Facebook as a symptom of our emptiness

I’ve argued against using Facebook on several occasions in these pages.  I still don’t use the platform, and have no intention of doing so.

A recent article at Running Iron Report provided a new perspective on what I consider to be the real danger that Facebook represents.  I should say, right from the start, that the article covers a lot more than just Facebook, and I don’t agree with all the author’s points.  He doesn’t provide links to the sources he cites, and some of them that I looked up for myself are, to put it mildly, not my cup of tea.  (I’ve looked up, and added links to, those cited in the excerpt below.)  Also, I think many of my readers, and myself, don’t fit the mindless mental meanderings that he identifies in much of American society.  Nevertheless, concerning Facebook, I can’t disagree with his perspective.

The author begins by citing a recent interview with Sean Parker, the founding President of Facebook.  Here’s the salient excerpt.  It’s short, but very important, so please take the time to listen to it.

The article goes on:

At least as revealed in this interview, very little, if any, thought was given to the downstream consequences. The product was made, marketed, and eagerly consumed by billions of users as the next great thing. It also became, in many ways, a replacement for the usual requirement of thinking before speaking, and even the briefest tour of the Facebook landscape reveals a populace steeped in gloom, conspiracy, meme-think, bubble-gum politics, and the utterly inane behavior of endlessly gyrating pop stars. In many cases it is similar to being detained in a kind of uber-sentimental nightmare — a bad jokes, stupid thoughts, and greeting-card ante-chamber to hell.

. . .

For many of us, these quotes from Mr. Parker are not revelations — we’ve suspected as much for some time — but they are admissions of a deliberate strategy aimed at mind control, which should probably be terrifying. It is mortifying that American consumers would line up, willingly and with unrestrained enthusiasm, to indulge in the ease and convenience of a product designed, intentionally, to control their minds.

This is exceptionally true because we don’t, and will never, know to what ends the platform is ultimately being used, or by whom … And it is controlled minds, either by consumerism, religious fundamentalism, or unquestioned belief in the immortal virtues of a growth economy, that are so difficult, and will perhaps eventually prove impossible, to persuade that the voices they hear are actually screams coming up from the bottom of the well.

Jerry Mander (yes, his real name) wrote in The Walling of Awareness [from his book “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television“] that “What we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, feel and understand about the world has been processed for us. Our experiences of the world can no longer be called direct, or primary. They are secondary, mediated experiences.” Nowhere is the secondary, mediated experience more apparent than in the world of Facebook, and according to Mr. Parker, it is entirely deliberate.

We have options, and most of them are personal. No single person among us is likely to persuade some 400 million Americans and those billions more across the globe that our addiction to consumerism is ultimately dangerous and counter-productive to independence of thought and action. It becomes something more of a personal commitment. What’s required is a concerted effort to fill in the hollow places we know exist because we can see and feel them, to address the planned obsolescence of our goods — and even our own lives — by making more careful and deliberate choices — by exercising options anchored firmly in family and local community, and to steadfastly refuse to be harried into a political corner by irrelevant party platforms, and the zealots who defend them. The once admirable American political system has devolved into a marketing and consumerist free-for-all, utterly devoid of meaning, a kind of freak show capable only of trotting out the worst possible candidates for public office.

. . .

Jim Dodge, in Living by Life [a version of which may be found in the collection “Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture“], had this to say:

“We spend more time posturing than we do getting it on. In short, American culture has become increasingly gutless and barren in our lifetimes, and the political system little more than a cover for an economics that ravages the planet and its people for the financial gain of very few. It seems almost a social obligation to explore alternatives. Our much heralded standard of living hasn’t done much for the quality of our daily lives; the glut of commodities, endlessly hurled at us out of the vast commodity spectacle, is just more **** on the windshield … Our only claim to dignity is trying our best to do what we think is right, to put some heart in it, some soul, flower and root. We’re going to fall on our asses a lot, founder on our pettiness and covetousness and sloth, but at least there is the effort, and that’s surely better than being just another quivering piece of the national cultural jello.”

