Facebook is not sentient

This is not a defense of Facebook, but it is a criticism of how we think about it & act in a world where it is no longer seen as a company but a silicon appendage to the functioning & entertainment of society.
i have often heard people blame Facebook, even a couple of times recently, & i too in the past have been to blame for this, as if it were an annexation to the reborn old gods, a jacked in, downloaded addition, an upgrade, broadband brained & USB ports plugged into the world, where its fingernails might otherwise be. But what use has Facebook for fingernails?
People blame it for their addiction, they blame it for its existence, for its affect on them, for diverting their attention. i sort of understand: we like a scapegoat, someone to shift the blame to, then we don’t have to take responsibility. Unloading the blame on something for our drifted attention & difficulty concentrating, makes a malady of the problem, it becomes more serious & necessitates a push to act. It’s a bit like a crime committed by a mad man: the clinically insane man who commits the crime, though guilty, is cleared of any conscious wrong doing & the efforts of the law, are to fix the man, not punish.
However, Facebook isn’t sentient, it is a tool, a system of communication that we pack with friends & loved ones & yes, new acquaintances we met in a bar in Thailand, but who we have grown weary of, because they post too many selfies, had more holidays than us, or perhaps turned out to be someone with vile & heinous opinions on matters that are important to us.
We wrestle with Facebook, we blame it yet we cannot give it up, which we again blame on its gravity, suspending us in its orbit. But this is not why we are obsessed with it, we are obsessed with it, because we are obsessed with ourselves & the ones who we love.
Facebook is not sentient, it does not have opinions, it has no regard for human dilemmas, not even Zuckerberg is Facebook, he is a man. He doesn’t think like Facebook, because it doesn’t think, regardless the emoji & the algorithms.
Facebook is not one of the new gods. We are to blame if we filled it with undesirables or if we chose to click on it & indulge in its scrolls of abundant, spur of the moment & poorly fed content. Our content, the content of brains full with the garbage of boredom. If the algorithm spews out crap, that is not Facebook’s fault, it is because you are prone to acknowledge too much nonsense. Like the brain’s plasticity for memorization the algorithm too alters with the patterns of content you choose to entertain.
Facebook allows me to meet people with a knowledge i don’t possess & i have been introduced to many poets, thinkers & what not because of the people i chose to fill Facebook with, it has been a tool for good in my case; i have managed the content, to an extent.
Living so long, far from home, i started to utilize Facebook after a few months away, because i didn’t want to sever my ties with family & friends. i could speak with people in real time, my breakfast is just before Europe’s bedtime, my evening, just after breakfast in England. It has been useful in this purpose, it has kept the bonds of friendship.
Blame yourself for your addiction, because you filled Facebook, it asked nothing of you, its mouth zipped up with code.

i don’t mean to sound angry, but i do mean to sound curt. i am thinking a good deal about responsibility these days. We enjoy a great many freedoms nowadays & need to realize where they are & what they enable us to do & how we might live our life with them. i seem to be stumbling across a lot of self imposed barriers.
As always, the comments are below to disagree or to expand the discussion.

33 thoughts on “Facebook is not sentient

  1. Ok… lots to unpack in your post and pack into a comment. So, i will send my initial response and if more thought produces an expounded answer i will interject again. First, do we not all want a god or goddess in our life? Or several? Perhaps that answer depends on our personality. So, whether or not you adhere to any social system that organizes your life will affect you. If you are able to rule over yourself, as you appear to be capable of, Facebook is no more a god than a rock. However, rocks accept nothing and Facebook has empty hands begging to be filled with all humanity, foibles and all.

    1. Your perspective is interesting, you picked up on our, almost religious subservience to the medium. i suppose, some are more prone to needing a commanding presence & they can transfer that.
      i don’t know if Facebook as similar to a god or rock is pertinent though, i think it is more a malady, a self-inflicted malady due to a misunderstanding of what it is, it isn’t sentient, like a god, it is a tool, & a rock is a limited tool, but Facebook is a social tool. i think to make it seem capable of “empty hands begging to be filled with all humanity, foibles and all” is sort of a problem of our perception. It can’t be anything other than what we make of it, so to blame it is erroneous.

