Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tailoring memories in social media

DSC00611 (867x1300)Facebook is worried that its more than one billion daily users are sharing less with one another, headlined the Guardian on Tuesday. People are friending less and posting less: insiders attribute it to ‘context collapse’.

I stopped visiting Facebook a couple of months ago.  The site was, for me, a social bulletin board for our college class ten years ago, then expanded to connect me with friends around the world and to reunite me with people from high school and college.  The site evolved to support conversations and photo exchanges, I liked the the immediacy and ease of messaging, and the Pages where I could share my interests and follow those of others.

But, with time, tweaks to the algorithm to order by ‘similarity to previous likes’ and over-targeted advertising made my feed less interesting and relevant.  Messenger chatbots and tip jars are on the horizon.  Some people filled their streams with sadness and anger, others weaponized unfriending: A swamp of petty cruelties.

I managed my circle down to a ‘Scobel’s Number’ of people that I knew and liked personally, eliminated all business contacts, and demoted the downers in my feed.  But, finally, the whole experience was becoming sad and manipulative on every level.  People filtered their streams, tailoring selective and distorted feeds at particular friends.  Political campaigns and businesses mined feeds to spam sympathetic prospects.   ‘Likes’ drew rebukes, comments fed misunderstandings, silence became a judgement. 

I finally said ‘’enough’ and stopped, DSC00616 (1300x867)deleting the messenger apps and notifications.  People who want to get in touch will know how: coffee, email, phone, blog, Instagram.  ‘happier back in real life with real people, I know who my Friends are and share experiences,  stories,  laughter, and opinions with them.

I had to look up Context Collapse to see whether the engineers and psychologists at Facebook had similar understanding.  It was something else entirely:

In face-to-face communication events we carefully assess the context of the interaction in order to decide how we will act, what we will say, and how we might try to construct and present ourselves. We continuously and often unconsciously take note of the physical surroundings, the people present, and overall tone and temper. We also evaluate our own self and how we fit into the situation, constantly negotiating the image we portray of ourselves.

In contrast, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have ever heard of, everyone who has or will have access to the internet is on the other side of what you say on Facebook.  Your images, actions, and words can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved for all time. The eyes of the world and the future are your audience.

What can you say?

File:SNSPrivacy.pngThe problem is not the lack of context, but the collapse of all possible context onto each post.  How will this be perceived, not just by the person that you comment to, but by everyone and their ‘friends of friends’ who might read it?  What does your profile and likes affect the perceptions of your varied social and business contacts.  Who may scroll back through your history to question past events that have no immediacy years later?

‘We only remember the good things’, my mother would acknowledge.  Time and distance dim the hard times; we preferentially recall the best moments and people that really define us.  Perhaps Facebook should implement a similar function that exponentially de-emphasizes events and people that are both more distant and less referred to.

Exactly the opposite of their new “On This Day” feature.

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