After Facebook

Originally published on Metapsychosis.com.



Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” – As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter….”

[Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]

Prelude: Father of the Flowers

Abu Ward is a gardener who was killed in the war in Syria. I saw a short video on Facebook about his life the other day. The video had been shared by a friend whom I haven’t yet met in “real life,” but who I sense will be a real friend one day. He lives, with his wife and baby son, just a few miles away, and we’ve chatted, on Facebook Messenger, about getting together for tea; an open invitation, whenever I’m in town.

The video appeared in silent auto-play on my feed, stimulating the amygdala, eliciting a response. A choice. To click or to scroll? That was the question. I don’t know why—among the hundreds of videos I scroll past daily—I chose this one to watch. It was of a certain genre, I suppose. I happened to be in between other, more deliberate activities. Or maybe it was because this particular friend had shared it. I don’t recall my state of mind, or what (or if!) I was thinking at the moment. In any case, I clicked on the video and learned about Abu and his flowers.

[details=Expand text]You’ll have to watch the piece yourself, of course; perhaps you’ve already seen it. At the time of this writing it’s accumulated over 4M views, 25K reactions, and 2.1K comments—none of which really matters, I suppose, other than to indicate that Abu’s story has gone modestly “viral,” as intended and designed form, most likely. It was produced by Channel 4 News—which, according to their Facebook page, is “committed to challenging expectations with stories that reveal and inspire, innovatively produced—with just a touch of mischief.” Titled “The flower-seller of Aleppo,” the video eschews mischief and focuses on revealing. I don’t know about inspiring. How could a story whose ostensible theme is the endurance of beauty, the resilience of the human and divine spirit in the face of senseless destruction, make one feel so…helpless?

Abu’s tale, told in just over 3 minutes, is as heartbreaking a slice of humanity as I’ve ever seen. From the video, we learn that his name means “Father of Flowers,” and that he runs the last garden center in Aleppo, Syria. We see him sitting on a battered old couch, outdoors, in front of a cinder block wall, surrounded by foliage, his son Ibrahim smiling beside him; he’s smoking a cigar and has a drink in his hand, which looks brown and strong, and he says something incredible as we first meet; he says, in Arabic (I read the text overlay in English): “My place here is worth billions of dollars! I own the world! We ordinary people own the whole world!”

Perhaps he is drunk or stoned, I think. What a thing to say! The video cuts to the high profile and distant roar of a fighter jet transecting the sky. We’re informed that the Syrian regime, and now the Russians, have bombed over three-quarters of a million people out of this part of the city. I recall from my background knowledge that Aleppo is a city held by anti-Assad rebels, and that a debate is ongoing in my country, the United States of America, as to whether and how and to what degree to assist the rebels, as our national security interests appear to be at stake in the conflict.

Over images of broken buildings, the music accompaniment whines, as if literally imitating the sound of heartstrings being bowed. I recall that another friend is currently in Turkey volunteering in a refugee camp for Syrians who’ve fled their homes. He’s there as I write this. He’s been documenting what he’s witnessed in the camp, sharing his posts on Facebook, where he has an audience and many friends all over the world.

The video cuts to Abu’s hands, filling an old can with dirt; one thick, cracked hand gently holds a young green plant, while the other scoops. When the camera cuts to his face, he says something else that amazes me. “(The sound of war) is like Beethoven’s music,” says Abu. “We have become accustomed to this music: without it we couldn’t manage!” The translation adds exclamation marks to his sentences, though his voice sounds relaxed; it doesn’t seem like he’s shouting. At this precise moment, the poet in me gasps. The sound of war is like Beethoven’s music. Without a doubt, I know I’m in the presence not merely of obvious beauty—the flowers that remind us of the invincibility of life, even amid at the wreckage and bloodshed—but of poetic genius. The garden is an oasis, but the sound of the war…a symphony? Only a true poet could think such a thing.

Soon we learn about Ibrahim, who is 13 and has left school to help his father. Barely a moment later we’re informed that Abu is now dead. A bomb fell near the garden center, killing him instantly, six weeks after the earlier filming. Now we see Ibrahim wandering, disconsolate, through rubble-strewn streets, past a graveyard; we see piles of debris where the nursery used to be. A voice off-camera asks the boy what he plans to do without his father. Rubbing his weeping eyes, Ibrahim says that he doesn’t really know.

We see Abu again—a quick flashback—he is alive in the flickering eternity of digital time, smoking his cigar, Ibrahim joyful beside him. The father explains, “Flowers help the world and there is no greater beauty than flowers.” I notice the deep creases between and below his eyes. “Those who see flowers enjoy the beauty of the world created by God. And when you smell them, they nourish the heart and the soul. The essence of the world is a flower.” Says Abu Ward, mystic poet of Aleppo.