      1. Facebook is only benign until the moment someone is introduced to it. Then they say, “What is this?” “What can it do to and for me?” And then I believe Facebook becomes sentient. It becomes alive the moment we project ourselves into it and subsequently invite others onto and into our life via a virtual wall that lets us graffiti our lights out…

        Are we naturally superstitious? And does this lead to sullying new technology and ways of communication? Is this what makes Facebook become a virtual relationship with any number of egos? Not exactly sure where i am going with this thought…

        We are certainly social and the relationships we commence are not always healthy (every relationship has some degree of pathology) and we bring that into other aspects of our lives. Projecting our insecurities and shortcomings onto objects as a way to distance the anxiety or depression, that can result from connection, is a way of coping, as you expressed. Facebook, via its creator, has this sole purpose, until someone finds a new use for posting photos, art, music, words and thoughts… Is this what makes pet rocks so intriguing and how it became the phenomenon it did? And today, the hunt for rocks that speak?

        As far as how we worship or feel detached from any created or found tool, is certainly up to individuals, so collectively as a community, we ask “Are we safe with this object?” People have always turned any number of objects into gods. Why not Facebook?

        We absolutely give Facebook power. It does not possess anything, as created, until we hand off the responsibility baton to what we deem the runner, which has energy to run life’s race. Hence Facebook becomes our persona. We expect that runner to guide and protect us. After all, god’s never tire. If they did they wouldn’t be gods nor would we give permission to have ourselves taken over.

        Maybe we are saying similar things. I agree we are irresponsible and becoming more so with each passing hour. The reference to Facebook being benign, simply a tool for either evil or good, depending on personal character, confuses me. This is the very reason we blame social media. It possesses us. It has power over individuals.

        I think most of what i have written makes sense. Thinking out loud and i may be missing some of your points. Like i said, your post is packed to the rafters with any number of thought routes.

        Superbly interesting!! 🕊J

      2. i think we are sort of on the same page Jeanne. i will break down your comment into sections for both our benefit.

        1. i think this is spot on, but i don’t know if i agree that it then becomes sentient. Lately i read an article in which a bot wrote lines of poetry. It did so with a human developed code & by being fed other poet’s poems. It didn’t become sentient because of our information that went into, it merely processed it & spat out something else. It looked a lot like poetry, but it wasn’t the machines. It was ours coming back rearranged. i think if more people asked the questions you pose, or rather put in the mouths of people, i don’t think i’d have had any cause to write this, as people would be more perceptive by now, but alas, i did write it because i have heard so often people mistake Facebook for something it simply isn’t.

        2. Superstition is a funny thing. i don’t know about if we are naturally anymore, as we killed God quite some time back now. i don’t quite know where you are going with the “virtual relationship with any number of egos” point. Sorry.

        3. i think this is pretty solid stuff. Right on the nose.

        4. Same as 3. Clear & on the nose.

        5. i think this is more what i am saying, we give it the power & we also can imbue it with meaning & utility. If we don’t use it right, we are to blame & when what we filled it with turns on us, it is somewhat our responsibility. Does that mean we can control individuals? Of course not. But we invited them, so we can make a choice, stop contact, or stand up for ourselves, within the context of the problem. A keyboard warrior is a good example. Do we block or do we engage?

        6. i think we have & continue to be irresponsible. We have many questions & problems to solve. However, i think people realizing the addictive aspect & sapping of attention, which Facebook induces, is the inception of a sea change in our perception of Facebook. i am definitely reading more searching articles on our relationship with social media, especially mags such as Wired & online journals like Aeon, as well as book like Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Of course John Naughton writes well on the subject too. His 95 theses are very interesting.

        Really glad the post interested you. i really want to get into writing more short pieces to get peoples’ reaction & hopefully learn a thing or 2 myself. So thanks.

  2. Facebook has no more power than we give it. So Facebook’s usage is human usage ergo Facebook does nothing other than what we give it power to do…if we don’t leave.

    Cybermorality… is it the new Christianity? Will the Internet save us or condemn us?

    1. You got it. i suppose as self-invested as any religion is, Facebook could parallel those aspects of a religion: a code of ethics for all, taboos, ritual etiquette.
      The answers to the internet saving or condemning can only be successfully answered if we take control of them, & don’t project a personification greater than a human value. i think a Wallace Stevens stanza from ‘Chocorua to its Neighbour’ is relevant here

      To say more than human things with human voice,
      That cannot be; to say human things with more
      Than human voice; that, also, cannot be;
      To speak humanly from the height or from the depth
      Of human things, that is acutest speech.

