In your face book

Only last week I was following the uproar in the UK about “abusive tweets” with a measure of disbelief. We’d been there before – how seriously should twitter and social media statuses be taken? Should the tools who abuse the tools be punished? The UK government was pretty serious about regulating twitter especially to protect people from threats. I had mixed feelings about it all – how seriously should we consider status updates and tweets?

Then came Salamis. We’ve all heard how hordes of Maltese intelligentsia swarmed onto Cecilia Malstorm’s facebook page with all form of abuse. It was shock therapy as we had never seen it. You did have the suspicion during the past election that the importance given to the internet and its content by the general citizen collective had taken a weird and surreal twist. I am sure that there is a huge study to be made in marketing and advertising to the particular niche that we know as the Maltese crowd but still…

The PLPN moulded their supporters into an Orwellian vortex worthy of quite a study. There was a false sense of empowerment (say what you like and you will be heard) and there was an abuse of the propagandistic side of the medium. The majority of the citizens had not caught on to the emerald and noise and still believed that the Wizard behind the curtain was the most powerful thing in Oz. We all know how things proceeded since then: the nationalist party imploded choking on a nut while the labour party segued onto government by words and tweets.

The worst offender is the PM himself what with his non-sensical twitter account that is about as politically proper as Frankie Boyle on a trip. Then there are the abusers of the media – such as that DJ turned architect – who adds a new “blog” and shoot “aphorisms” without batting an eyelid. Which brings me to facebook. PLPN candidates bored us mental with their daily “tying my shoelaces” updates during the election. The impression was that they would “listen”. Sure. What they did do once the election is over is forget any semblance of institutional decorum, bury any notion of rule of law and murder any possibility of quiet government.

Do you blame the noisy bunches on Facebook now? Add to that the fact that they are the bunches who are most encouraged by this government’s ridiculous bandwagon grandstanding – oblivious to the hopelessness behind the moves and oblivious to the fact that they are just pawns in this power game.

So yes, we had a lot of noisy, uncouth energumens flooding to Malstorm’s page. First reaction: So what? As someone put it succinctly, the Greeks have been directing much verbal abuse in the direction of anything EU/German. Second reaction: So what? It’s not like we did not know that a huge chunk of our voting electorate was clueless about rights, politics and social interaction. Facebook is just throwing an ugly window open onto a part of our society.

It’s our society being thrown back in your face. In your face book actually.

Facebook, Privacy and Deactivation (a list)

I chose midnight last Sunday as the time and day to deactivate my Facebook account. My personal Facebook account that is, if anything such as a personal Facebook account really exists. I’ve been asked “Why?” and been warned “Don’t” as though the issue of whether or not to have a FB account is a matter of life and death. Meanwhile the bliss of deleting the FB app from both my iPhone and the iPad was followed by a tiny semblance of withdrawal symptoms – would I be suddenly “out of the loop”?

Deactivation is not deletion. I still have the option to reactivate and log back in as though nothing ever happened. “We were on a break”. But why deactivate? I don’t have one reason. I have a series of unordered thoughts that have been running through my head for a while and here they are in no particular order (that’s the unordered bit).

1. The Not So Social Network

When Mr Mark Zuckerberg decided that Facebook should go public he added a letter to the IPO (initial public offering) application that he filed. In that letter he spoke in glowing terms of Facebook’s mission. Facebook is not a company he said. Facebook has a social mission, he said. The mission, he said, was to make the world more open and connected.  Connections, change, networking. The long, long letter is full of this kind of vision. It was Google’s “Do no Evil” with an added bout of logorrhea. You would not be investing in a company but in a social mission. Zuckerberg did not tell us why Caritas, AA, the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontières – to mention a few – haven’t yet listed their social missions on some stock exchange.

But hey. This is the internet. The internet is now linked to financial bubbles and at 38 dollars a share buying a part of facebook just meant going along with the trend/myth of dot com investments. Kudos to Mr Zuckerberg for managing to sell his “social mission”. In one week facebook shares have plummeted and “16 million dollars have been shed in market capitalisation”. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I don’t care. I just find the idea that Facebook has any kind of social mission in mind very very risible.

