On not rejoining Facebook at Easter

For the last couple of years I’ve taken a Lenten break from Facebook and Twitter to clear my head for a while.

Life is certainly more peaceful without them but I do miss things too: breaking news on Twitter; chit chat on Facebook, with those little glimpses of someone’s life that gives you a comfortable sense of a connection sustained.

Every Easter I wonder whether to reinstall the apps and, so far, I have. Its not that I haven’t known that an account on Facebook is a deal with the devil, but, believing myself to be savvy enough to recognise the advertising, the echo chambers, the nudges one way or another, I’ve thought, what’s the harm in
a joke shared, or an anecdote? It’s not as if I would ever publish something really sensitive or private.

I now know that its not as simple as that. We need to take account of something called ‘surveillance capitalism’:

‘Surveillance capitalism’ was the term coined in 2015 by Harvard academic Shoshanna Zuboff to describe this large-scale surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit. It involves predictive analysis of big datasets describing the lives and behaviours of tens or hundreds of millions of people, allowing correlations and patterns to be identified, information about individuals inferred, and future behaviour to be predicted. Attempts are then made to influence this behaviour through personalised and dynamic targeted advertising. This is refined by testing numerous variations of adverts on different demographics to see what works best. Every time you use the internet you are likely the unwitting subject of dozens of experiments trying to figure out how to most effectively extract money from you.

This is from an excellent article in Open Democracy by Jennifer Cobbe. It’s well worth looking up.

As is the Talking Politics podcast that referenced it – an illuminating discussion about ‘what Facebook is doing to us and can anything make it stop?

As Janet Cobbe writes:

We’ve ended up with an internet built not for us – but for corporations, political parties, and the state’s increasingly nebulous ‘security’ demands. We need to better understand this problem so that we can challenge it.

Maybe this is the year I let lent last a little longer.

down digit

Later that same day…

I’ve just come across a very useful article in the Guardian with all the links you need to find out just what Facebook and Google know about you. Its worth checking. Google is an extraordinary tool for mass surveillance:

www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/28/all-the-data-facebook-google-has-on-you-privacy

On not rejoining Facebook at Easter

Lemon yellow

I’ve been decorating. Really.

Our little toilet downstairs toilet is now a fabulous lemon yellow. The photograph doesn’t do it justice – hence the colour – much closer to the way the wall really look now.


While grouting and grovelling I had the chance to distract the fidgety parts of my brain with some podcasts.

Reliable old Radio 4 of course but I also came across an absorbing series called Talking Politics.

It’s a discussion and an exploration. David Runciman, Professor of Politics at Cambridge, chairs (loosely) whatever is going on that week. There’s often an expert or an enthusiastic amateur to give a focus and a few colleagues from Cambridge to chip in. Professor Helen Thompson is especially good value for her insights and shrewd questions.

Every episode I’ve listened to has left me feeling intrigued, informed and better able to ask my own questions. There are a few I’ve listened to more than once – to make sure I hadn’t missed anything in the discussion.

It’s wide-ranging too. They’ve talked about Germany, India and Italy, about Power in the Digital Age (the most recent podcast – a doozy – full of thinking about the world of data and automation that is overtaking us), Security as well as the obvious topics of Brexit, trump and the Labour Party.

I was particularly engaged by the episode with the American economist, Dani Rodrick. This is how it is billed:

“Who are the real winners and losers from the integration of the global economy? What chance has Trump got of making good on his economic promises? How much are economists to blame for the mess we’re in? Dani talks with David, Helen Thompson and Finbarr Livesey about the dangers of circling the wagons and the tough choices we all have to face.”

It was an absorbing conversation, chiefly because it introduced me to Rodrik’s ‘Trilemma’

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Where he argues that:

“we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national determination, and economic globalization. If we want to push globalization further, we have to give up the nation-state or democratic politics. If we want to maintain and deepen democracy, we have to choose between the nation-state and international economic integration.”

Fascinating. In the context of populist movements in general and Brexit and America in particular, enlightening.

Lemon yellow