Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Illusion of Social Media

I feel nostalgic for the musical communities that this format of blogging made possible during its first decade, and I remember how much I enjoyed participating in long and interesting discussions on other blog posts in the musical blogosphere. Everything changed once Google Reader stopped making a lively blogosphere possible.

I was an early participant (I began in 2005), and I am one of the few musical bloggers from those days who posts with any regularity. Musicians seem to have moved their musical lives to Facebook, where they can find groups of people with specific musical interests and people from their musical pasts (and other pasts) to interact with. I use Facebook as well, and sometimes I put links to posts from this blog and my Thematic Catalog blog there. Those posts are read by a relative handful of people, and "liked" by many who scroll by without reading.

That is the way Facebook has "trained" us to engage. Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

One thing that Facebook seems to do is to make some posts available to a lot of people who "like" them. One recent post I made from a moving car got "liked" by seventy people:

It was an iPhone picture with very little in the way of text. It took very little in the way of thought, and even less in the way of effort to post. Other posts I have made on Facebook, particularly posts I have made in musically oriented forums that have links to this blog or to my Thematic Catalog blog, seem to only be seen by a handful of people.

Oddly, except for birthday notices, I see very few of the posts that my Facebook friends make in my Facebook feed. It seems, in a way, that Facebook has narrowed my online social world, and it has turned social interaction into something more like window shopping.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

There are "pages" on Facebook, and these seem to be offered for free. I "host" a few of these pages. There's one for my Thematic Catalog, there's one for Summer Strings, and there's one for Downstate Strings (my string quartet). I regularly get "suggestions" from Facebook that if I were to pay a small amount of money, those pages and the posts I put on them could be seen by a lot of people. It is the same with "events." If I want people to know about a free concert I am giving, I guess can pay money for my notice to go to Facebook feeds.

I wonder if by not paying into the "service" I am limiting my ability to communicate through Facebook. I have nothing to gain monetarily through my participation in this kind of Facebook world, so I don't feel that I should throw money at the problem of not feeling engaged. Making more Facebook posts doesn't help me feel more socially engaged, except on birthdays. A Facebook birthday is something extraordinary.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.

I think that the problem is our social interactions are being streamlined and directed by the automatons that regulate the Facebook "highway." Some of us choose to no longer engage in the social ways of Facebook. But in a post-Facebook world it is difficult to find a sense of community anywhere, even in our own physical communities. Facebook is either where the "audience" is, or we are given the illusion that Facebook is where the audience is.

Now I will wax nostalgic. When we first arrived at our little university town in the mid 1980s, there was a newspaper that reported on much of what went on in town. There was an insert in the paper that listed all the concerts that were being given at the university, and there were articles promoting events. We used to write letters to the editor. Our kids used to write letters to the editor. Local people used to write columns. The paper was a big deal. The paper felt like a vital organ in our community until the early 2000s.

Now our local paper is owned by a conglomerate, and aside from the obituaries, there is very little of local interest. We stopped subscribing because there is nothing worth reading. The (no longer) local paper does host a Facebook page, but it does very little in the way of creating a feeling of community for our town.

I try to get out. I participate in the local university orchestra in order to try connect with people in my community. I play in a local Renaissance ensemble. In the summer I get to connect with people through Summer Strings. I go to political forums, to funerals, and to concerts. And I go to the grocery store, which sometimes provides for a meaningful social interaction.

Scroll. Like. Move on. Scroll. Like. Move on. Comment. Move on. Feel disconnected. Try again. Try again later. Feel hopeful that someone will engage. Move on. Feel foolish. Feel disconnected. Rinse and repeat.


Daughter Number Three said...

My condolences on the loss of the localness of your local paper. I live in a neighborhood within a moderate-size city that still has a nonprofit community newspaper covering my neighborhood and two others. It's one of the few that has hung on out of dozens that used to exist. I'm very grateful for it.

Fresca said...

I too miss the lively days of blogging.

For me, I'm not sure the problem is Facebook's algorithm---as I experience it, I think the problem is our (my!) human preference for the fast-n-easy over the slog of composing something in words.

Though I far prefer blogging, I have to push through some resistance in myself to doing the plain old work of sitting down and DOING it.

I've been (slowly) reading psychologist Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking, Fast & Slow" (2011--you may know it? or know him from his work with Amos Tversky in the 1970s on cognitive biases).

Kahneman describes brain System #1, which is fast & works intuitively (and is usually sufficient for getting us through the day),
and System 2, which is deeper and slower (would be great if we used it when considering who to vote for, for instance...).

Human brains prefer, he says, to skate by on System 1--by far.
I totally relate to that!
And I think FB caters to that preference, whereas even the breeziest blog invites us to dip into System 2 sometimes.