The clip ends on the image of a solitary white rose, then fades to Channel 4 News’ “Like, Comment, Share” graphic. The video player minimizes and the newsfeed returns. Emerging from three minutes of mesmerization, hesitating slightly, I click the “share” button and type up a quick thought into the small window:

“Sometimes I hate Facebook, but sometimes I love it, like when it shows me videos like this…which, ironically or not, make me wish I wasn’t sitting here in my comfortable office chair, looking at Facebook, but out doing something more meaningful to help. I suppose the two are not mutually exclusive, though.” Post.

Pensive and nonplussed, I leave it at that—

A few minutes later, I see that a friend has liked and commented on my post. She says, “Big huge ditto…”

Another “friend,” who I’ve never met or even talked to, actually, but who is interesting and literary and I like, comments, “I literally just opened a beer before I watched this and now I totally have no interest in drinking it.” I playfully reply, “Sorry to kill your vibe!” A bit later she replies back, “Haha there’s better things I could be doing anyway :)”

Another friend comments, “I think this might interest you….” and links to an article on Counterpunch.org, “Clintonites prepare for war on Syria,” which I haven’t read yet, but intend to when I’m ready to learn more about how our presidential election relates to the geopolitical dimension of the story.

Another friend writes, “ugh. heartbreaking. I kind of feel like the video makers sucker punched me with putting the narrative in the present tense in the first half … that felt a bit manipulative and disrespectful… and I don’t think the narrative needed it. but maybe it did. It breaks my heart. Beautiful man lost. Beautiful boy with enormous grief. But I have some faith that the man embraced his final moments like diving into a Beethoven Orchestra tidal wave and that he left an indelible impression on his son, and many others, that can not be killed, that might actually be seen as a form of Eternal Life - he shared something that can not end with the end of any particular form.”

And I feel the same way, mostly. He said it better. And I will like his comment, when I get back to it.

Another friend writes, “Americans, time to stop fueling wars withholding tax money, stopping to enroll in armies and choosing wisely whith [sic] your vote :-)”

I agree with this sentiment as well, though it’s not so simple to withhold one’s taxes from Uncle Sam. Like?

The Social Metaphysics of Desire

Why is it that anytime I spend more than, say, 5 or 10 minutes on Facebook, I feel dissatisfied, discouraged, disappointed in myself? The more time I spend, the more frequently I flick my finger on the iPhone glass, the farther down the news feed I scroll—the more subtly degraded my fundamental experience of life feels.

It should be sacred time with my extended human family, I feel. I see photos of people I love. I learn about a dear mentor’s loss of her spouse. I see the image of a Syrian boy rescued from his bombed-out home, and chat with 16-year old artist in Gaza who has created a beautiful painting of this boy. I see my brother’s latest tattoo work. I read praise for a podcast about the decline of Western civilization. I learn about a Philip K. Dick conference that sounds fun. I see an innocent man get shot in a police video. I find out that a famous actor whose movies made me laugh as a child has died.

Then perhaps the focus shifts to me for a little while. Someone comments on an essay I posted. I see a notification prompting me to promote one of my better-performing posts. I get a message from a writer I’m working with on the literary journal I started. I’m reminded of my daughter’s premature birth, seven years ago…I suppose it’s the anniversary. Her birthday recently. But she’s not on Facebook.

I used to indulge in intellectual and literary discussions in Facebook Groups. I gave that up, though, for the most part—feeling that I never had enough time to take the conversations as seriously as they deserved. There was too much other stuff going on, too many distractions; and I didn’t like investing all my thought into threads that would be buried in a matter of days.

Perhaps this is why, for me, the Facebook experience has increasingly felt so…mindless. So emotionally malnourishing. So dis-connected from the Real. Is this just a reminder of the first Noble Truth of Buddhism—that everything is this way, ultimately unsatisfactory? That even though Facebook would purport to be everything I need in a social network, it can never be enough, because nothing is? Others have told me they feel it too. The fatigue. The feeling that we’re being depleted by our time online. The gnawing sense that what we’re doing is meaningless, as much as we may like the people we’re doing it with. I’ve heard Facebook called the “Walmart of the Internet”—and have thought, yeah, there’s a certain truth to that, insofar as there’s a cheap, exploitative, lowest-common-denominator sort of feel to the place, which is not to that an inexpensive social platform for the masses (including your mother and high school friends) is bad. We just don’t tend see the hidden costs.

For years, I have chalked up my experience to being an introvert, a spiritual outlier; but more recently I’ve come to think that this negative experience is not just because of me; it’s not because of the people; it’s not because of the news or kitten photos or tiresome inspirational memes; and it’s not just existential: it’s because of the platform itself. The platform is designed to be satisfying only in a way that reinforces certain patterns of activity that keep me engaged, but make me less happy the longer I’m in them. It seems obvious that Faceboook is programmed to be addictive, to keep us coming back, even though many of us don’t really enjoy it for more than a few dopamine hits at a time. From this perspective, I don’t think it’s paranoid to say that Facebook is doing something to us. It’s acting on us. It has an agenda of its own.

