Returning to the stream that cannot quench

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When I left Facebook a few years ago, it was with little explanation or even reflection. It was more of an impulsive move to cut off a big time-sink for me, a distraction from the heart of things. Like the flaneur, I like to watch, to peek in from outside, and it’s not good for my relationships to do so. Like so many, I struggle to get free of the “tyranny of thoughts,” to pay attention to being and relating rather than to thinking. Facebook and other stream-based feeds mire me. Linear information streams consume me – I am very suscept-

ible to the suspense they create, the sense of heightened present. The same is true for Twitter and even RSS feeds (I was a faithful Bloglines user before it died and I switched to Google Reader, which now of course has died as well.) For that matter, even the CNN news crawl had me when it launched as a ubiquitous signal of emergency (or potential emergency) after September 2001. I even made an artwork about this, where I explored the desirable “present” through extending it as long as I could.


What did I learn from that? Apparently nothing. But it’s not too late.

At this point the stream of CNN does nothing for me. I know now that little makes it through to that bottom right corner of the screen, because the input hole for CNN is just miniscule. They aren’t paying attention to that much in the world, and what they do attend to is largely false. Their stories are not really stories. For that matter, they often break them late, or wrong.

With my other streams, there’s more of a sense that something truly new or at least newly true, will emerge. More people are just passing things along, and I’m sure that somewhere in there will be something … what? Life-changing? Shareable? Emotionally exhilarating? I truly don’t know what I’m waiting for.

If I were to stage Waiting for Godot today I wouldn’t do it in a barren desert, but rather in a media-saturated stream fest. I wait and wait for something to emerge, and if anything does, it’s largely for my own benefit anyway. As with Vladimir and Estragon, there’s always the threat that we’ll go and use that rope and that tree to cut ourselves off entirely, just for the pleasure that might emerge, the mandrakes that remain. Sure, I may pass items along, but I don’t gather people around
them, form a community conversation, let them enter into our collective reflections and embodied rhythms of life. This is a problem of both the platform and my habits within it. Some have tried to contextualize and describe the act of abstaining from such sites as Facebook. I find some helpful language there – it’s true that I have an aesthetic attraction to abstaining from certain social phenomena, especially when I fear their addictive sway.

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From a practical standpoint, my work requires that I get back on Facebook this season. I need to do some promotion and broadcasting for which FB is simply the best method right now. For that matter, I’ve been looking at FB with some collaborators of late, and trying to understand its workings, effects, and social influences.

As I return, I’ve been thinking about how to avoid the pull of the stream. For that matter, I’ve struggled with similar pulls from other sources of late, and need to develop some strategies for resisting them. And then there’s also the ever

more urgent question of the cloud as an unsafe space, a place wherein citizens spend hours and labor on projects that will never be theirs, and that could very well be used against them.

I want to return with some intention in my use, and can determine no systematic way of doing so. (I guess there’s no need for a systematic method anyway. Why does that seem to be a dominant path out of abstinence?) Instead, I’ll simply set up some guidelines for myself and try to discipline myself accordingly.

  1. Whenever possible, I will try and post material on servers whose ownership is clear to me, and then simply repost on FB. I looked into doing this with all content, keeping a layer between me and FB’s servers, but this is impractical for a few technical reasons.
  2. I will try and treat social media use as a sort of “meal” rather than a snack, saving up my use of Twitter and FB for specified times of the day.
  3. I don’t know what to think about “likes” and comments. Part of me wants to refrain from that, but then it doesn’t seem fair to invite such from others and not participate.
  4. I can’t say that I’ll refrain from using FB for “personal” purposes, because that distinction is fairly difficult to discern for me. But I will try to address matters of personal identity only where avoidance of such is a matter of unequal privilege.
  5. I will try not to depend on FB in a way that requires others to only interact with me on FB.
  6. I will attempt to keep all content posted on FB open to all publics.

That’s it for now. See you in the social mills.

One Response to Returning to the stream that cannot quench

  1. Hi Kevin – I sympathize with much of this. Not having Internet at home has effectively cut me off from that time-suck – and I’m happy with it. Anybody who might have an emergency that concerns me… has my phone number. The world can wait. Also: I wrote a paper this spring that used part of Lefebvre’s “The Production of Space” to give a critical reading of Facebook; while it was for a class presentation, you may well enjoy it.

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