I appreciate your post!
I feel like I'm arguing, and I'm not--but I do want to add that the photo of the car isn't for me a good example of a "quick click"--
that photo is FANTASTIC!
It is waaaay beyond the usual travel shot---it's a composition in color, with an illusion of movement--maybe more like a strain of music.

THANKS for writing!

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you for commenting, Daughter Number Three and Fresca (members of the part of the blogosphere frequented by my husband, Michael)! These are the first comments I have seen here in what seems like years, though it is probably my brain system #1 that is making that assertion since I am acting intuitively instead of checking.

Standing corn in a bright October sunset, the necessary ingredients in that photo, are not always around. I'm glad you like it.

Frex said...

P.S. Fresca (Frex) again--I didn't mean to dismiss FB algorithms! Of course there are market/political forces that manipulate our brain preferences for profit & power.

Barbara Sturgis-Everett said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Elaine. I think people of all ages are trying to figure out the role and influence of Facebook on our lives. I do like connecting with friends with whom I've lost touch. I enjoy the performance gems friends post among many other shares, but the habitual impact of the medium is deadly on so many levels.

Since I not longer live near those corn fields, your photo brought up many thoughts and feelings, and the hazy view fit those memories perfectly. I understand your possible frustration that something that took little effort received a large response when larger efforts do not receive the same, but that happens in many areas of our lives. Think of the relatively effortless performance that clearly touched people in a way that other heavily-prepared concerts may not have seemed to. Or those fleeting brilliant thoughts that pop into one's head unannounced like a gift from above. Sometimes I feel all our preparation and work is preparing us to accept simple beauty in our midst. Thank you for continuing the search for communication in all its forms!

Elaine Fine said...

And thank you for adding to the conversation, Barbara! (I miss you, and I miss the truly happy times we shared in Charleston.)

Bonny said...

I love blogs-especially ones with philosophy in mind, not so much for any commercial purpose but to reflect and grow. There are a several music teachers who blog whom I enjoy reading. Blogs are so much more personal than social media. And they don't depend on an algorithm. By the way, I wonder if the car image was what got picked up by FB's algorithm and sent it onto more "feeds" than usual. I'll have to experiment with that the next time I post. This may be off topic but does anyone know why it's spelled "algorithm" and not "algorhythm"?

Anyhow, I loved your post, and the poetry within it. Just lovely! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

One observes that the lovely little "For Poulenc" -- pour Poulenc, poor Poulenc, pardon the pun -- had no comments while this article generated comments. So first, brava for a lovely little work for flute and piano.

As to social media, my wife and I have steadfastly rebuffed "invitations" to join various media, and have no book to face, or gram to be instant and any other puns one might conjure. When I speak to those who have become seduced by -- in your words -- "Scroll- Like- Move on- Scroll- Like- Move on- Comment- Move on- Feel disconnected," I suggest turning away from the seduction.

Sometimes, I have written soft words of encouragement to you -- usually urging you to go compose something else -- and this time softly urge you to dislike and move away from social media. With your accomplishments such as the list on Petrucci and more, it seems quite advisable to spend more time composing. And enjoying life, which should include abandoning social media. There's enough news out there to read anyway. What next? And I mean in your yet to be created creative life? Go compose the next piece, arrange the next contribution to the literature, and savor autumn as it cools into winter.

God bless. Go compose. The next child needs be born.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you, Bonnie. And a hearty welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere! And Thank you to my anonymous friend who always makes me smile and always succeeds in helping me feel that what I do is worthwhile. I never thought of that Poulenc pun! I wonder if it was on Frank O’Hara when he wrote the poem?

Maybe we should all be grateful that the blogosphere hasn’t got algo-rhythm (as I prefer to spell it) in these days where data is being “mined” from more instantly-connected media. (Who could ask for anything more?)

Fresca said...

OOoh... can't resist a spelling question!

The spelling of "rhythm" and "algorithm" reflect their different roots:

"rhythm" is via Greek rhuthmos (related to rhein ‘to flow’).

"algorithm" is connected to the Ancient Greek arithmós--as in arithmetic.

Arthur said...

I think the internet is losing its original features. In the recent past it seems that people really had more freedom to create and connect with other people interested in the same issues. But today unfortunately the algorithms of the big tech companies end up restricting the choice and freedom of Internet users by imprisoning us in strange bubbles of interest. The impression I have is that the internet is no longer a free place.
It seems the internet now has its owners.

Sorry for the mistakes I'm still learning English. I will try to follow your Blog when you have time, congratulations here from South America.

Elaine Fine said...

Your English is excellent, Arthur. Thank you for commenting. It helps us remember that this corner of the internet is still relatively algorithm free.