Whatever humanitarian good Facebook does, whatever authentic relationships and connections it fosters, whatever political movements or expressions it facilitates, whatever positive economic activity it promotes, it’s also working on my brain, optimizing itself to hack my neurology, to keep my attention (on it) for as long as possible, as frequently as possible, so that eventually, even if rarely, it gets me (or I “choose,” depending on your theory of mind) to click on a sponsored post or ad, or create my own, which is how Facebook earns money. It’s an advertising platform. We know this. It wants eyeballs, clicks, maximum user engagement. Businesses use Facebook to reach their target audiences. Investors use Facebook to grow their wealth.

There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Let’s assume individual freedom. Let’s assume that capitalism can be a force for good. We all checked the legal agreement when we signed up. Who’s to say I might not like the ads, want to see more of them—just better, more personalized? What if I enjoy the memes, relish the clickbait, delight in the digital noise? What if the emotional incoherence doesn’t bother me? What if I want to be one of those investors that profits from what the elitist poet in me regards as spiritual carnage? Buy stock and become an owner, with Mark Zuckerberg, his success as my success? Mass digital distraction as my financial cure.

Is that what I really want my time on Earth to be about? What kind of world am I investing in when I give my time, energy, and attention to Facebook? A more “open” world? Yes (in certain ways, but not others). A more “connected” world? Sure (but the internet already provided that). A more beautiful world? (I think back to Abu and his flowers.) I don’t know….

Hacking the Global Mind

Let me lay my cards on the table. I think Facebook is dead. There, I said it. It’s dead because we killed it. You and I. (Social media murderers!) We killed it…before it killed us. Before we killed ourselves. Before our slow spiritual suicide could be accomplished. The biggest, most valuable social media company in the world is dead. It’s a rotting corpse, colder than cold. But much life grows on the dead.

When I say, “Facebook is dead,” I don’t mean that it’s because teenagers want to waste their brains on some other platform—Facebook probably already owns that platform. The business of Facebook is alive and well, and getting better. (Check out FB on the NASDAQ—trading at 124.58 USD at the time of this writing [Aug 23, 12:30 PM EDT] up from 82.09 a year ago.) Just wait until VR is prolific—and we all have Oculi, and live in the Rift of the Real.

Facebook is dead in another way. It’s dead by design failure. Infected by a fatal bug. Coffin-bound because at its very core—at the level of spiritual source code—Facebook is the product of a dead culture, a moribund civilization, the fundamental assumptions of which are no longer valid and cannot survive in the future world emerging through the cracks of this one. Facebook’s destiny is to fade into oblivion, while a new digital civilization digests the corpse of the old.

The structural flaw, or perhaps, malicious code, behind the mask of Facebook’s dominance is simple once seen. It’s hidden in plain sight; yet it infects to the very root, not only of Facebook as a platform, but of our early 20th-century social economy as such.

This corrupt syntax, while not any one person or group’s fault, could be represented by a series of first-person statements, which, while not exhaustive, and not reflective of the human-friendly code that our social technology (admittedly) also supports, personify a logic that’s executed and perpetuated in our collective consciousness when we log into the matrix that Facebook has spun so well. These statements form a tacit, yet legally binding agreement, between the platform and its users—who it turns out (as we know) are the ones being used.

What if I were to say to you the following?

  • I can relate to you as a means, without at the same time regarding you as an end.
  • I can exploit you for your for economic value.
  • I can manipulate your attention for my strategic purposes.
  • I can profit at your psychological expense.
  • I can act in ways that benefit myself, while harming you.
  • I can use you, without sincerely serving your whole being.
But most insidiously, I can do all of this while at the same time offering you something just pleasurable enough, as calculated by big data analysis, that you don’t notice what I’m actually doing “behind the scenes,” or don’t mind, as I algorithmically colonize your lifeworld, infiltrate insipidly, then obviously, monopolizing your relationships, entraining your dependency on me.

I imagine your response. Whoa! Wait a minute, Marco. A bit dramatic? Is that what you think about Global Capitalism? Are you asserting that people don’t have free choice to deactivate (or gasp, even delete) their accounts? To control their depth and span of their attention? You think Facebook people are sheeple? What about you? You’re on Facebook every day! The poet doth protest! You want your posts to be liked as much as anybody. You’re afraid of missing out. Surely, there are benefits, nuances. Nothing on this pale blue dot is so black and white!

