Man walks into a column, no.1: Resolution

Note: This is a post by Phil

There are, apparently, many reasons not to make New Year’s resolutions. So it’s with those many reasons in mind I should point out that I decided upon this course of action a full day in advance of the dawn of 2011. A full day, I tell you (alright, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was on in the background at the time, so it was probably a little less than a full day). 

My non-resolution is to write a weekly ‘column’ on arbitrary constant, and this is why. I began posting on this fine blog about a year ago, and after doing enough of something you find yourself lapsing into self doubt and indecision or, at least, I do. What can I possibly offer, dear readers, that Master Watts and Brother Webb cannot provide? (If anyone can spot the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves reference in that last sentence then, well, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.)

So, to cut a long story short: I decided to ignore my lack of expertise and find a way to ‘institutionalise’ my place on this blog instead, so that hopefully, given enough time, Rich feels he has no choice but to maintain my stipend: because those who browse these pages will have become accustomed to my posts, much in the way that one becomes accustomed to a vaguely irritating, moderately persistent but ultimately benign mole.

This is where the weekly ‘column’ comes in (inverted commas out of respect to the fact that, surely, a column is a slightly meaningless concept in web terms). I honestly don’t know what it will look like or what it will cover. Should it be a round-up attempt, aping Paul Carr on TechCrunch? Depends a bit on how much Rich decides to post, I guess. How about a review of the things I’ve read? Relies on me actually reading things, which can’t be relied upon in any given week. Irreverent commentary on the Big Issues of the day? Pffft. Let’s just settle for some words – not too many, fear not – posted on a more-or-less weekly basis. One step at a time, fifty-two in total.

This week, I’m a little behind the curve in only just having read TIME magazine’s lengthy ‘person of the year’ piece, written by Lev Grossman about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. I should point out from the off that, much as over time I’ve come to be a friend of Twitter, I hate the very idea of Facebook with all my heart and soul. But when you see statistics that suggest that almost half the population of the UK is doing something (nearly 29m users!) you start to think you might be missing out. And there’s definitely something attractive in Zuckerberg’s vision, as rendered by TIME:

…after the Facebookization of the Web […] wherever you go online, you’ll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends’ reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context.

But… then again… the problem with Facebook is the way it is structurally biased towards a one-dimensional status of ‘friend’ – you’re friends with your spouse, and you’re friends with your plumber. As Grossman adeptly points out:

Just because you present a different face to your co-workers and your family doesn’t mean you’re leading a double life. Identity isn’t a simple thing: it’s complex and dynamic and fluid. It needs to flex a little, the way a skyscraper does in a high wind, and your Facebook profile isn’t built to flex.

And I will admit to nodding in particularly vigorous assent when Grossman goes on to say:

Facebook is still a painfully blunt instrument for doing the delicate work of transmitting human relationships […] relationships cannot be reduced to the exchange of information or making binary decisions between liking and not liking, friending and unfriending.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that, as the article pointedly notes, governments around the world have shown a marked interest in the power of Facebook (the director of the FBI was visiting at the same time the interview was conducted!) because it’s a database of personal information many orders of magnitude bigger than anything we would hand over to our political masters. And I found Zuckerberg’s ‘commitment’ to occasionally pushing back when it receives a subpoena very unconvincing. 

Am I being hypocritical by liking Twitter whilst loathing Facebook? I don’t think so, because there’s no danger of anyone, ever, pretending that a personality can be distilled into (however many) 140 character blobs. Thanks to its simplicity, Twitter is controllable: a tool for communication rather than a philosophy for life.

Until next week, I’ll be tweeting sporadically @philblogs. Happy New Year!

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