There’s more at the link.

As I said above, I sincerely hope that many of those reading this blog don’t exhibit the “pettiness and covetousness and sloth” that Mr. Dodge, cited above, identifies in US society.  Hopefully, most of us think for ourselves – if we didn’t, after all, we wouldn’t be reading (or writing) these pages.  Nevertheless, as an indictment of US society in general, particularly in the major urban areas, I find it hard to disagree.  The fuss and froth over the election of President Trump, and current efforts in California to impose an ever more moonbattish diktat over the unfortunate people of that state, tend to reinforce that perspective, don’t they?

Facebook is, to my mind, a profoundly disturbing reflection and embodiment of that attitude.  What’s more, its cavalier disregard of – if not contempt for – our privacy is something I just can’t stomach.  I remain steadfastly opposed to having anything to do with it, or with any similar platform that might one day take its place.



  1. How about Twitter, Pete? (I don’t use it or Facebook). Any thoughts on Gab, now that it’s been out for awhile?

  2. @Glen: I don't use Twitter, but I do use Gab. I find it useful purely as a means to announce new blog posts to followers, or to link to items of interest. I don't use it on my cellphone at all – only on my computer in my office – and I check it perhaps three or four times a day, for a few minutes only. Used that way, it's not a time sink.

  3. I don't now, nor ever have had a twitter account. It strikes me as the very thing that article describes much more than Facebook. I use FB to stay in touch with far-flung friends and family, and avoid almost all of the political/celebrity stuff (and block it when FB "suggests" it. It also connects me to friends of friends (who may become friends IRL); some of them I stay connected to (like Miss D!), others I ignore.

    Awareness that everything and everyone has a bias (including myself) is crucial to not diving into the crap. That applies to everything in life, not just FB.

  4. This generations equivalent of a pinball machine. Ultimately, one either chooses to engage in the world at some real level, or the world passes them by.

    all companies are started on the premise of making money (hopefully a lot) for the founders/owners/investors. Facebook certainly has done that.

    But the product is no different than a Coke or a Pepsi. We all know they are not good for us, but we willingly keep consuming them…

    Some would argue that the duplicitous nature of marketing on soda is no different than what facebook has evolved into. They want to make money so they tell the consumer what they want to hear.

    How much soda would be sold in this country if they placed the blame for obesity and diabetes on those companies?… hint: still a lot.

    Look at tobacco – everyone knows better, but many still consume.

    where it all goes off the rails is the arrogance and presumption that some tech wiz knows better than me how to live my life, what is important to me at local level, how to spend my money, etc. But fer chriz sakes, stop consuming what doesn't benefit you!

    Ultimately, people have to realize that every interaction is a sale, and the sales men is not your friend! Always assume that the other side of any transaction is only interested in what they gain. they don't care is you car works, or you like potato chips, or if that pill will really cure your ill… they just want paid.

    We as consumers have to accept that trade off and only support those institutions, businesses and individuals that provide direct benefit to us, individually.

    If you choose the path of least resistance, don't be surprised at the outcome. I'm always amazed at the sheer volume of information available to people and most make a choice to skim, rather than reflect. When the totality of your decision cycle is looking for a dopamine rush within 30 seconds of being presented with a choice, then you can't blame companies like facebook for exploiting that.

  5. Antibubba, it's not the bias that is the big reason to object, it's what the founder was talking about in the clip, the conscious decision to alter users brains and behaviour. The 'dopamine hit.'

    It's addictive. It does change behaviour. I've watched it happen to my wife DESPITE her conscious attempts to avoid it, and minimize the effects. I can't even imagine what it does to kids or teens who have less real life experience, and fewer defenses mentally.

    If you use it at all, it will gradually suck you further in.


    (and I note that the founder above hasn't given back all the money it made and continues to make for him….)

  6. It's much worse than this generation's pinball machine. Unless you lived in an arcade, you had much more time away from the machine than in front of it.

    The facebook addicts are never more than arms length from it, 24/7.

