Fear of flying. Fear of Facebook. Along comes Ello.
- we want to be social
- we want privacy
Ello, no doubt, wants to avoid the failure of Diaspora, another attempt to alleviate privacy concerns by creating an alternative social network to the most dominant one on the Web. The earliest fears connected to Facebook were that the social network uses users’ most intimate details in problematic ways, details users willingly give to Facebook: What I like, what I read, what I’m interested in, where I am, who I want to be connected to, etc. For this reason, Beacon failed. For this reason, panic accompanies the stand alone Messenger app. For this reason, some people go public with their declarations of leaving Facebook. In other words, I want a space to share intimate details with the world, but I don’t want the platform that allows me to share intimate details with the world to ever use such details to finance the platform. My sharing, it seems, is meant to be limited as it is also meant to be global.
For some time now, our culture is either financed or subsidized by advertising. Fears of privacy violation are tied to fears of being advertised to (or being spied on by the government). Even though we eagerly consume McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Nike, Apple, and whatever, we, for some reason, don’t want McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Nike, Apple, and whatever targeting their products to us based on ambiguous profiles gathered by algorithms that crunch what we like, where we have been, who we are connected to, etc. Or: We don’t want to be made blatantly aware of this practice, a practice that is hardly new in American culture. We have always been advertised to. Facebook successfully taps into that logic. And just as we may give our zip code to the cashier at Home Depot, we give Facebook our likes, our beliefs, our interests, our friends. Sharing is human nature, whether it is the sharing of interest, political view, hatred, banality, or something else. Facebook successfully taps into that logic as well.
Still, we hate sharing as much as we like sharing. When Ello began earning some interest because of its supposed “ad-free” status, the fears of privacy violation immediately surfaced regardless. Even when someone leaves Facebook because of privacy issues (I don’t want to share), that person typically shares the information.
Here’s the thing: You can’t have a social network and be private. You can’t have a social network without sharing. The whole concept of the social network – whether on Facebook or elsewhere – is connectivity and what McLuhan called “involvement.” Without either, you do not have a social network. Instead, you have a password protected website or diary in a journal with a lock on it. Nothing wrong with either, but they are not social networks.
Here are some things I learned yesterday via the social network called Facebook: A friend went to yoga. Other friends’ kids dressed up in Halloween suits. Some friends are mad about drones (though, this is almost every day). Someone shared a link from The Onion (again). Another friend took a Facebook quiz that told her if she were a country, she’s be UAE. Someone (who I don’t know) posted in a beer Facebook group an outrageous purchase.
These are banal points. But they are moments of involvement. Without the social nature of Facebook, I will not know any of these events. Without knowing these events, I am not involved. Some of these moments will quickly be forgotten to me, some will be recalled when I run into friends in person, some will reveal to me patterns of thought and behavior. Some will have no other impact on me other than I read the update or saw the link. Some of these posts, by nature of my clicking like or even reading them, will contribute to my online Facebook profile and eventually spit an ad out on the right sidebar of my Facebook page.
I don’t care. I don’t care because I am either naive or stupid or mostly aware of what I am posting or not concerned that an NSA algorithm will identify my recent uploaded video of my daughter, in her KISS shirt, trying to teach my son the lyrics to “Rock and Roll All Night” and then come to my home and arrest me. If the NSA is worried about my attempts to influence my kids’ musical tastes, the problem is not with my profile or an algorithm.
And I’m not interested in Ello. I doubt Ello, whether it succeeds or fails, will differ much from Facebook. And if it does differ significantly, it will likely never gain anywhere near the traction of Facebook because Facebook has identified the sweet spot of sharing, of maintaining strong and weak ties, of using advertising, of making public all that we share in ways that we hate and love at once. Friendster didn’t get it. MySpace didn’t get it. Diaspora doesn’t get it. And possibly Ello won’t either. Or it won’t get it in order to matter to many beyond occasional and typical outrage (I’m leaving!), small community organization (which is fine) and eventually targeted profiles that make someone somewhere a few bucks (ads). The process repeats.
We have a fear of flying on Facebook. I have a fear of flying as well in the air. The moment of turbulence. The plane shakes. The tray falls down. I think of all that is public: my kids. I’m panicking. I don’t want my kids to not have a dad. No one else, though, seems to notice the shaking and rocking of the plane. Drinks are being served. People are listening to music or reading a paper. I’m in panic. Then the plane stops shaking. Things feel normal again. For awhile. And I will get on another plane on a different day even though I know this process will repeat.