Then I pretend that you unfriend me (or maybe just unfollow me, so I never know). I deserve it. Am I not committing a subtle form of violence just by pointing out the conflict of interests? Our dignity as human beings is based upon the recognition of ourselves as free subjects. Now I’m telling you that Facebook is playing you? Violating your inherent dignity and worth by default? I’m saying that you wouldn’t let a real human being treat you this way, yet you allow the platform on which you connect with some of the most important people in your life to treat you this way all the time. It’s normal. Business as usual. You accept it because everyone else does; it’s where everyone is.

Or maybe it’s like this. We are on Facebook because we like it. More precisely—we like and care about each other. Facebook provides connection in an unprecedented way. And we are hungry for human connection. Facebook is nothing less than an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of omnivorous humanity. It’s the biggest cafeteria where we can freely eat—ourselves! We can see and be seen. Sound off, show off, shoot the shit. Fall in love. Get inspired. Intellectually masturbate. We can find each other. Care for each other. Interface our interbeing. Pig out on the blood and bread of the noosphere—transubstantiated moments of our lives becoming food for a culture of cannibals—feeding off one another, so starved are we for spiritual nourishment.

There are political side-effects as well, cultures opened up, consciousness raised, injustices exposing, organizing for progressive (or regressive) change. All manner of good things happen on Facebook, as well as on the other hyper-capitalist social media platforms (Twitter, etc.). To say that Facebook is dead is not to deny the gifts that it continues to give. Facebook gives social better than any other publicly traded corporation. It gives open, connected. It gives global. It gives news, entertainment, drama, intimacy, outrage. It gives the human, all too human, all too well.

The question is, what does it take in return? What do we give up in the deal?

I would like to imagine a world after Facebook. After I get up from my cushy leather office chair. After I’ve consumed the bits and pieces of the world that my friends and the advertisers who support the platform have shared. After I’ve connected, reacted, commented, clicked, tapped, skimmed, and scrolled on.

More to the point, I would like to imagine a world where the Syrian Civil War isn’t happening. Where Boko Haram is unheard of. Where the war machines of competing nation-states are wound down. Where the surveillance state is decommissioned. Where we’re no longer poisoning the earth, air, and sea in the name of unlimited economic growth. Where the very few don’t own most everything and bend the terms of public discourse to their narrow ends.

I would like to imagine better world, but I remain here, in this world, in sunny Longmont, Colorado, which is pretty good, after all, with my wife and daughters reading books inside the house and my dog sleeping by my side—I have meetings coming up, deadlines. It’s the middle of a workday. I was just taking a break, checking in—when I met Abu—and now I’m wondering… What the fuck am I really doing here? Why am I still playing this game?

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff suggests that it might be a good idea to get off social media altogether. He analyzes how our current crop of corporate social networks focus on extracting maximum value from their users. “Maximum value” roughly correlates with time. The more time we spend, the more engaged we are, the more revenue we ultimately generate for the corporation—and the corporation, which is to say its owners, its stockholders, want a lot. They want infinite revenue growth, unlimited value. Ideally, the price of Facebook’s stock will never stop rising. There is no plan or intention ever to wind down, to reach any equilibrium other than a constant state of exponential expansion.

In Program or be Programmed, Rushkoff writes that “if you don’t know what a piece of software is for, chances are you are being used by it.” Is that OK with you? Are you OK with being a means, and not an end, in the eyes of the platform on which so much of our social and intellectual life plays out? What’s the effect of such an underlying design on our culture? How does it change our sense of beauty? How does it shape our experience of time? (Rushkoff calls it “present shock,” when “everything happens now.”) How does it affect our spirituality…our sense of meaning in life? What are we losing when we let ourselves be “worked on” by the algorithms that would keep our eyeballs fixated on a screen, or casting about in a virtual world, so many times a day? Can a dopamine economy ever truly satisfy—or liberate?

Although I ascribe a certain kind of intentionality to Facebook, I don’t believe any of this is Mark Zuckerberg’s doing. Rather, I believe it’s coded into the financial system—a system of human agreements and enforcement mechanisms—that Zuckerberg plugged Facebook into to fund his larger ambitions. Now almost two billion good minds are on his platform, on average, 50 minutes a day. I know I’m on there daily. Doing what exactly? What if something else, something much more meaningful or effective, was occupying all that raw human time, energy, and attention? What if, instead of slipping down the quicksand of the newsfeed yet again—feeding endlessly on the tragedy and farce of all our lives—we were actually, concretely, tangibly making a difference in the world?

But what kind of difference? I can’t go to Syria. I can’t stop the Russians from bombing. I can’t even stop my own government’s violence. So what should I be doing, if I care about the human lives that touch me across space and time, thanks to the miracle of social media? What leverage do I have? Here in Colorado, in cyberspace or Virtual Reality, or wherever I might go—

Could Abu Ward’s flowers mean something more than a passing meme? In what alternate universe does his death cause everyone to stop what they’re doing—literally stop: Game Over—and turn their focus to doing everything they can to stop the war, stop all the wars, stop the despoliation of our planet, stop the murderous governments and profiteering banks…and find the beauty in the cracks? The flowers of our future, growing through the rubble of our souls.

