly find useful:

* Disturbingly intrigued by
* Irritated yet compelled (you know people would use this all the damn time)
* Wish I hadn’t known that
* And yet, we are related
* Wow, you’ve changed
* Wow, you haven’t changed

What buttons would express some of your common thoughts upon reading the updates of your Facebook friends and family, dear readers?

Why I love Facebook

May 24th, 2010

Because my friends write updates like this:

[Name] would like to apologize to Rebecca for the whole throwing-the-towel-wrapped-garter-snake-at-you incident this afternoon. It was not a good panic move on my part. The snake is no longer in my front yard and is somewhere happier than my living room due to your keen eyesight. Thank you and please visit again soon!

As a lifelong fan of Dorothy Parker, I’ve always admired how she could compress into a short story what might take other writers an entire novel to communicate. My snake-throwing friend clearly has a similar gift.

How does your Facebook garden grow?

September 22nd, 2009

An article in the Globe this Sunday reported on an MIT student project:

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction.

Well, yeah. People in general tend to like to hang out with others who are like themselves. This isn’t really news, and I’m not sure why the article pitched it as a privacy issue:

Discussions of privacy often focus on how to best keep things secret, whether it is making sure online financial transactions are secure from intruders, or telling people to think twice before opening their lives too widely on blogs or online profiles. But this work shows that people may reveal information about themselves in another way, and without knowing they are making it public. Who we are can be revealed by, and even defined by, who our friends are: if all your friends are over 45, you’re probably not a teenager; if they all belong to a particular religion, it’s a decent bet that you do, too. The ability to connect with other people who have something in common is part of the power of social networks, but also a possible pitfall. If our friends reveal who we are, that challenges a conception of privacy built on the notion that there are things we tell, and things we don’t.

Did we not already know this? I mean, just keeping to the “gay” thing, if I’m gay and in the closet, even pre-Facebook, I would probably make sure that I was not seen coming out of gay bars, and I wouldn’t hang out publicly with gay-rights activists. People are judged by their friends.

Which I suppose means, if you don’t want anyone to know your sexual preference, political beliefs, religion, or sports team affiliation — why are you even on Facebook? But if you want cover, you should, obviously, get as varied a group of FB friends as you can. “Celebrate Diversity: It Keeps People from Knowing What You’re Up to.” Now there’s a slogan that might just work.

I’m not sure what the software would say about me, except that I’m probably a mobbed-up farmer living in Fairyland. Which I suppose could be considered true in some highly metaphorical sense, but what couldn’t?

Anyway, when I posted this question on my boston.com blog about whether or not one should refrain from posting happy updates on FB when a friend is in mourning, I got to thinking about the shape of social networks of FB users. What does your network look like, if you’re on FB? How connected are your FB friends with each other? Does your network look more like this:
FBnet2
Or like this:
fbnet1
If you have “clumps” of friends on FB who all know each other, what are the clumps?

This struck me in relation to the mourning question because I think one element of that is how interconnected the friend in question is to the rest of your network. I have two major “clumps” of Facebook friends: my maternal cousins, and some friends of theirs; and friends from my Kansas City theater days. I think if anything seriously bad were to go down for anyone in those two clumps, the social obligation around it — as regards Facebook only, obviously — would feel different to me than if something bad went down for a friend who isn’t connected to anyone else. Because it wouldn’t just be a matter of the affected person’s feelings, but of everyone else in that particular sub-network.

How does your Facebook garden grow? Are you the hub, or are you one hub of many? What are your “clumps”? And have you ever had the experience of realizing that friends from different contexts knew each other on Facebook?

Farmers and mobsters

September 21st, 2009

Of late, it seems about half my Facebook friends are playing Farmville, and the other half are playing Mafia Wars. Both these games post updates every time a player adopts a cow or whacks someone. This doesn’t annoy me, but it does seem rather counter to the ethos, does it not? I mean, New England farmers are renowned for their laconic nature, and the Mafia has that whole omerta thing going on. Certainly, the only farmer I know doesn’t post every time she helps a neighbor bring in their crops, and my friends who are — oh, wait, I promised I wouldn’t talk about that. I like clunky shoes, but not actual cement ones.

Anyway, I mentioned the ubiquity of Farmville and Mafia Wars on an update of my own this weekend, and Molly — she of the Jewish-pirate jokes — responded with this parody of “The Farmer and the Cowman” from Oklahoma!:

OH, the farmer and the mobster should be friends
Yes, the farmer and the mobster should be friends
One man likes the rising sun
The other man likes to kill for fun
But that’s no reason why they can’t be friends…

I, of course, had to write the chorus:

Facebook folks should stick together,
Facebook folks should all be peeps.
Farmers dance with mobsters’ goomars,
Mobsters dance with the farmers’ sheeps.