The first thing I don’t like about Facebook is the way it is about anything other than your ability to control the spread of information about yourself. Sure, you choose what to put on Facebook but then again – do you? There is a huge gap between the promise of freedom of networking and the constant impulse of FB to get you to share, share, share.

The first thing I don’t like about Facebook is that it is sharing via force feeding.

2. The Sheep’R’Us

When you first registered on Facebook it was to be connected. Then we added and added friends. Then, at a time when Google Circles were still a pie in the sky we had no way to distinguish between your College Alumni, your Sport Friends and the freaks who post weird stuff on walls late at night. For a while it got interesting. Campaigns went viral on facebook, the like button provided instant gratification that had not been seen on the internet since the early days of Yahoo Categories and we just posted and posted. Faster internet meant more possibilities of “sharing” video, photo, apps. And the games? Do you remember the first time you opened Farmville, spent five minutes trying to grow some shit then wondering “what the fuck?”. Some people still use farmville.

Do you remember the pokes? They too seem to have fucked off to a worse dimension. We were left with walls, posts, and “threads” of absolute bull. Because whether five idiots meet on the street or whether they meet virtually their collective contribution to humanity is just about equal. It’s not like every chat on facebook has to be a Zizek-Hitchens debate but you could sense a collective dumbing down suddenly beginning to take shape. It was not even the “good morning I’m having toast” crowd that finally did it. It was the general feeling that having an opinion suddenly meant that once was right. And facebook reinforced that. Photos, opinions, videos merged into one miasma of a collective skip.

And you got lost in the crowd. The second thing I did not like about Facebook was that anything goes.

3. The Expression Lie

If I do reconnect to Facebook it will be to reconnect a blog to an audience. Unfortunately almost 80% of J’accuse traffic was sourced from Facebook. The worst part of that deal was that readers stopped commenting on the blog. They preferred the comment on Facebook. You tried to integrate the two but it never was the same. Once again you could sense the attention span of readers going berserk – like that of a pack of flies suddenly discovering the morning pile of dogs’ droppings on a suburban pavement. Facebook had created the skim reader. Twitter’s metre of 160 words had become the generally accepted limit for an attention span.

Does Facebook empower with information? Maybe. What we definitely do is form our input channels into a constant monotone dreg. We tend to network with like minds, like ideas and similar opinions. Collectively these little facebook packs will look for information they approve of and enjoy. Before long they will have moulded their own virtual world of inputs where all the news and all the opinion they read stops challenging them, stops provoking them. Their cerebrum has become an added appendix to the senses without any feedback. Colours, sounds and (if it could) tastes. Without the appreciation born of provocation.

Facebook the champion of expression. Fuck that. One big massive unlike.

4. Time

I found it much easier to quit smoking than to quit facebook. Because facebook had become that distracted timefiller. An iphone app that vomits post after post of nonsense skipping from the 1,000 likes to save the orphan in Brobdingag to the viral video of the pope on a loo to the latest breaking news from parliament. Worse still it gave you a reality check. The ugliest quirks that people had managed to keep away from their social interaction were suddenly and inexplicably hung there for all to see. You suddenly had intimate photos – not of breasts or testicles – but of bedrooms and studies. What was previously one’s own sancta sanctorum was suddenly posted and bared for all to see. The weakest of individuals who were unable to master even the most basic rules of social interaction felt “empowered” when they shared their framed certificates in the bedroom, their corny poses by the sea and in some cases they even fought out their personal fights like some UFC Championship battle.

And for every “empowered” citizen struggling to grasp the concepts of basic PR there would be some ruthless, uninhibited facebook voyeur/stalker who would scour the walls for information to snigger at and make fun of. Bitchery too became an art. The packs of supposedly educated wolves were unleashed on the beginners and found it oh so easy to point out to the crude reality of their inexperience with real social interaction. It’s not like it was difficult, and I am guilty of having engaged in the ruthless behaviour myself. Stalkers unleashed on the unknowing victims were like foxes released in a chicken pen. There is no great intelligence required to pull a photo off the wall of some unsuspecting facebook user and to blog about the social shortcomings that have been so unabashedly and unwittingly put on display.