Dreaming of a Digital Democracy

I raise these questions because I believe there’s another possibility—and it occurred to me that the key is in something Abu Ward said. He meant it mystically and poetically, I know. But his statement resonated with something I’ve been thinking about on a more practical level. He said, “My place here is worth billions of dollars! I own the world! We ordinary people own the whole world!”

What world was Abu talking about? Some kind of heaven on earth? The beauty of Allah’s creation even in and amidst the destruction? Yes, something like that. But what if we took his words literally? What if he means that “we ordinary people” really DO own the whole world? We just don’t know it yet; we haven’t claimed our birthright. What if the the real crux of the problem underlying the war in Syria, climate change, and countless other crises—the phenomenon we have to reprogram—is ownership itself?

Marjorie Kelly, in Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, argues that, when you boil it down, there are basically two forms of ownership. One is extractive, and the other is generative. Obviously, this is a simplification, but the gist of it is clear enough. Extractive ownership means that a small group of people employs the life energy (i.e., the labor) of others, to enrich itself. This is what “Wall Street,” the finance sector is about. Not every firm, not every trader, but the ethos, the underlying value (or lack thereof) that informs the rules of the game, is to make as much money as possible, fuck the consequences.

I know that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t feel this way himself—he cares about the world he will be leaving to his daughter and wants make it as good as he can for her. Yet Facebook, as a business entity, is plugged into an operational framework which demonstrably doesn’t care about people or the world. (The crash of 2008 is only the most recent proof.) It has a program of its own, and it’s using us for its ends, which turn out to be its owners’ ends, which if you look at global wealth, half of which owned by less 1% of the population, is nothing other than the same old oligarchy in digital form. No matter how much good Facebook does, or how impressively it connects the world, if the root program it’s jacked into is fucked up, then something about Facebook is going to be fucked up too.

In many cases, the profit motive is not overly problematic. Two companies make widgets: some people buy Widget A, some buy widget B, and it doesn’t really make a difference. In other areas, however, the pressure coming from the finance sector to put profit above everything else is a big problem. Healthcare, education, and the prison industry come to mind. It seems to me that the commodification of our social and cultural life, as we’re seeing in Facebook’s de facto monopoly of the social media space, falls into this latter, undesirable category as well.

Why is it that we have buy expensive stocks to have ownership in Facebook, when all of its value comes from our participation—and I mean literally everybody’s participation, nearly two billion real human beings—not only the less than 1% that owns stock?

Why do we accept being merely consumers—or rather the consumed (since advertisers are the true customers in this business model) in the online spaces where we should be most creative and free?

Why are we digitally sharecropping not only our culture, but our political conversations, on a platform we don’t own, where we can’t control what perspectives we see or what government or commercial interests may have access to our data? Do I get to tweak my personal newsfeed algorithm to see exactly the information I feel will be most beneficial? Is there any transparency about how and to what ends my individual feed is personalized? Why can’t I know? Why don’t I have a say? Is it because, it would be bad for business if my newsfeed was focused on maximizing, say, enlightenment, rather than share prices? Might I choose to interact with my friends in a completely different way, which might not be as profitable for the platform? Facebook won’t let me block ads. Why not? Why can’t I trust that what’s shown me by default is there for the benefit of my being, not merely to keep me mesmerized, digitally entranced, groomed for commercial exploitation?

Marjorie Kelly contrasts the extractive economy with what she calls the generative economy.

In a nutshell, the generative economy is owned and controlled by those who participates in it. Decisions are made democratically. Work is peer to peer, not capitalist master and precariat wage slave. Surpluses (i.e., profits) are distributed in proportion to value created through one’s own work, creativity, and service to others, as not merely by the liquidity we have in the game. The purpose of an organization is primarily to serve human needs, and the role capital is subsumed to these objectives.

Fortunately, here’s a movement bubbling up to create such an economy. One name for it is platform cooperativism, which is the idea that our most essential digital platforms can and should be owned by their actual users, not only the financiers. Some organizations and individuals are rethinking the role of common spaces (or simply, the “commons”) in our lives. Indeed, there’s a plethora of new social and economic thinking happening through projects such as New Economy Coalition, the P2P Foundation, and Enspiral, to name a few that I’m familiar with, which are reimagining how ownership and creative participation could be restructured to better serve our common human needs. These organizations seem to be less interested in totalizing ideologically driven politics, and more focused on local, experimental, and network-level initiatives. Rather than one company dominating an industry, the emphasis is on cultivating healthy ecosystems where diverse projects can thrive.

Perhaps we need new metaphors, too. What is a “Facebook” anyway? It’s a reference…to what? A directory of college students? What might be the ongoing influence of such a metaphor? Does it subtly keep us in a sophomoric mentality?

