Nothing good happens on facebook

Of this I am convinced.

Longtime readers may remember a series of posts I wrote in 2018 — egad, it’s been five years already? — about my growing discomfort with social media and eventual decision to delete my facebook account entirely:

Old news, right? So why am I harping on this again now? It’s because about two years ago… I got sucked back in. I really did. In some ways I still can’t believe it, but there it is.

The trouble is that even though it seems that not especially many people actually like using the site, it’s seen as necessary because everyone else is still using it, which perpetuates the cycle of we’re here because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here… The pattern help resources for a tricky blanket I was making? On facebook. The parent association for Anselm and Perpetua’s school? On facebook. Local contractors? On facebook. The neighbourhood association? On facebook. The easiest way to find new library programming? On facebook. And because I wanted to be involved and in contact and at least a marginally informed local citizen, despite my misgivings, I went back. Now, it wasn’t a full embrace of the site. I used a fake name and had no friends. But still. There I was all the same.

For a while it was ok, although I noticed some changes since I had left in 2018, namely that it took about five too many clicks to get to my groups from the home page and that my feed was absolutely stuffed with ads impervious to any ad blocker I installed. But the more I used it, the more it felt like everything had been purposely designed to irritate. Trying to re-find a specific post you glimpsed in your feed? Irritating. Trying to force a group page to display posts chronologically instead of by recent engagement? Irritating. Having little to no control over the content that crosses your screen? Irritating. Reading a feed that’s 1/3 impossible-to-remove ads? Supremely irritating. I remember when facebook’s UX/UI was a lot friendlier (you know, back when I was walking to school uphill both ways). And then there’s the actual content I was seeing — there are some downsides to seeing what your neighbours think is worth arguing about with strangers[1] — and the whole thing put together meant that whenever I checked the site, I would log off in a worse mood than the one I started with.

A few days ago I came across a recent piece by Cory Doctorow, writing for Wired, which is ostensibly about TikTok but actually about how internet platforms die, a process he refers to as “enshittification.” Here’s the premise:

HERE IS HOW platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

https://www.wired.com/story/tiktok-platforms-cory-doctorow/

When I read his piece, it was like a gong rang somewhere back in my brain. Yes — this is exactly what has happened and is happening with facebook, over and above all the issues I had with it the first time I quit. It’s made things unpleasant for regular users — from what I understand it’s pretty bad for advertisers as well — and it’s not going to get better. It sucks now, and it’s going to keep sucking until it collapses. So why am I sticking around for that?

I thought about it a little more and realised that everything I was going to facebook for, I could get somewhere else. It was just functioning as an aggregator, and not even a good one! If I need crochet pattern help, I can go to reddit or ravelry. My kids’ school sends out announcements through their learning management system. I can read news stories at the source. I can make a habit of checking the library calendar from time to time. I’d already reconciled myself to things like missing out on friends’ baby pictures, but with the way the newsfeed works these days, I probably would have missed them anyway. I keep in touch with people via email, or text, or messaging apps, or (believe it or not) actual phone calls. There is literally no reason for me to keep using facebook, and a lot of good ones not to.

So I deleted my account. Again. And this time — I mean it.

[1]All I’m saying is that the rail line has been here since 1890, so if you don’t like hearing train whistles or engines, maybe don’t buy a house next to them. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Book drunkard

I have no doubt that it is a wise ordinance of fate — or Providence? — that I cannot get all the books I want or I should certainly never accomplish much. I am simply a ‘book drunkard.’ Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.

— Lucy Maud Montgomery, 4 April 1899, The Complete Journals vol. 1, p. 432

Apropos of nothing

I recently had to call a doctor’s office about some scheduling. According to their voicemail introduction, patients are forbidden to leave messages during the following times: on weekends, on holidays, after 4 pm, and while the office is closed for lunch. Which makes me wonder: what exactly do they suppose an answering machine is for?

Open Letters

[This post has been rescued from my drafts folder, where it has been languishing since late 2018. Please rest assured that Perpetua has since sorted out traffic lights.]

To the fruit flies in my bathroom:

Seriously, what is the deal? What are you even living on? Do you know that I have bananas in the kitchen?