Insofar as politicians and their daily tomfoolery with the medium is concerned there would be no amount of wolves that would suffice to tear the arrogant peacocks to bits. For you’d expect a politician to be able to handle the dos and donts of simple social networking. Still. The time that facebook stole from us can never be recovered with 1,000 other initial public offerings. The fourth thing I do not like about facebook is the amount of time wasted on it before discovering that it is another cynical mirror of our society.

7. Not the full list

There’s more to this list. Much more. But there’s a limit to how long a post can be. I’ll be stopping here for now. Will elaborate later. Do not be surprised if my personal account is reactivated soon. In the meantime J’accuse still has a facebook page where you will find most updates.

I’d like to hear what you think about facebook, privacy and more. I doubt anyone will comment though. You’re probably all busy catching up on facebook.



As the Mayans Logged Off

To this day, the Guatemalan Mayans remark that outsiders note down things not in order to remember them, but rather so as not to remember them. Today’s world of hyperconnectivity often leads us to wonder whether our reliance on technology for knowledge and time management is beginning to “soften” our brains and make them less sharp. The Mayans might be right after all.

Cutting off from the technology and information highway for three weeks offered a good opportunity to experience full reliance on the cerebellum. It was not just organisational zen but also a break from “information anxiety”. Information anxiety is that feeling that seems to be building up daily as we gain access to more information and begin to choke when we realise that we cannot possibly take it all in at one go.

The feeling begins with a glance at an interesting link or headline on a website. Possibly this comes certified with a hundred “likes” – the modern-day stamp of recommendation. Your mental sieve takes note and the urge to take that particular path on the ether begins to take shape. But there are other links on the page – other bits of news or information that are vying for your attention. What can you possibly do?

There’s different techniques and approaches. You could hoard links on some bookmarking website while convincing yourself that some time in the future a gap in the time-space continuum will allow you to “catch up”. Incidentally the “catch up” business is rather lame. Is it a race? Is there really somebody in the lead who has read tomes upon tomes on all kinds of subjects? Does a modern day walking, talking and web-browsing equivalent of the famed Alexandrian library exist?

You could also skim through summaries or subtitles getting the general gist of the content while being subconsciously painfully aware that you are fast becoming the internet equivalent of a jack of all trades and master of none. That would also mean learning to live with that ghost of a feeling that during your “skimming” you missed out on the really crucial, interesting part that was really worth reading. That’s information anxiety all over again.

Or you could step off the train. Step off and watch the carousel zip before your eyes as statuses are updated in your absence, news items are created, revised and rewritten while you are in a blissful corner of informational oblivion. Peeping in from time to time to assuage the withdrawal symptoms you will connect less and less with the threads and webs that have formed in your absence. You will worry less. Care less even. Anxiety what anxiety?

Before you know it, information gathering might even take its good old familiar linear form. You will have regained your sanity and your calm. It might not last very long and you might soon be wishing to be back sucking at the nipple of information overdose but trust me, the kick you get from that momentary lapse of reason might even get addictive and before you know it you could be stepping off the train.

And this time it will be for good.

The Hard Drive

While shopping for goods to fill the Christmas stockings you might have gone to some IT product store and had a good look at the prices for hardware goods. If you were shocked at the sudden hike in price for external drives for your PC/Mac or in the price for certain laptops you might be glad to know there is a reason for that. As L’Essentiel reports, we are witnessing the butterfly effect from the floods in Thailand. Companies producing hard drives and laptops have had their production practically halted and the slowdown has caused a lower supply: enter the magic of market forces.

This kind of news is an eye opener for those among us who tend to think that prices of goods and the operation of the market is entirely dependent on some paper-pushing Ministers’ decision. The same applies for those among us who believe that markets and even national economies can ever operate again in isolation.

And if a series of floods in Thailand can effect the purchasing habits in a medium-sized French town I am baffled at how some commentators can still shout hurray at David Cameron’s choice of isolating Britain from the decisions that will be taken from now on to consolidate the European Union’s (and it’s Single Market) position economically and on the world stage.