Akasha is a next-generation social platform that looks intriguing, envisioning a “metaphysical information network connecting humanity with itself and infinite knowledge.” How could the next generations of metaphors interact? Could there be a network of platforms, experimenting with social and economic currencies optimized for other values that don’t include the uber-extraction, profit-maximization mindset? Could we instead code for generosity, transparency, and depth? What about trying out a quaint concept—democracy in our social networks? Might we one day elect those who would administer our global systems? Institute accountability through blockchain technologies and digital voting? Let every voice have a meaningful say—not merely by adding sad-face emojis to images of bombed-out cities—but in determining the parameters of very algorithms that build our “news feed,” and indeed, be explicit about the intended purpose of showing us what what we see in the first place? Could social media support our spiritual freedom and moral development, rather than our corporate bondage? I’m glad to know developers who are already working on such concepts. It’s just a matter of time before one of their projects takes off.

Let’s be ready. I think we need to start branching out, experimenting, trying new ways of connecting. Sure, everyone’s on Facebook and it’s the easiest way to connect, and I’ll keep going back so long as I have to, because most of my online friends are there. But I hope a few more of us will start exploring other options, and comparing notes. Perhaps we could get smarter and more strategic about leveraging the tools we have at hand, and create even better ones that we can own ourselves and use to serve our needs, not merely generate more wealth for the few.

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”[/details]
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3 Likes

Thanks for this. Although I wasn’t able to read all of it I’ve been wanting someone to say something like this for so long. FB is dead. Very quickly it died as any kind of true social connector in any meaningful sense and slipped into a dopamine delivery system overused by a pained, zombified populus creating ever more subtle forms of coercive advertisements while trawling for gold nuggets of value long after the rush. But man cannot live on the occasional heart breaking viral video alone. Nor can woman. If it is a social connector how many truly meaningful connections have we made on it in the last year? I admit it can open the possibility for connections to take place but making them real is often a bridge too far for most. Our relationship to social media (and perhaps even the internet) is a bit like the result of unleashing a bunch of monkeys into a supermarket. They go straight for the doughnuts, cakes and sugar. And after a certain period of time what is result? Their brains deteriorate and then they turn on each other. I’d say both are happening,which will also likely pass but is none the less painful to be in the midst of. Perhaps you guys can continue your work to create a platform that takes the next step? Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Marco.

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First time here. I enjoyed the anti-facebook rant like the other guy, but I beg to differ. I use FB as a tool of choice (next to other tools like twitter, medium, linkedin) to connect with like minded people. I still have useful ‘friend suggestions’. I never played a game. Facebook allowed me to scan lots of media outlets through the eyes of my friends. I browse it for a few minutes then click on to Salon, guardian, economist, dailybeast, and many others.

Perhaps my budding media theory idea of the Stream vs. the Flow is interesting. The flow (of famed Hungarian psychologist) gives us energy while the stream exhausts us. The flow builds upon itself and eases focus, whereas the stream is permanent distraction draining energy. The flow is accumulation, the stream is dispersion of our thought proces.

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@ZacharyFeder: Thanks for your reflections here. I think everything you’re saying is true…IF we let it be. However, now that we monkeys have met, we could grab a bunch of the organic veggies (and maybe just a small tub of ice cream, and a couple beers), and head for the doors!

@kamiel79: I find Facebook useful, too, in the ways you mention, so long as I’m using it mindfully, which is definitely not always. I hope my essay didn’t imply that Facebook is not useful and even really amazing, for everything it aggregates and everybody it connects.

What I was trying to explore is how the relationship between us users and the platform is at the same time manipulative, exploitative, etc. But really I was trying to inhabit both sides of the equation. For example, I wouldn’t have learned about Abu Ward (or met pretty much anyone here on this forum) without Facebook, so I wanted to acknowledge that and be grateful…without turning a blind eye to all the other stuff which I find harmful. Thank you for commenting here!

Coincidentally, the same day we published this essay, British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn released a Digital Democracy Manifesto, including some incredibly progressive ideas responding to some of the same problems discussed in the essay. Sharing it here for future reference.

Digital_Democracy.pdf (266.5 KB)

Thanks for the Corbyn share @madrush. I’ll check it out.

Some final reflections -

For me the real problem with FB is the uninvited and unending dopamine releases that take place with alerts and the “Medusa’s gaze” of the feed. This above all else is what sullied the waters of connection for me and helped it to die.

When I’ve attempted to moderate my use or become present to what’s really at play it can simply feel like attempting to have a mindful relationship to cheap speed. I mean, does having a snort once a week or once a month and being fully present to its effects on your psyche make it any better? : )

And yet, along side it, literally soldered to it are a lot of interesting, heartbreaking things of beauty. But doesn’t the dopamine hit feel like the foundation? As if everything else that’s good is standing on top of it? If you ask me, that’s why FB is so successful more than anything else. You can talk about “connectivity” all you want. But the reason kids are signing up in droves is the same reason they’re going ape-shit for Pokemon Go. They want the monkey donuts. They want the hit.