In puzzlement,

Christine


Dear Maryland drivers,

If you look closely, on the left-hand side of your steering wheel you will find a lever that is in easy reaching-distance while you drive. Flicking that lever up will cause a light to blink on the right-hand side of your car. Flicking that lever down will cause a light to blink on the left-hand side of your car. These blinking lights serve to notify other drivers of your intent to change lanes, turn, or otherwise move your vehicle in a non-forward direction. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but you might find them useful.

Think about giving it a shot,

Christine


My darling daughter,

I love your passion for the world around you! I feel as if it would be remiss of me, however, if I didn’t point out that screaming will not change the fact that red means stop and green means go, however much you wish it were the other way around. It is one of life’s great tragedies that we cannot change reality simply by feeling at it. I am sure we will continue to unpack this truth as you grow. In the meantime, please just watch some Daniel Tiger until you feel better.

Your doting Mama


To the lady on our street who walks her cat every morning:

I just want to say that I admire your gumption. You go, girl! Walk that cat!

Meow,

Your admiring neighbour

Sic transit gloria Samsung

My cellphone is dying.

My cellphone is dying, and I am rapidly cycling through the stages of grief. Denial: repeatedly rebooting in hopes that it will magically fix things. Bargaining: trying to appease my phone by deleting unused apps and updating the rest. Anger: my CloudLibrary app won’t open and I’m halfway through a giant fantasy novel and I’m second on the holds list for a physical copy and I need to know what happens next, what is your problem, phone?? Depression: none of my apps work, I can’t even respond to texts, my phone is useless, nothing will ever be good or right in the world ever again. Acceptance: ordering a new phone from our provider. Oh, it’ll take a week to get here? Back to anger we go!

It’s got me thinking, though: it’s funny how quickly we adjust to an object’s functionality, and how destabilizing it is when it breaks. My first cellphone — and I was a relatively late adopter, so this was only about a decade ago — could basically do two things: make and receive calls, and send and receive text messages. I think there was a simple game on it, Brickbreaker or Snake or something like that. My second phone had a slider keyboard, which was pretty awesome, but not much more functionality except for a very minimalist and difficult to use internet browser, and a camera that took incredibly low-res pictures. That phone eventually stopped being able to receive calls (I think it was), which roughly corresponded to our move to the US, so I got a cheap copycat-Blackberry from AT&T that got me through school. Again, this phone was minimally functional: bad pictures, phone, text, and I don’t even remember if it could get on the internet or not. I think it might have, but it was so much of a pain to do that it wasn’t generally worth the time.

And then came our big move post-graduation, for which my husband and I both updated to actual smartphones. What a world opened up! Apps! Games! Google maps! Beautiful pictures from decent cameras! Internet! Email! I chose a Samsung Galaxy S7, which was small enough to fit in my purse with ease and, unlike the Note 7, was not prone to exploding. Because I have the natural coordination of a drunk toddler, it was carefully outfitted with a screen protector and shielding case. (Side note: these did their jobs remarkably well under difficult circumstances; the only damage that actually got through to my screen was when a toddler Perpetua decided my phone would make an excellent teething toy.) That was five years ago, and five years is a pretty good run for a smartphone. A really good run, actually, and in that sense I suppose I don’t have much to complain about.

But complain I shall — even though the chief mal here is that my phone will only do the things that used to be the only things that phones could do. (Except for my messaging app crashing, which it didn’t do yesterday but is doing today, and which I hope might surprise me and start working again. Oops, back to denial!) I’ve gotten very used to being able to send an email while I’m nursing the baby, or to put on a podcast and stick the phone in my pocket so I can listen while I clean or fold laundry. I’ve come to rely on GPS when I’m driving somewhere new, and count on being able to quickly look things up online no matter where I am in the house, or whether I’m even in the house at all. These things that used to be novel conveniences have become expected essentials, and suddenly being denied them has left me, well, floundering.

I’m vexed at this loss of functionality. I’m vexed at how vexed I am. And I’m coping less well than I might because lovely, darling, beautiful Tertia has recently decided that sleep is for chumps and weaklings and has been holding me hostage accordingly.

My cellphone is dying. And please, pretty please, I would like it back.