Cameron thinks he drove a hard deal. A hard drive? Sure, but with expensive consequences.

Apps to Buy For

…your iphone of course. I am told by the lesser denizens of this earth that these apps are also available for non-iphone users. Anyway. I thought I’d give you a peep at the apps that have tickled my fancy recently. January 2011 might be a tad bit too late to wax lyrical about the power available at your fingertips but on the other hand that is one of the beauties of the internet powered revolution: it never ceases to impress. The apps listed below are in no particular order but they are all mystically superliciliously snobbishly fantabulastic.

J’accuse has no sponsorship deal with any of the following apps or their creators. Just in case you were wondering of course.

1. Whatsapp

I thought I’d get rid of this one because it is the most down-to-earth and unglamorous of the lot. What it lacks in glam and glitter it wins back in absolute practicality and money-savingness. This nifty app zaps through your telephonic contacts and makes them its own and then proceeds to inform you which among these contacts is already equipped with Whatsapp. The next step is instant messaging at prices that neither Go nor Vodafone nor Melita will give you… it’s free. Bully for the expats… we get to sms people in Rome, London, Rio and Malta for free… and they answer back at the same expense. Now to make some friends around the world who will actually speak to me….

2. TuneIn Radio App

If, like me, you never swallowed the line “video killed the radio star” then you will love this one. Open up to the world of radios wherever you are. Why be limited to the range of stations on the FM band? Why be a slave to the hissing fadings and shoutings of the AM frequency? Travel back in time and listen to the best radio Italy and the UK have to offer as though you were carrying a tranny in Rome or Sheffield.  It’s simple. Download the app that runs on the radiotime database then just browse the world – literally. Your iphone will be as at home in Mauritius as it is in Mumbai. There’s no limit.

So if you are bored of counting the number of times Maltese rock deejays drool over the cliches of il-Floyd and il-Bono and if you are addicted to the non-stop orgasm that is Classic FM this is your answer. Plug it into a set of JBL on stage speakers (iphone users beware – buy the phone adapted version to make sure you eliminate the intereference from cellular buzzing) and bob’s your uncle. You can leave it plugged in at your bedside overnight and you’ll fall asleep to the sound of your favourite radio (timer enabled) and wake up to it thanks to the programmable wake-up alarm. And while it is in sleep mode your iphone doubles as a wonderful bedside clock. Next time I’ll share some cool radios I’ve discovered… it had been ages since I could hear a crystal clear footie commentary (Radio Rai 1 or BBC 5 live).

Goggles by Google

3. Google Goggles

Save the best for last. Transform your iphone into a Star Trek app. I’d say that the basic principle behind google goggles is “doing things with images”. Google has jumped onto the fact that people now carry cameras everywhere thanks to advanced optics on iphones (and maybe on other non-iphones). The idea is to take a photo of ANYTHING and see what goggles does it with.

Not recognising a landmark? Snap a photo of it and let goggles scan it and browse the web for it. After a few seconds it will tell you what it is. I took a photo of a Gauguin poster in the office. In a few seconds Goggles told me what it was and where to find it. You could try it on people but it is not that good at recognising those yet. Take a photo of a barcode and Goggles will tell you what the product is, where to find it and how to buy it online.

The most jaw-dropping of all was the Sudoku. I took a photo of a Sudoku puzzle straight off the pages of the Daily Mail (difficulty hardest). It took Goggles a few seconds (a) to tell me that  it was a Sudoku image and (b) to ask me if I want it solved. Want it solved? Want it solved? I couldn’t believe my eyes. I pressed solve puzzle and there you were… in what was surely under three seconds the Daily Mail hardest puzzle was solved. Stuff that. For the crossword enthusiasts out there… don’t despair, the day a machine can get through the nuances of a cryptic crossword is still very far off.

There you have it. Three goldmines to tap. There’s much much more but I thought I’d share these three lovely ‘uns for the weekend. It’s frosty in Luxembourg as in all of Europe (I know that because my iphone told me this morning). There we were thinking that summer was round the corner… instead we’re stuck inside, playing with our iphones.

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