Sunday, 26 June 2011

Did Facebook ruin web discourse?

Above is the Listening Post Exhibit at the Science Museum in London. This art work:

Listening Post is a ‘dynamic portrait’ of online communication, displaying uncensored fragments of text, sampled in real-time, from public internet chatrooms and bulletin boards. Artists Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin have divided their work into seven separate ‘scenes’ akin to movements in a symphony. Each scene has its own ‘internal logic’, sifting, filtering and ordering the text fragments in different ways.

The work is a collaboration by Ben Rubinis (sound designer and multimedia artist) and Mark Hansen (artist and statistician). An interesting thing happened when we went to see the work in the summer of 2011, its vocabulary has become limited to sentences "I like" and "I love", watch:

We suspect that Facebook constant like button, followed by the push button nature of recent Web 2.0 has done something to reduce the quality of expression on the web. Rather than concepts of the self that involve "I am", "I think", "I believe", or "I hate" we are now being more and more reduced to recommendation machines able to say only "I like", to the point where the web is reading all our interests, our thoughts and our concerns as "likes" and nothing more.

This reduction of us to clicks of "pokes" "likes" and the ultimately meaning term "tweet" makes much of the flood of online discourse empty. Facebook, we suspect, has rendered the web much more empty of content that can be read.

If Facebook's intention is to gather data for marketing we assume that this is actually hurting its own cause. Clicking "like" or "tweeting" is not so much a violation of privacy as a violation of self. It sets us up to be little more than the Roman mob, indifferent to the human drama before us and only able to register a thumb up or down.

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