      1. They must, the algorithm may be a code, but it is developed by humans to process human information. If it disregards its own humanity then it is a very peculiar situation we land ourselves in. i think Larry Page believes that by creating the perfect search we advance AI, as if, by having a system with all human information, the system will then usurp the confines of that fed information to become sentient.

  3. Daniel, spot on here. It reminds me of my yearly Black Friday rant, We Are Our Own Slaves; https://wordandsilence.com/2017/11/24/happy-black-friday/ ….we do it to ourselves. At the same time, just after my daughter was born, the friggin pediatrician’s office, not some shitty donut place down the street but a doctor’s office, would only send out updates on vaccinations etc. via Facebook, not even email. So sure it’s my fault if I finally dumbed down & joined Facebook because of it (I didn’t in this case), sure I’m free to choose, but it’s all very slippery & lemming like & mindless, so that people at the bottom, who just want to stay informed about this or that, suddenly do have to join a million things. In the end I agree that it’s our responsibility, but I also know none of this shit was created to be healthy & informative, only addictive, & if the culture at large doesn’t want to talk about discipline, we also shouldn’t be surprised at feeling powerless somehow, too. Smart fellows & geniuses like us aside (!), how free are most people to turn down the worst of Facebook & Hollywood & McDonald’s & reality TV (the American election after all was swayed by people who couldn’t tell reality from the BS handed to them on Facebook) if they’ve hardly ever known an alternative? You mention the average dude on the street back in yr hometown a lot, & I wonder how he’s going to assess his many freedoms “& realize where they are & what they enable us to do & how we might live our life with them”….. most people have energy enough after a day’s work to do nothing, & sure part of me wants to kick them in the ass & say get creative & get informed & get curious, but I also know the weight of technology & culture is so huge right now, I’m not surprised everything is just “entertainment.” ….I think yr example of using it sparingly & for only a few purposes would be a great lesson for millions & millions, even as the people at Facebook wouldn’t care for it, since it’s breaking that kind of willpower that they’re intent on doing.

    1. i remember your we are our own slaves pieces, it is very fitting here.
      i definitely can’t blame people, there is a marketing strategy behind all this, million & millions goes into it. i read about the blue colour in the Google letter, each colour in fact, went through rigorous market testing on subjects to determine which tint of each colour would get the most clicks. The difference now, is that, even the man on the street has had time to process the abundant effects of this social technology & has had time to see their distractions manifest. The people i have heard blame Facebook for their addiction, know they are addicted, i believe the first step in AA meetings is to admit you have a problem. They know they are hooked to it, & from that sea change of self-knowledge they can remedy the problem. But that is just it, it isn’t a problem of abandoning the tool, but using it for the correct reasons. i had my problems with Facebook, i have thrown two phones up a wall because i felt myself gravitating to it, with negative consequences, but then i realized what i actually miss when i do that: i only use it to talk to my mother & a very close friend, it has also allowed me to speak & learn from a small group of people who use it correctly. Therefore, i came to realize, this is not a thing negative in itself, but a thing we animate through transferring whatever we put into it. i suppose Jung would use his Transference of the male role model into the psychologist for the woman to remedy her neuroses, applying it to the role of Facebook he would have broadened the concept of Transference.
      Your doctor using it to alert patients is exactly what i am talking about, as irritating as it was for, he could make his life very simple by using Facebook. That is using it correctly in my opinion. You have a right to disregards it, but unfortunately, due to that, life will be more difficult in some respects. Facebook is a part of life, it isn’t a business any longer & accepting that gives us strength over the myopia it generates. At least in theory, & n my case practice, but i have always been an odd ball, the rules don’t always apply to me. i don’t have an addictive personality, i know that for reasons i have probably told you about in our emails.

      1. I heard it said once that stuff like Facebook etc is more like alcohol than heroin; you don’t say use heroin in moderation, but alcohol yes. I guess that’s it, learn how to use it well. But we’ll need good teachers to do it, they must be out there, & not ones interested in ads & clicks. I’m content to just use as much of it against itself as I can, sort of eat away at it from within.

  4. I think the current mainstream understanding of Facebook bears some consideration here as well. As a stream of consciousness it has played some really bad tricks on the world stage. It promotes trends and, dare I say it, fads on the political stage. In America the democratic system was hijacked by manipulators who used the platform to disseminate misinformation. So, as a tool, it worked toward the end of the manipulators. But look at an earlier trend, the Muslim Spring. It was due to a combination of Facebook and Twitter then. It’s power was unmistakable. It changed the course of history. Ah, but only for a moment. All those uprisings only agitated people, they got angry, they rebelled and beat the system. But, and its a big but—what became of those uprisings? Today those countries are still under totalitarian Muslim rule. Nothing really changed.

