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yesterday by geetarista
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yesterday by geetarista
John Lanchester
As Tim Wu explains in his energetic and original new book The Attention Merchants, a ‘facebook’ in the sense Zuckerberg uses it here ‘traditionally referred to a physical booklet produced at American universities to promote socialisation in the way that “Hi, My Name Is” stickers do at events; the pages consisted of rows upon rows of head shots with the corresponding name’. Harvard was already working on an electronic version of its various dormitory facebooks. The leading social network, Friendster, already had three million users. The idea of putting these two things together was not entirely novel, but as Zuckerberg said at the time, ‘I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.’

Wu argues that capturing and reselling attention has been the basic model for a large number of modern businesses, from posters in late 19th-century Paris, through the invention of mass-market newspapers that made their money not through circulation but through ad sales, to the modern industries of advertising and ad-funded TV. Facebook is in a long line of such enterprises, though it might be the purest ever example of a company whose business is the capture and sale of attention. Very little new thinking was involved in its creation. As Wu observes, Facebook is ‘a business with an exceedingly low ratio of invention to success’. What Zuckerberg had instead of originality was the ability to get things done and to see the big issues clearly. The crucial thing with internet start-ups is the ability to execute plans and to adapt to changing circumstances. It’s Zuck’s skill at doing that – at hiring talented engineers, and at navigating the big-picture trends in his industry – that has taken his company to where it is today. Those two huge sister companies under Facebook’s giant wing, Instagram and WhatsApp, were bought for $1 billion and $19 billion respectively, at a point when they had no revenue. No banker or analyst or sage could have told Zuckerberg what those acquisitions were worth; nobody knew better than he did. He could see where things were going and help make them go there. That talent turned out to be worth several hundred billion dollars.

Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliant portrait of Zuckerberg in The Social Network is misleading, as Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook manager, argues in Chaos Monkeys, his entertainingly caustic book about his time at the company. The movie Zuckerberg is a highly credible character, a computer genius located somewhere on the autistic spectrum with minimal to non-existent social skills. But that’s not what the man is really like. In real life, Zuckerberg was studying for a degree with a double concentration in computer science and – this is the part people tend to forget – psychology. People on the spectrum have a limited sense of how other people’s minds work; autists, it has been said, lack a ‘theory of mind’. Zuckerberg, not so much. He is very well aware of how people’s minds work and in particular of the social dynamics of popularity and status. The initial launch of Facebook was limited to people with a Harvard email address; the intention was to make access to the site seem exclusive and aspirational. (And also to control site traffic so that the servers never went down. Psychology and computer science, hand in hand.) Then it was extended to other elite campuses in the US. When it launched in the UK, it was limited to Oxbridge and the LSE. The idea was that people wanted to look at what other people like them were doing, to see their social networks, to compare, to boast and show off, to give full rein to every moment of longing and envy, to keep their noses pressed against the sweet-shop window of others’ lives.

This focus attracted the attention of Facebook’s first external investor, the now notorious Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. Again, The Social Network gets it right: Thiel’s $500,000 investment in 2004 was crucial to the success of the company. But there was a particular reason Facebook caught Thiel’s eye, rooted in a byway of intellectual history. In the course of his studies at Stanford – he majored in philosophy – Thiel became interested in the ideas of the US-based French philosopher René Girard, as advocated in his most influential book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. Girard’s big idea was something he called ‘mimetic desire’. Human beings are born with a need for food and shelter. Once these fundamental necessities of life have been acquired, we look around us at what other people are doing, and wanting, and we copy them. In Thiel’s summary, the idea is ‘that imitation is at the root of all behaviour’.

Girard was a Christian, and his view of human nature is that it is fallen. We don’t know what we want or who we are; we don’t really have values and beliefs of our own; what we have instead is an instinct to copy and compare. We are homo mimeticus. ‘Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and who turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.’ Look around, ye petty, and compare. The reason Thiel latched onto Facebook with such alacrity was that he saw in it for the first time a business that was Girardian to its core: built on people’s deep need to copy. ‘Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,’ Thiel said. ‘Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.’ We are keen to be seen as we want to be seen, and Facebook is the most popular tool humanity has ever had with which to do that.

*

The view of human nature implied by these ideas is pretty dark. If all people want to do is go and look at other people so that they can compare themselves to them and copy what they want – if that is the final, deepest truth about humanity and its motivations – then Facebook doesn’t really have to take too much trouble over humanity’s welfare, since all the bad things that happen to us are things we are doing to ourselves. For all the corporate uplift of its mission statement, Facebook is a company whose essential premise is misanthropic. It is perhaps for that reason that Facebook, more than any other company of its size, has a thread of malignity running through its story. The high-profile, tabloid version of this has come in the form of incidents such as the live-streaming of rapes, suicides, murders and cop-killings. But this is one of the areas where Facebook seems to me relatively blameless. People live-stream these terrible things over the site because it has the biggest audience; if Snapchat or Periscope were bigger, they’d be doing it there instead.

In many other areas, however, the site is far from blameless. The highest-profile recent criticisms of the company stem from its role in Trump’s election. There are two components to this, one of them implicit in the nature of the site, which has an inherent tendency to fragment and atomise its users into like-minded groups. The mission to ‘connect’ turns out to mean, in practice, connect with people who agree with you. We can’t prove just how dangerous these ‘filter bubbles’ are to our societies, but it seems clear that they are having a severe impact on our increasingly fragmented polity. Our conception of ‘we’ is becoming narrower.