(“Hey Facebook et al - Religion just called - they want their opiate of the masses back …”)

And yet don’t get me wrong social media is also revolutionary because its the birth of a entirely new form of cultural interaction. I get that. And I’m totally into having that conversation because the implications are massive, but there’s a very big give and take with an evolution like that, and we have yet to fully understand and articulate what that is. Neurologically, psychologically, biologically. We don’t get all this good stuff without a price. Its not a free lunch.

My FB time is now limited, for what its worth. When I do post (which is rarely more than once a month) I immediately log off for up to 4 or 5 days so that I don’t have to get hit by that immediate (relatively small) wave of likes and comments and shares that literally jacks my nervous system like a speed ball to the third eye. By stepping aside altogether and allowing it to break without hitting me in smack in the chest I don’t suffer the high or the crash much, if at all.

And yet once again I wholeheartedly agree that grafted to all that is so much else of value. I love being connected to people. I love connecting deeply. I love laughing. But the current structure is so limiting, so narrow compared to the symphony that we’re able to express when we’re fact to face. For this reason I’m all about returning to that even over video conferencing.

Long way of saying I’ll bring the gluten free niche hipster beer and seaweed snacks and meet you outside… : )

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If anyone here is interested in actually doing something to help rather than discuss philosophy Abu Ward’s family have been found. If you want to help him and actually get involved please read the following. Thank you.

Ibrahim, his mother, and brothers and sisters have been found by Alaa (Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel) - our Aleppo ambulance driver friend!

Here is the story of Alaa:
http://syriadirect.org/news/a-crowd-sourced-animal-sanctuary-in-east-aleppo-teaches-compassion-‘to-love-the-small-weak-cats-is-to-love-everything’

I can send more pictures of the wonderful things he has done if you are interested. All the trees and shrubs for the cat sanctuary and the children’s playground next door to the sanctuary were purchased (via a donation from one of the members of our group) from Abu Ward at his garden center before he died.

Here is the message we received today from Alessandra Albidin who was from Lebanon but now lives in Italy. She is the founder of our group Il gattaro D’Aleppo

Alessandra Abidin

August 30 at 12:00pm

we found him !!
He Is Ibrahim the famous baby in the video, the son of the last flower shop in Aleppo, he has all these brothers to maintain, and the girl with the green dress is severely disabled … now I have the security that helps him arrive.
Who want To help Ibrahim.
In The First comment you find The video

I have a picture that Alaa took of Ibrahim and his family but don’t see any method of posting it here.

Alaa is happy to give to Ibrahim and his family whatever donations anyone wants to make to him and maybe one day reopen the garden center (which, after you join our group you can see in the video with Alaa and Ibrahim).
So, if you still want to help this child and his family you will:

  1. Need to join our Facebook group - Il gattero D’aleppo - Facebook Groups
  2. To protect Alaa and keep away trolls it is a closed group so you will have to ask to join the group. Alessandra normally will admit you within 24 hours. If she is on one of her regular trips to Serbia or Turkey to deliver supplies to refugee camps it might take a little longer.
  3. Once you are a member please read the FAQ’s pinned at the top of the page (they are in several languages) which will explain much.
  4. There are various ways to donate, including PayPal. You will need to private message Alessandra on Facebook to receive the PayPal information.
  5. When you make a donation, particularly on PayPal, NEVER use the words Syria, Aleppo or anything similar because PayPal flags all those words as possibly being donations to terrorists. If you want to send money to Ibrahim just put his name or Garden Child or something similar in the comment area. You can also message Alessandra with special information on donations as did our member who donated the trees.
  6. If you use PayPal for your donation click on “Send Money to Friends/Family” and NOT paying for an item.
  7. If you have any questions just post to the group or send a private message to Alessandra.
  8. In the group there is absolutely no discussion of politics or religion, which to me is quite a relief.

Donations to Alaa are completely transparent. Alessandra will list names along with donations. She will show a picture of the total donations being sent to Syria Charity. Alaa will acknowledge the donations and you will then see videos or pictures sent by Alaa showing him giving your donation to the person you designate.

I joined the group (that’s what we call ourselves) in December of 2015 and I had serious doubts because I am not a trusting person. At first I made a very small donation of 5 Euros just to see what happened. When I saw how transparent it is I started making monthly donations. At that time there were around 900 members and now we have almost 4500 members from all around the world, including the UK, France, Spain, Italy, South Korea, China, U.S., Netherlands, South Africa, South America, Greece, Israel, and Russia. I’m certain I have left out many locations of our members.

So this is a method you can use to help Ibrahim if you choose. His dream is to someday reopen the Garden Center but now their biggest need is food and clothing. Food and clothing can be purchased on the black market but the costs are very high.

