This Should Get Facebook To Notice Me

Facebook has been caught allowing third party apps to steal the personal details of 50-million of its subscribers and I have never been so moved to apathy before. British based Cambridge Analytica apparently managed to lure Facebook users into giving them access to their accounts in return for finding out which type of 80s TV character they are, and I say that’s a fair trade. Sure they got all my photos, and are allowed to do whatever they want with them, but at least I know I am Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. I do however recognise that this may just be the beginning of a long downward spiral to an eventually Orwellian society, crushing suppression and an undignified death in a human meat abattoir.

Fortunately a comprehensive 2014 study found that Facebook is able to manipulate the emotions of its users dependent on what it puts in front of us. By constantly showing us happy posts they can subtly alter our emotions to make us more cheerful, and by showing us sad posts they can make us miserable. Just a few years of abused puppy articles and suicidal friend updates, and we will dance our way to becoming the next batch of Enterprise Polony. But look, as much as I like sausages, I am not sure this is a path I want humanity to be on.  There are a lot of steps between now, and us becoming willing sausage fodder, and not all of them will be as pleasant as the final result.

“Step One” is now, where each of us is connected via the comment thread to the very dumbest and most arrogant people our friends know. “I can’t believe tomorrow is Monday again” insists someone you have never met whose death as a sausage will only improve their IQ.  Already we can see the beginnings of “Step Two” in which watching a video, hating it, and scrolling away, results in that video playing loudly in the top corner of your screen until you throw your computer through a window. Turning off Facebook will soon be impossible. Expect “Step Three” to include a blend of steps one and two, in which Facebook gets an ignorant racist to follow you around and scream his opinions at you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but with a range of funky filters.

If you can believe it though, things are only getting worse from there. I am particularly not looking forward to the day when Mark Zuckerburg, drunk on power, slowly starts isolating individuals from their friends, removing photo tags, redirecting messages, blocking communication, and just when they feel that all hope is lost, showing up at their house with a black van, a role of tape and a gym bag stuffed with various home made saws.

We can pretend that we are going to post less, and add fewer photos from our most recent holidays, but it all seems rather futile. The truth is it’s too late. Google knows everything from where we are at any given minute to what we search for at 3am. Twitter’s algorithms can tell them who you are going to vote for, and what kinds of books you really read. And Facebook has used your webcam to watch you changing.  All that’s left is for us to do is accept, submit and try to stay off Mark Zuckerburg’s secret hit-list.  This column probably hasn’t helped.

What Happens Next Will Change Your Life

Do you remember the word “meh”? I do. I remember how much it annoyed me. It was the internet equivalent of a casual shrug, a roll of the eyes, the unimpressed utterance of a billionaire’s son who has just been told he is going skiing for Christmas again this year. It feels like we haven’t seen it in ages. And then just the other day, it came back with a vengeance, and just where you wouldn’t expect it.

This was our response to a story that emerged of a South African international triathlete who was out running at 3am, attacked, and dragged into bushes on the side of the road where his assailants tried to cut his legs off with a chainsaw. This story was the the very definition of horror. I mean who the hell goes running? And at 3am? If I am awake at the 3am the only thing I am running is my mouth. Making matters worse they tried to take his legs with a chainsaw. Put the assailants in clown costumes and it could actually be a Stephen King book, yet South Africans shrugged, muttered, “Polony is worse” and the story was relegated to page five by day two.

The Times had a quote that said, “He offered them his cellphone and wallet and they tried to take his legs”. How much more unenthusiastic could you get? And what does this say about the quality of our cellphone networks that robbers would rather take your legs than an expensive piece of tech? Even if you aren’t stealing it for the unreliable service, a single phone must be easier to dispose of than a pair of legs? Almost anyone will buy a cellphone, but I can think of only one person in the country who could use a pair of athletes legs – Oscar Pistorius. Case closed.

In a world where a lynch mob of thousands can be summoned up in a heartbeat on Twitter to rant about everything from an accidentally exposed nipple to a teenager who made a bad music video, one would think there was still some emotion saved up for a truly disturbing news story. Instead we saw the return of “meh”.

These days no experience is immune to being hyped up. In a world where everyone has an opinion, and a blog (NB Link) click-bait headlines have had to over promise to get the kind of simpletons who would otherwise be having a conversation with cutlery to follow the link. “You won’t believe what happened next”, “7 Weird Blogposts that will change your life forever”, “A South African housewife used this one weird trick…” and we as normal people have started doing it too.

Every one of life’s experiences on social media has now been overblown to the point of irrelevance. It seems a rare hero who can have a cup of coffee without photographing it for Instagram and uploading it with a description that makes it sound like he orgasmed on the spot in front of applauding shop assistants. No one goes to a concert anymore without telling their followers it had them gushing like a character on a yoghurt commercial who just tasted the new flavour, and, instead of being bait for people who spoon-fed themselves fertiliser at a young age, superhero films are now religious experiences that leave audiences weeping on their knees in the cinema. It makes us all seem delusional.

The flip-side is also true. No mishap is so small it can’t be made into a tragedy. Minor slights have become career ending slurs, unfunny jokes are now internet ammunition, callous behaviour inspires hashtags, and a sleeve brush makes Aussie cricket captains run crying to a match referee. There is a kind of person for whom this tragedy is sign that the times are changing. That we as humanity are sweeping out the old, and celebrating the new. Really? Are we? Then how come, despite all of this, we still haven’t used a catapult to fire Dan Roodt into a pit full of wild dogs?

So maybe I shouldn’t complain? Maybe the shrug of the shoulders Mhlengi Gwala got, was the best we could hope for – a genuine response in a sea of over indulgent trash, and false emotional epiphanies? Maybe when a story like Mhlengi’s comes along, and no one reacts, you should take a minute to appreciate the quiet, the tranquillity, the “meh”. Or maybe you could just accept the internet for what it is, and tell everyone this blog is the best thing you ever read, and that it made you feel like you touched the balls of God. I know that would at least make me have a real emotion for once.