personal correspondence: planned obsolescence?

I generally use Mac Mail (.app) for most of my correspondence requirements, however I also have been known to correspond via the archaic handwritten letter or postcard method form time to time.  However, when I am in my office, something about the VUW firewall or servers blocks my Gmail SMTP server, so I can’t send mail from my personal account.  Often I will just use my VUW staff e-mail and gmail accounts interchangeably, however if I want to send e-mail from my gmail account while in my office, I must use the gmail web interface. I have actually spoken to University ITS about this and they seem to fix it so I can use the outgoing Gmail server for a day, and then it doesn’t work again the following day.  So, I use gmail.com, which has recently undergone some kind of redesign.  The gmail.com redesign doesn’t irritate me quite so much as the new version of Exchange Webmail, which I abhor yet am forced to use to check my University mail away from my laptop or iMac, however, there is one feature of the new gmail web interface which disquiets me.

Now, whenever I type an e-mail to, for example, my mother, or my sweetie, or my best pal, gmail suggests including several other people in the e-mail.   I feel as if this is some kind of subliminal push from Google to end personal correspondence between two individuals.  It’s as if Google is implying that sending a message to one individual person is a waste of time, that instead you should include 10 other people in your communication.  While I suppose the engineers and whatnot at Google simply intended this feature to be a useful organisational tool for users of Gmail, I find it has disturbing implications for the future of personal correspondence.  Gone are the days when it was normal to communicate with one person at a time, corresponding back and forth with sweet intimate letters like Vladimir and Véra Nabokov or Napoleon and Josephine.  I can just imagine Napoleon logging into his gmail account, writing “Je reviens en trois jours, ne te laves pas” and gmail suggesting he include 20 of his closest buddies in the e-mail, and then sharing it on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ as well.

Poor Josephine would have been mortified.  Or perhaps she would have been turned on?  Who knows, maybe she was a narcissistic exhibitionist…not that I’m saying everybody who uses Twitter or Facebook is.  But I think a certain expert did said something about these types of social networking tools as encouraging shallow interactions and dehumanizing communication.  And now Gmail is also on the obsolescence of personal communication bandwagon as well.

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Wellington Critical Mass, Halloween, and Facebook.

As I mentioned previously, I hate Facebook but I love bicycles and Halloween.

So I was excited when I saw this flyer:

wellington critical mass october 2011

Previously, when I tried to find any information online about Critical Mass in Wellington…. I thought there wasn’t one.  First, try googling “Wellington Critical Mass”.  The best result is the NZ Critical Mass website, which seems to be based in Auckland and doesn’t give many details about Wellington’s event.  You could show up and be the only person there.  In addition, the “Cycling in Wellington” site barely makes a mention of Critical Mass, and nothing about this week’s ride as of today, Wednesday 26 October.  It’s not listed on the events calendar nor are any details given.  So, if you’re just a lonely girl with no cyclist friends but you want to participate in bicycle activism what are you to do?  Well, if you are lucky enough, you’ll come across a flyer in an op shop in Newtown, and know about the event even if the details on the international network are scarce.

However, upon closer inspection, the flyer directs me to… my favourite website in the world, Facebook! So, again, the insular nature of Facebook comes back to haunt me.  I can’t find details for Wellington’s Critical Mass because I stubbornly refuse to join Facebook.  Why is it so hard to post information about the event that is freely available without having to register for a website who’s privacy policy is unsettling to some people?  I said previously that if I could only find out about an event via Facebook, I probably wouldn’t want to participate in that event.  I’m not really a hypocrite or making an exception for this event, as I did get an actual print flyer with the details on it.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

Here are some pictures from the last Halloween Critical Mass ride I went on, I’ll try to get better ones this year.

That’s Sonya’s “Reyna Rosa” cape fluttering in the wind.

more on Facebook

Recently read an article in the New Yorker about Jaron Lanier and his views in Facebook.  According to the article’s author, Lanier’s book “You are not a gadget” provides a critique of “social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, which he has described as dehumanizing and designed to encourage shallow interactions”.  I strongly agree, and use this as further evidence to back up my anti-Facebook position.  Unfortunately I’m not as clever or articulate as Lanier, so in my recent rant I wasn’t able to come up with such compelling arguments against the use of social networking.  However, after reading that article, I was inspired to delete my Google+ account, although I still have yet to read Lanier’s actual book.

A Slate.com article about Lanier reminds readers that “we can easily forget that Facebook needs to build a profit with our friendships”.

I think is essentially my issue with sites like Facebook and Twitter, although I didn’t express myself as well as Lanier does.  These sites do not encourage meaningful interactions.  They want to make money from our relationships and our communication, but with less transparency than a telephone company or post office.

Facebook allows you to “network” with other “humans”, but really, how much time and effort do these people put into their social interactions with you via Twitter or Facebook?  How long does it take to click on a “Like” button? And what extraneous information are we exposed to when we communicate with each other using Facebook?  The situation is convoluted even more by that fact that many advertisements are designed to intentionally mislead users.  I often wonder whether or not people are even able to distinguish between advertisements and legitimate information on the internet.  It’s certainly not always easy.

I agree that the types of interactions upon which Facebook and Twitter are built are shallow and dehumanizing, and I would even argue that this has begun to influence the way people process information.   It’s true for even myself, a non-Tweeting non-Facebook user.  I am compelled to interact with information as efficiently as possible; trying to glean as much useful information as possible with minimal effort.  Perhaps this is just because “information explosion”, and the amounts of information we are expected to interact with on a daily basis.  The only way to cope is to learn how to process information efficiently, or you end up feeling overwhelmed and bewildered.  Which is why I think it’s so important to put effort into maintaining relationships and genuine communication; that’s what makes us human.