I know how difficult it is to trust that this is not some sort of scam but I promise you it is not and, as far as I know, it is the only way right now to get assistance through to Ibrahim and his family.

Please message me if you have questions. Thank you for caring for this boy (he is considered a man now and the sole support of his family) and for wanting to help.

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Ibrahim and his brothers and sisters. His mother is in mourning and choose to not be photographed.

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Thank you, Jayne. I appreciate you sharing this information. I have asked to join the Facebook group and will be following up.

I hope you don’t mind that we continue to discuss philosophy here. I believe that if our society was more thoughtful, and exercised more critical (and compassionate) thinking, we would have less war. We would have less poverty. It would be harder to deceive people with propaganda and clever marketing. I strongly believe that thought and action must work together.

That said, I appreciate you bringing our attention back to Ibrahim and his family. I pray for his safety and well being, and like I said, I will be following up.

I am all in favor of discussing issues and philosophy as long as one doesn’t limit oneself to just talking and never doing. The world will not improve unless talkers and thinkers transform their ideas into actions. I don’t know how much of a deep thinker Alaa is but his doing shows his love for all beings and by his doing he makes a difference. I hope you see that when you take the time to watch the videos and look at the pictures. Thanks for joining the group. There are people there from all walks of life, religions, and cultures. Some of them have/had no understanding of war until they joined the group. Please remember that we do not discuss politics or religion in the group. It makes things run much more smoothly. See you there. Maybe it will change you mind about the worth of Facebook.

Thank you, Jayne. I appreciate your perspective here.

As well, despite my critiques, I also agree with you on the worth of Facebook. I did not intend in my article to deny the incredible benefits of the platform (we would not even be having this conversation without it), but to inquire into the psychological and social costs associated with that worth, and propose that it should be possible to preserve the benefts in a healthier way by rethinking the underlying ownership structure and commercial incentives, which express themslves in the (I believe intentional) addictive qualities of the platform.

Hi, I haven’t seen you as a member yet of Il gattaro D’aleppo. I know that Alessandra has accepted many members in the past week but I don’t see you there. Did you decide to not join?Jayne

Hi Jayne– As of earlier today, the last time I checked, my request to join was still pending. I will check again tomorrow, however.

Cross-posting here, as Dossey’s article adds to the conversation.

@ZacharyFeder: I appreciate your more “hardline” stance vis-a-vis the dopamatic dysphoria of the Newsfeed, and have found myself in the past weeks becoming more resolute in my determination to transition beyond the platform. What I’m working on is how to stay connected with the people (even if it’s just a 150 or so, most closely) that I wish to continue following or be in dialogue with. The forum is here not active enough, with a critical mass of minds, to provide that experience. But, we haven’t tried that hard to make it so. I intend to work on this as time allows. I do also see other (more widely distributed platforms) on the near horizon.

Meanwhile, from what reports I’ve seen, the situation in Aleppo has deteriorated even further (Russian bombing, etc.). However, it looks like Ibrahim is still in contact with and being aided by Alaa’s group, which is good to see.

@madrush What I realized with Facebook is that I no longer go on because I want to. I go on it because I’m addicted. We all are. And its been such a subtle thing that most of us have forgotten what life was like before. Its hard to get the buzz out of your system. It can take days for me. And I wonder if its not like AA. Once an addict always an addict. Because its hard to avoid. The very items we use to live and work in the world inhabit the same space. As if your office was situated literally on a bar. As if you worked 12 hours a day every day facing the bar tender smiling and offering free synth-ohol at only a click away. But I want to stay sober. Sober is nice. It feels clean, peaceful. Not jittery, amped and anxious.

And even when I’m not drawn in why would I want to spend time there when I could be looking at my wife, or my child, or just being present with myself? How did being present with the self, or the family, or your art become so uninteresting that you would regularity cut it off just to check for crumbs of dopamine? Digital connection trades in dopamine but real connection gives you oxytocin. That’ steak to ice cream. It’s no contest.

Social media is like a tax on concentration and productivity. Worse - a drug dealer who provides you with dopamine in exchange for your life and peace of mind, if you have any. And if you don’t? Your time depreciates. So you have to give more of it up to get the hit. Those with no inner peace in this new culture are never unplugged.

I don’t know what the solution is. But its certainly connected to we-space theory. To working on projects together in the real world. With all due respect to conversations I don’t have time for a lot of it on-line - especially if the connection factor isn’t there like in intimate groups (which I participate in a lot). I feel empty after them as if time was wasted and connection was not gained. A twenty minute chat on social media is like a few seconds of real time interaction. Once again digital time is like a rupee in value. Its not a pound sterling.

Cooperation is key. And on projects that are inspiring and that break through the dross. You have to make noise. And that means taking risks.

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