    Pinball machine makers never consciously wanted to alter your behaviour past getting another quarter out of you, and pinball machines were not able to constantly present you with filtered and targeted messages, aimed at you when you were most susceptible to the suggestion. (as has been admitted by FB)

    Your comment reads a bit like "Why don't those drunks just stop drinking?" For the addicts, they can't. And in the case of FB, they've been consciously manipulated into their addiction.


  7. Sorry for delay, had to step away. I agree with all comments as to the severity of the problem. I concede that the metaphors were simplistic.
    Personally, I think they all deserve punishment commensurate with that of the the worst drug dealers. But at the end of the day its about choices. We the people, collectively, seem intent on making just enough wrong ones to screw ourselves.

    But you are never going to prevent it. If they legislate the current abuses away, it just morphs into something else. How's that personal privacy protection going at the federal level? Even Trump with all his resources is just a drop in the bucket compared to forces in play. Gnats buzzing around the buffalo. Hell, he is just another shade of the same turd. Too Much Money, and those that might restrain it are in thrall of the those that do it.

    We strip all morality, all ethics, all personal discipline, all accountability and all common sense out of the world and what are you left with? And we act surprised by the outcomes?

  8. Call me DownStateIN Dale, BTW
    Not trying to hide, just generally reading instead of commenting.
    I learn a lot from reading your blogs and all are commended for taking the time to engage. I want to be an optimist, but experience is making me a cynic…

  9. Made a conscious decision to never start using any of them. I figured it might be like cocaine. Something that once tried might take hold of you and drain away too much of your life.

  10. 4 Arguments for the Elimination of Television was one of my favorite books. Spent most of my life with no TV; never missed it. I tentatively joined the book of face as a requirement for work. Pretty useless, except for following what distant friends are doing, and alerts for staffing shortages at work.

  11. I've always considered myself as a very tech minded person. I've always tried to stay current on the leading edge of technology and have been online since the mid to late 90s and was active on everything from usenet, to irc, to aol, aim, yahoo messenger etc and I'm still subscribed to multiple specialised email lists. I messed with facebook back when it was just a college thing and after but was not only never enamored with it actively disliked the experience. I have friends and relatives who use facebook who are always trying to entice me to use it to keep in touch with them. I just tell them they have my email address and my cell number to text or call. There's just nothing on facebook I want or need. At best I find it boring at worst I find the experience invasive, drama generating and corrosive to real meaningful relationships. You won't find too many divorces these days where FB isn't an integral part. FB as a company I detest. I detest their founder and everything their company stands for.

  12. unless the invention is trivial, nobody ever knows what uses their inventions will be put to.

    Does anyone think that the Wright brothers imagined what is routinely happening today, even in their wildest imaginations?

    David Lang

  13. "In an 1838 letter to Francis O.J. Smith in 1838, [Samuel] Morse wrote:

    "This mode of instantaneous communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to be wielded for good or for evil, as it shall be properly or improperly directed.""

    Everything has always been a problem, at first. As I chided my family over the holidays when at required events it was mostly what I termed, the post-modern prayer meeting (everyone sitting around with their head bowed over their "god"). I don't know what app they were praying over, but their devotion was unparalleled. Facebook, Twitter, etc., like all communications "apps" will fade into the background.

    What is not changing is the march to the loss of freedom of thought. That comes not from the app, but from any crowding, real world or online:

    "Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are catchpenny phrases. There is much of the former, but very little of the latter. Speech is generally the result of automatic thought rather than of ratiocination. Independent thought is of all mental processes the most difficult and the most rare; habit, tradition, and reverence for antiquity unite to forbid it, and these combined influences are strengthened by the law of heredity. The tendency to automatic action of the mind is still further promoted by the environment of modern life. The crowding of populations into cities, and the division and subdivision of labor in the factory and the shop, and even in the so-called learned professions, have a tendency to increase the dependence of the individual upon the mass of society. And this interdependence of the units of society renders them more and more imitative, and hence more and more automatic both mentally and physically."
    —Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand: manual training, the chief factor in education (1900)

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