Which leads to another set of existential questions… does information exist independently of humans?  Or must it be interacted with in order for it to be information?  If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

on facebook

I hate Facebook.  Up until recently, I had plainly refused to ever join Facebook simply because I am stubborn and wanted to be annoyingly different.  However, recently, I have come to realise how much I truly dislike Facebook and how glad I am I have never given in to the many pressures and occasional temptations to join.

It’s true: it would probably be a lot easier to keep in touch with many of my friends scattered across the planet if I used Facebook.  I would know where everyone as and what they were doing and see pictures of them in front of various landmarks (i.e. Mt. Rushmore or the Sphinx).

It is also true: Moving to a new city (i.e. Wellington) and attempting to develop a social community where you know no one, have no co-workers, and no classmates, is already difficult.  In obstinately refusing to join Facebook, I have actually made it even more difficult for myself, not only to find out about events and activities, but to maintain contact with the individuals I encounter with whom I may want to pursue a social relationship.

However, despite these somewhat convincing arguments for swallowing my pride and signing up for Facebook, I continue to refuse to join.  Until recently, when asked why not, I had a difficult time answering.  In fact, I was a bit ashamed, because my reasoning seemed almost vain: because everybody else is on Facebook and I want to be annoyingly different.  Because my housemates in Montreal talked about Facebook non-stop to the point that I wanted nothing to do with it.  But, I feel now better able to articulate my reasoning for what has become my vehement dislike of Facebook.

  1. It’s a huge fucking waste of time.  The amount of shit people post on there… “I’m going to the corner store to get toilet paper then I am going to sit at home and watch ‘How I met your mother’.”  I’m sorry, but I don’t fucking care.  I have better things to do with my time, scrub the scum out of my shower, than read about the mundane banalities of your everyday life.  This includes all of the petty dramas that play out on Facebook and the whole notion of “Cyber-bullying”.  It’s bad enough these kinds of small-minded jealousies or arguments have to happen in real life on the secondary school playground, but for grown adults to perpetuate such behaviour in a globally public online environment, most likely when they are at work and getting paid to be doing other work, is just embarrassing.
  2. The insular nature of Facebook.  Hello. Not everyone in the universe is on Facebook.  When you make it impossible to access information or contact you through other channels, you are effectively limiting yourself, your organisation, or your business.  If I can’t participate in your event because I am not on Facebook… I probably don’t really want to go to your event.
  3. Facebook makes you lazy.  I think it’s important to keep in touch with your friends and family.  So much that I dedicate a great deal of time to writing, both physical analogue letters, and e-mails, as well as telephoning (though I will admit I am not the best about phoning) those whom I call near and dear.  I also make a great deal of effort to send regular updates about my life, plans, and current location to nearly everyone I know.  I also spend some time writing this blog, which I hope you find well written articulate, and somewhat interesting, so that people I don’t get to see on a regular basis can still have an idea about what is happening in my little world.  I am not hard to get a hold of.  I have had the same e-mail address since 2001.  I also (now) have a cell phone. If you want to get in touch with me, it doesn’t take a lot of effort.  You don’t have to hand write a letter and physically go to he post office between 9 am and 4 pm and buy a stamp and send it to me by a slow boat.  But, you do have to take a few seconds of your time to think “Ok, I want to get in touch with Nicole”, and then call and/or e-mail me.  If that is too much work, seriously, I don’t know if I really want to be your friend.
  4. Facebook’s lack of privacy.  I am not familiar with the exact details but I do know that Facebook sells your personal information to various businesses and that is how they make money.  I don’t agree with that.  In addition, I don’t understand the need to broadcast on a public forum the intimate details of personal communication between 2 people.  In fact, it really annoys and irritates me when people will only communicate with me through a public forum.  To me, that seems like vanity.  I would rather my conversation with you be private; I have no desire to make a private conversation, relevant to only 2 people, publicly available.  What is the point of that?  I not a particularly private person, but I do think that personal correspondence is best done privately.
  5. Facebook decreases your productivity.  Of course, this is quite closely related to point #1.  I know how easy it is to procrastinate.  I can literally spend hours comparing recipes on epicurious.com and looking for the perfect cardigan knitting pattern on ravelry in lieu of doing any work.  I do not need an extra incentive to procrastinate.  My office is directly next to the SIM postgraduate students’ computer lab.  When fetching my printing, a teapot refill, or heading to the loo, I often notice that somewhere between 70 and 80% of the computers in use are being used to access Facebook.  I have actually observed and calculated these similar statistics in VUW’s central library, as well as most other computer labs in a number of tertiary institutions.  Sometimes the figure can be as high as 9 out of 10 users on Facebook.  The amount of time these individuals spend on Facebook must limit the amount of time they can spend on legitimate, productive engagements.

That all being said, and hopefully said well so that I don’t just sound like an asshole, when I was invited to join Google+ I did so, simply because I didn’t really know what it was.  Now, after using it a bit in the past two weeks, I feel like I may have to cancel my account.  However, I do use Google, Gmail, Gchat, and Picasa web albums already, and frequently share information with groups of people.  However, it basically just seems like Facebook to me.  I still haven’t quite made up my mind about the Google+, but irregardless, you can get in touch with me anytime, and share your shit with me anytime too, which I hope you will do, so long as it’s somewhat interesting and/or funny.

That being said, I am not against social networking online.  I am a member (though not very active) of academia.edu.  I used to have a myspace account, and I also once used linkedin (at my aunt’s suggestion for helping me get a job).

Last night, after some one mentioned something about getting information about plans for an August birthdays party on Facebook, and I replied “Oh, I’m not on Facebook”, they responded “What century are you from?”, to which I replied, “The future! Where people don’t use Facebook!”.

Oh, and I’m sorry, call me a cynical bitch, but I also hate pictures of cats.