    I hope the same holds for the Trump and Brexit debacles. We started with a Democracy, people got heated up, flipped the system on its head. Hopefully we will resume business as usual after a few years if the system doesn’t crack.

    So, my take on Facebook is, though it is what we make it, a large enough movement can exert an unpredictable force that in return has the power to manipulate governments and societies. It bears using with caution. The dangers are real. I personally hope it goes the way of MySpace, this time replaced by a more human, organic pastime. Something that doesn’t require thousands of dollars worth of electronics to salt the larders of the tech companies.

    1. You make a very cogent point Pablo. Yes, Facebook has been used as a tool to manipulate, but do you think it can be repeatedly used for this purpose, as once we expose it, we become more vigilant, we can fine tune the algorithm to spot it. i know i’ve read a few articles on this.
      People have always found ways to manipulate, however, now, people interested in stopping it, can chime in & expose the lie. It is up to people then to listen. i sound hopelessly naive.
      The problems of manipulation are complex, but i don’t know if it is easier to combat them when the problem is focused in essentially one space split infinitely, as Facebook is; or whether it is better to have disparate medias, where people who need to put up a fight, can’t get access to the material to expose it.
      It would perhaps be nice to return to more organic forms of contact, i think all contact between humans will be human, no matter how it is done. The thing is, people still go out & protest in the street & Facebook makes that easy. As i say, it is a tool to some.
      The person who takes informing themselves seriously, will not be easily duped, no matter the efforts of a manipulator. The big problem is how to make people aware of what information is the impostor. The big problem are memes. They can be woefully inaccurate & yet people so easily say “true that.” A photo, a quote & sometimes not even the person who quoted it. Dangerous that is, to me.

  5. The problem is in the cliche: people believe what they want to believe. Facebook has become the newsstand of our day, only the journals are presented by each individual poster rather than a news organization. Sadly, many on social media cater to the Enquirers and the Daily Mails of the Internet. No matter how outrageous the lie, if it’s tantalizing enough and promotes their world view people they will post it. The difference is when the tabloids were on paper, you could see them and recognize the source immediately as you passed them at the checkout or newspaper stands. On Facebook, or even Twitter, the source is often obscured, or second to the tagline. Some people only read the headline and assume the story is legitimate coverage of a true news item when it is just that, yellow journalism, tabloid fiction, but the impression is lasting, like commercial jingles on TV. A keen eye can tell what’s fake from the real, but not everyone is smart enough to tell the difference.

    So you have this hodgepodge of half truths and flat out lies competing with the real story. It can be exhausting to sort through the many different accounts to find the actual news. I’ve gotten to the point where I skim past the daily updates and focus on the topics of my choosing, which are mainly Linguistics and Archeology on my Flipboard feed. Otherwise it’s maddening and distressing. I have a rule of thumb: if it’s not happening in earshot, why worry? I’m living comfortably, no one shot me during a traffic stop. If I need medical attention, I’m free to go to the hospital, the government closure came and went and the Earth didn’t stop spinning, so everything is good—for now. If there’s an earthquake or a nuclear bomb gets set off by Kim Jung Un, then I’ll cross that bridge.

    1. They do, people are very stubborn, but they are also very pliable. Facebook mashes a great many different people together & it takes just one spark, one minor fragment of information that somehow chimes with someone, even if they are not inclined that way & a person can be sent down another path, or at least have the inclination planted. Who knows from there. My own story is much the same. Not a very bright kid at school, only interested in doing things different, but i don’t know why. i couldn’t give you an exact location in memory when i thought i should read the Times & the literary supplement where i discovered a review of Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus, which really opened up my young mind & made me odd & becoming odd i was always after something new to expand me. Nothing around me, neither school, family or friends, absolutely nothing in my environment provoked this urge, If i’d had Facebook, who knows what might have nudged me, who i might have met to share this odd denouement.