This fragmentation created the conditions for the second strand of Facebook’s culpability in the Anglo-American political disasters of the last year. The portmanteau terms for these developments are ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, and they were made possible by the retreat from a general agora of public debate into separate ideological bunkers. In the open air, fake news can be debated and exposed; on Facebook, if you aren’t a member of the community being served the lies, you’re quite likely never to know that they are in circulation. It’s crucial to this that Facebook has no financial interest in telling the truth. No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and who relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences. Why would Facebook care if the news streaming over the site is fake? Its interest is in the targeting, not in the content. This is probably one reason for the change in the company’s mission statement. If your only interest is in connecting people, why would you care about falsehoods? They might even be better than the truth, since they are quicker to identify the like-minded. The newfound ambition to ‘build communities’ makes it seem as if the company is taking more of an interest in the consequence of the connections it fosters.
TimWu  Books  Facebook  Memetics  db 
yesterday by walt74
The Triumph of the Shruggie: Why Ambivalence Dominates the Internet
The Ambivalent Internet is a study of online culture grounded in folklore, the unruly yet deeply traditional medium through which stories, much like memes, are passed down and permitted to evolve with every retelling.

Authors Ryan Milner and Whitney Phillips, Assistant Professors of Communications and Literary Studies, delve into storytelling from creepypasta to Xeroxlore, from Harambe to Hulk Hogan. Woven throughout is the theme of linguistic ambiguity: whether we mean what we say online, and if not, then what else might we be implying?

I spoke to Phillips over Skype. An assistant professor at Mercer University, Georgia, she previously wrote This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things, a study of trolling and its cultural background in which she went undercover on 4chan for years to research and write.

"Folklore has so many tools which are perfect for describing 'moving' behaviour [such as] how people interact with each other and how traditions change over time," she said.

What's refreshing about the book is how it treats the internet as a written culture, a tapestry of collaborative fiction. Phillips views social media as a disorderly, ever-evolving canvas which we struggle to define, let alone make sense of: "The tools of online writing allow people to not only bring more meaning to the table, but to create an entirely new thing… People are participating in cultural production, not just responding to it, in highly creative ways. "

Milner and Phillips agreed to hand in their final version of the book the day after the 2016 election: "In a sense the book was written in a different era—the Trump era is it's own thing, even if the concepts discussed in the book are relevant still," she said. Consequently, the text addresses the rise of a particular kind of online bigotry, where ambivalence acts as a veil for hate speech. Journalists struggle to make sense of alt-right "humour," while anyone hurt is accused of being a "sensitive snowflake."

Phillips traces this underlying strand of nihilistic cynicism to trolling communities which emerged post-9/11: In 2003, while wars in Afghanistan and Iraq raged, President Bush advised the public to combat terrorism by going to Disneyland. During this time, 4chan began to develop its signature tone in which nothing but "lulz" mattered.

Eventually, this nihilism was absorbed into certain parts of the mainstream. "Irony and cynicism is baked into the DNA of so much internet culture," Phillips explained. "And the fact that this tone emerged when it did, and remains prevalent even now, at least within certain communities, isn't coincidental—folklore is always a reflection of its time."

4chan's influence reaches its frenzied apex in the book's final chapter, which addresses a video titled "Trump Effect." Heavily influenced by videogame franchise Mass Effect, the clip is an orgy of militaristic hyperbole. We see homeless veterans, a bald eagle in flight while choirs sing. Later there's a cackling Hillary, a somnolent Ben Carson and a shredded American flag, backgrounded by voice of a villainous Martin Sheen. The clip might be satire; it might be a work of fanatical support. Later it was retweeted by Trump himself.

While the book maintains a level of academic distance, Phillips herself is adamantly for sincerity: "That mode of cynicism has not aged well into 2017. It was always bullshit; it's always been a deeply privileged position to take. For those people who are under threat, they don't have the time and space to be ironic. They have no choice but to give a shit."

Phillips believes that change is coming, and that ambivalence can only get us so far: "If this is how we got here, with cynicism and irony, it sure as hell isn't going to be what gets us out. Yes, there's the risk of coming across as mawkish, but what's the alternative?," she said.

Change belongs to those who dare to ask for it: "There is nothing more vulnerable, online, than saying that you care. That takes a certain kind of courage, that cynicism doesn't know anything about."
Books  WhitneyPhillips  4chan  Trolls  db 
yesterday by walt74
Great new reads from Minnesota authors | Pioneer Press | August 11, 2017
Rachel Gold's book, “nico & tucker,” was reviewed. She graduated from Macalester in 1993.
macalumni  Classof1993  Author  Books  piper 
yesterday by macalestercollege
Spider Man: Homecoming – Trailer 3 | Best Images Collections HD For Gadget windows Mac Android
Spider-Man: Homecoming – Trailer 3 Up coming mission: figuring out how all website shooter combinations operate. Watch the new “Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer now – in theaters July 7. ► Subscribe to Marvel: http://bit.ly/WeO3YJ Stick to Marvel on Twitter: ‪https://twitter.com/marvel‬‬ Like Marvel on Facebook: ‪http://ift.tt/2vkVrnN For even additional news, remain tuned to: Tumblr: ‪http://ift.tt/1H2sUVL Instagram: ‪http://ift.tt/1H2sUVP […]
IFTTT  WordPress  Movie  comic  books  comics  filter-anomaly  Geek  Marvel  Nerd  super  hero  Superhero  trailer 
yesterday by wotek
A Book Apart, Accessibility for Everyone
You make the web more inclusive for everyone, everywhere, when you design with accessibility in mind. Let Laura Kalbag guide you through the accessibility landscape
a11y  books 
yesterday by siggiarni

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