I came across this on Twitter – and thought it was terrific!
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.
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:
Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, in The Third Eye, describes how a Tibetan Lama would make themselves invisible. The trick, he said, was to concentrate so completely that you ceased to be present. The subtle energies that surround us – that give us away even when we are hidden – would be drawn inward. People would simply not see or sense you. You would become – effectively – invisible.
Tuesday has long been exposed as a fraud, along with his esoteric wisdom, but I was 13 years old when I read him, already fascinated by the east, and quite uncritical. And besides, I proved to myself that the invisibility trick really worked.
It happened one afternoon in the school holidays. It wasn’t planned. I was lying stretched out on the sofa in the living room while my mother vacuumed around me and, somehow, didn’t notice me at all. Apparently I’d become invisible – so much so that when, a little later, I went out into the kitchen, she jumped – convinced she’d been alone in the house.
The thing is I had been reading while mum vacuumed, as unaware of her as she was of me.
I suspect Coleridge was an invisible reader too. He wrote that, in his boyhood, his:
Whole being was, with eyes closed to every object of present sense, to crumple myself up in a sunny corner and read, read, read, – fancying myself into Robinson Crusoe’s island, finding it mountain of plum-cake and eating a room for myself and then eating it into the shapes of tables and chairs.’
I was thinking about this because of an article I read by Winnie T Frick, called I have forgotten how to read
In it she contrasts reading today – online and onscreen, across social media and endless news sites, with old fashioned reading. She writes:
Books were once my refuge. To be in bed with a Highsmith novel was a salve. To read was to disappear, become enrobed in something beyond my own jittery ego. To read was to shutter myself and, in so doing, discover a larger experience. I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.
In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves.
For most of modern life, printed matter was, as the media critic Neil Postman put it, “the model, the metaphor, and the measure of all discourse.” The resonance of printed books – their lineal structure, the demands they make on our attention – touches every corner of the world we’ve inherited. But online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.
This struck home. I too find it harder to read in the old fashioned way, sustaining that steady attention, the self forgetfulness that you need. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.
The good news is that I have given up Facebook and Twitter for Lent. The better thought is that I may not go back. Pass me my book.
I came across this lovely thread a while ago. It began with Robert Macfarlane again, choosing as his word of the day, ‘Helm Wind’ – the UKs only named wind that blows from the North East and pours down off Cross Fell in Cumbria.
In medieval Ireland, the winds were each said to have a particular colour (see Saltair na Rann, a collection of 162 Early Middle Irish poems)
So the north wind is black and the south, white, while a wind from the SSE is greyish-green.
Fascinating enough – then @iandhig adds this from Flann O’Brien – scholar and poet that he was:
‘People in the old days had the power of perceiving these colours…a better occupation than gazing at newspapers’ (From the Third Policeman)
I feel guilty about passing on these conversations – albeit they are public ones but, as John Aubrey says:
How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellowes as I put them down.
There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
From Selected Poems (Oxford University Press)
copyright Fleur Adcock