      As liberals we cannot consider using the channels & tactics of convservatives, we will always suffer from it, but people can’t stay ignorant forever. i don’t believe in perfectibility, it was a fancy of the Romantics, a beautiful idea, but nonsense. It hasn’t ended, it never will. But the end of the 60s, in my opinion a failure, it really took a nose dive. We cannot have a perfect world, but we have new tools that open new opportunities to change the opinion of large bodies of people. One thing Facebook does is make a lot of people passive, in that sense, they can be pulled & you just don’t know what it is that will work on them. My mom never read any poems, now she does because of mine getting published. She shares them with her friends who also don’t read poems. Now, i know i am her son, but that must change something in her now when she sees something about literature. Her friends too. This is hope. Local changes lead to larger change. It isn’t a bad thing to go forward with.

  6. “As liberals we cannot consider using the channels & tactics of conservatives, we will always suffer from it, but people can’t stay ignorant forever….”

    But no one is 100% Liberal or 100% Conservative. There are shades and degrees: socially liberal/fiscally conservative = me. You just see the Liberal parts. Facebook is a useful tool then in putting on a mask. Facebook might as well be a Superman Halloween costume for all the unquestionable truth is is capable of telling. We can only “assume” X or Y about a person. So I disagree that we cannot consider using the “tactics” of conservatives, we just have to consider the morality and/or moral aftereffects of such tactics. Conservatism is not inherently a moral failure tactically…. as a Canadian Conservative is very different from an American Conservative… at least the optics are.

    But US Conservatives, i.e. the Republican Party certainly have made Conservatism look like it is inherently a racist cesspool intent on rewarding its corporate donors at the expense (literally) of the lives of poor and children (DACA/Children’s Health Insurance Program).

    1. i am English, our conservatism is ugly. But you are quite right, there are shades. i do think you are however, falling into a trap of calling Facebook something which itself has humanistic properties, it doesn’t. Out of the catalog of types that use Facebook there are some very good sorts. i know because i read their posts. i met the editor of Turkish Poetry Today through Facebook, never met him, but his posts & my conversations & what he has introduced me to has altered my perception of Facebook.
      Thank you for pointing out that conservatism has shades to it.

  7. I’ve been thinking about this recently. Facebook is a definite part of “society”, so many thousands of people all around us are on it all the time. I went back and forth in my head, is “society” responsible for our actions the way people think it is? Don’t we have our own thoughts, can’t we make our own choices? At the same time though, being a part of the group is a survival technique in a way, we’re here because we can work in packs. While you can’t blame “facebook” or “Mark Zuckerberg” or anybody specifically for our actions, it is difficult to break away from the grasp of it, if it has ahold of everybody else. Of course, we are ultimately responsible for our facebook use, but the bigger forces are very real. Hopefully, we can all turn that around as a society, as facebook is becoming cesspool of negativity!

    1. Diane, this is a strong point. There is almost certainly still a herd mentality, tapered no doubt through the information most people receive, despite the abundance in the periphery, which will usually offer different perspectives. Think of Brexit, a group of powerful people lied to people who focus on a small number of news sources, they also followed each other.

      Do you think in some roundabout way, by blaming Facebook, we are actually blaming other people, the people we have picked to fill our feed, even, in the act of blaming, attempting to break out of the herd mentality? Could the people who are in essence rebelling against Facebook as a sentient thing, actually rebelling against the negative aspects of society?

      1. Certainly , I think people realize that we’re not even really blaming “Facebook” it’s just the term that we throw at a whole variety of things.. my friend and I actually blame “Facebook demons” , (big evil invisible forces) for the issue. There is likely some animosity toward people we follow, their negativity , their polarization , their vapidness with some vague feeling that were trapped there since that’s where we get a lot of our connection from- in combination with the addicting nature of it. People just want something more with their lives and yes want to not be part of the herd (especially if the herd is going to be so shitty nowadays) so many people get to a point of vague anger but don’t want to do further soul searching with it

      2. Do you think we need something like Facebook to throw blame at. a sort of sponge to just take everything, so we can have an outlet for catharsis? Because to blame Facebook is to not have to directly blame & thus potentially hurt the feelings of others, so we get a could deal i suppose transferring it to Facebook, a pliable thing.

      3. Ummm …I don’t think people think that far along , like .. they want to blame someone , perhaps are mad at certain people on there or certain things about it , but don’t fully articulate all this to themselves. I don’t know if blaming the system is ever true catharsis.

  8. With elections soon approaching 4 Asian countries (making up 25% of global population and more than 316 million Facebook users vs. USA’s 230 million – read this http://bit.ly/2G1RiLw), Mark Zuckerberg’s corrective action on Facebook’s policies may be a tad too late for data privacy in those countries. One of them has Facebook’s largest global user-base incidentally

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