We know some real characters, we do

August 18th, 2009

Our friend Dan Meyer, professional sword swallower and winner of the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, is … well, really, where do you go after that? Of course he’s an unforgettable character. In addition to swallowing swords, Dan has a passion for collecting languages and exotic animals. From a recent Facebook exchange:

fbdan
danfb2

All together now! “Watch me wallaby’s feed, mate, watch me wallaby’s feed! They’re a dangerous breed, mate, so watch me wallaby’s feed!”

Should Facebook have a “dislike” button?

July 8th, 2009

On Facebook, you can “like” someone’s updates by clicking on a little thumbs-up button. You can’t “dislike” an update, though, and of course there’s a fan group advocating for a dislike button.

FB users, what you do think?

Personally, I’m agin’ it.

Granted, the “like” button doesn’t have all the subtlety one might wish. What is it, exactly, that is being “liked”? The style or the substance of the update? I have sometimes “liked” updates by friends who were complaining about some minor calamity or other. I hope they realized I didn’t actually like the fact that they had a fender-bender or a sinus infection, but rather admired the outraged wit with which they conveyed this news.

So “dislike” might be good in order to respond to bad-news updates. (MINOR bad-news updates, that is: a Facebook thumbs-down would be an appropriate response to having to work over the weekend, not to the death of a parent.) I also know some people who like to post really bad puns and Borscht-Belt quality jokes sometimes, for whom a “dislike” button would be appropriate. Then again, that’s such a pathetic form of heckling I would be revealing myself to be no better a heckler than they are comics.

But aside from those situations, it seems that an FB “dislike” button would add to the aggressiveness and polarization that the internet already facilitates far too well. I only have about 150 FB friends, but they span the political range from followers of Lenin to followers of Limbaugh. Partially because of this, I don’t often post updates on political matters beyond the occasional fangirl squee about some outfit of Mrs. Obama, or my happiness that another state has legalized gay marriage.

In general, political or not, I have a policy that if you don’t agree with one of my updates, e-mail or message me, don’t disagree in a comment. I don’t think Facebook is a good place for complex philosophical discussion, and I don’t want any of my FB friends–who, of course, mostly don’t know each other–to hurt the feelings of any other friend, deliberately or accidentally. If you believe homosexuality is immoral, I’ll discuss that with you. But not on my online living room, in front of all my gay friends. That’s just rude. (Obviously there is a place for arguing and even trash-talking on FB, but that’s in the realm of sports rivalries, pop-culture debates, private jokes, and the like. Not serious stuff.)

I’ve had to delete the occasional comment and explain that policy to friends on occasion, and generally folks have been very cool with it and get that I’m not shutting them down, I’m just asking them to take the conversation elsewhere. But I think a “dislike” option would just be … too tempting. And you probably wouldn’t be able to delete it if someone “disliked” your post either, the way you can a rude comment.

So that’s why I’m against it, which, as you can see, stems from my experience in trying to maintain an interesting and useful Facebook life in which the diversity of my network is a feature, not a bug.

What’s your take?

Bringing together several themes …

July 2nd, 2009

A post on Salon’s Broadsheet that brings together several themes we’ve been talking about of late: Facebook, narcissism, parents v. nonparents (this came up on Wednesday’s chat a bit):

What happens when the Mommy Wars and online oversharing collide? Well, if STFU, Parents is any indication, the answer involves a seemingly endless supply of Facebook status updates involving bodily fluids. The blog chronicles some of parents’ (and mostly mothers’) most disgusting and narcissistic posts.

Unsurprisingly, STFU, Parents has already awakened the ire of moms and dads who don’t see the humor in the site. “You know what?” writes a woman named Miriam in an e-mail posted on the blog. “If people don’t like parenting updates on facebook, they should unfriend that person and get the fuck over it.” She goes on to call the anonymous blogger a “bigot” and wonders whether “STFU blacks” and “STFU gays” are on the way.

I’m not sure that accusations of anti-parent bias address the real problem. More to the point, good luck trying to explain to your college-aged daughter why she shouldn’t post pictures of herself vomiting on Facebook when you already did, sixteen years ago.

Pug poetry on Facebook

May 31st, 2009

Now, I ask you, how can anyone consider Facebook a waste of time if they have friends who post things like this:

pugpoem1