If I like you less, does that mean I like you more?

I don’t know who or what I like anymore, since Facebook stole my dictionary. And now I’m wondering whether “like”-ing everything I read would actually devalue the currency of my good opinion. Like printing money, sort of. And vice-versa too, really. I mean, if you “like” my link or my post, I now ponder innumerable qualifying questions … How many “like” buttons has Nigel[endnote As it happens, I do have a Facebook friend of said forename. But, Nigel, if you chance to read this, rest assured you are not personally my intended reference point. It’s simply that you happen to share two syllables in common with my generic all-purpose hypothetical persona.] pressed today? Did he like them all as much? Or are some of his “like”s more equal than others?

So here’s my suggestion to Facebook’s cool bureaucratic dudes. They need to hire an actuary or two, to devise a formula to run on the server. The formula would generate a rating of the quality of each “like”. So, for instance, if Nigel’s “like”-ing history is such that he has already “like”d five links, four pictures and seven game high scores in the past twenty minutes, then my chest needn’t swell with too much pride when he “like”s my comment. That’s because his “like”, though not entirely insincere, has more of a mildly-better-than-a-mug-of-lukewarm-international-roast-instant-coffee kind of quality about it. If on the other hand, Nigel has only punched “like” on two other blog posts in the past two days, then I could rest secure in the thought that I sit well above at least an average flat white ristretto on his scale of life’s points of true meaning. That would be very helpful after a hard day.

This proposal is predicated on the assumption that the finite human spirit is capable of emotionally approving a restricted number of ideas daily. So, for instance, if you find my company rather flat this evening, you might consider the possibility that I’ve mentally dispensed my good opinion upon so many worthy thoughts today, that my affective capacity is at present reduced to a level equivalent to the physiological fortitude of a butter lettuce leaf on a 40° day.

I feel that if Facebook’s minions of power would smile kindly upon this my humble plea, the word “like” might remain a player of substance in modern English parlance for at least one more decade.

God-talk on Facebook

Some thoughts by one recent Facebook returnee …

Facebook has without question become one of the key places where the world hangs out. (e.g. a recent newspaper article reports that a third of the Australian population now has a Facebook account). So whatever misgivings one may have about Facebook (and I certainly have some), my personal conclusion is that Christians generally, and leaders especially, should be here for the Kingdom’s sake.

But questions remain, and here is but one of them. From a Kingdom point of view, what is the most helpful approach to open discussions (such as occur frequently on one of my friends’ wall) between members of the Christian community, where folks who may not call themselves Christians are listening in and sometimes participating? Is this the right or best place to discuss especially matters of serious contention between believers? (NB: I’m asking this openly, with no assumed ‘right’ answer!)

It’s not that there needs to be a problem with spiritual seekers seeing that Christians have disagreements. And indeed, thinking in terms of Paul’s engagement with the Athenians (Acts 17, second half), there’s something potentially very exciting about taking the Gospel and it’s ramifications into the public ‘marketplace’ of ideas.

But one question that arises is the risk of misunderstanding in this very detached medium, where it’s no simple matter to convey all the nuances of meaning. e.g. To a listener who doesn’t know the wider context or the range of what’s assumed among Christians, a positive comment based on an orthodox understanding of the Bible could well read as hopelessly bigoted or arrogant.

Or to look at it another way, if we’d at least think twice before passionately debating it in a café, should we debate it on Facebook?

My purpose is definitely not to draw lines in the sand. But I hope this may generate some thoughtful reflection.

I’ve got friends again

Even a proud Facebook evictee gets lonely sometimes. Especially when one keeps on discovering more people who’ve signed up in recent months, yea even the most recalcitrant Luddites of one’s acquaintance.

But now I’ve come in from the cold, at least a few steps anyway. Introducing Ning. A friend put me onto this service which is technically a social networking site, and thus in the same genre as Facebook, Myspace and the others. To be sure, Ning comes with many of the standard SN features .. photos, videos, blogs, biographical trivialities, music, event invitations and of course the leporid multiplication of “friends”. However all of that is remarkably forgiveable, as little of it is inescapable.

Ning allows anyone to create their own social network from scratch, with the freedom to make it as public as a street party or so private not even an enterprising 10 year old could hack it. It could have 5000 members you’ve never met, or just you and your dog (if he can remember his password). As the network creator, you get to decide which features it has or doesn’t, and you have a generous variety of themes and colour schemes to choose from. On Ning, you can be a cyber junkie or a digital hermit.

I’ve now set up a Ning network as a communication medium for a group of a dozen or so involved in facilitating and developing Renewal Retreats for pastors and pastoral spouses. It’s proven its worth in a matter of two weeks. Not least, and somewhat remarkably, it satisfies the passions of a techno-addict like me whilst remaining accessible to cyberphobes. This particular network is replete with Luddites for whom a former Google Group made the Iron Maiden seem like a nanny. Even the most reactionary have logged on in meekness.

Defaced and loving it

It’s now about 3 months since I was promoted to the rank of Permanent Facebook Evictee. This was achieved some 6 weeks after an initial reprieve, allowing my return to Facebook following my account being disabled. (Thus attaining the rank of Provisional Social Pariah.) Part I of the story may be read here. Here are some things I’ve learned as a now hardened Facebook persona non grata:

  • there’s a growing community of Facebook evictees gathering on various online forums, at least for mutual solace .. and in some cases to strategise (e.g. class actions against Facebook’s faceless overlords). I don’t imagine this community will quite become a pretender to Facebook’s social empire; but it is growing apace.
  • being a Facebook evictee offers a potential for public notoriety, possibly greater than one could hope for as a compliant Facebooker. I’m slowly acquiring a fan base of varied ages, desperate for interviews (autograph requests I’m sure are a matter of time), and expressing a sense of forbidden privilege merely to be associated with me, to sit near me, to hear the story of my wickedness, or to be a distant friend of one of my Gen-Y offspring. Is this, I wonder, what it’s like to be a member of the Honoured Society? (And should I buy a violin case?)
  • post-Facebook life is blessedly joyous and free. Without the distraction of an exponentially lengthening list of events, quizzes, games, notes, groups, doubtful associates, status updates, gossip, relationship intrigues, virtual plants, pokes, pixely photos, and heaven knows what … I now have time for what truly matters (such as playing solitaire, googling about potential ailments, and keeping up with Twitter (that last refuge of the recalcitrant sociopath)).

Yes, dear reader, there truly is the possibility of a fulfilling life after that exposure as a keyboard criminal, which undoubtedly awaits us all.

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Confessions of a facebook felon

On 31st December I attempted to log on to my Facebook account, only to get the following message: “Account Disabled
Your account has been disabled by an administrator. If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page here.”
“Opportunity for growth and general knowledge enhancement,” I thought. So away I went to trawl Google and the rather extensive and sleep-inducing Facebook terms, conditions etc. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Cyberspace is awash with forum discussions about the experience of having one’s Facebook account disabled – or even worse (some folks have had their entire profile deleted permanently). It seems that Facebook’s administrators have some automated antispam sleuthing software running on their servers. A good idea in principle – and Facebook certainly has its share of spammers to contend with. But unfortunately human intervention in the process seems somewhat limited. So one’s chances of getting a real human response to one’s e-mailed questions about why you’ve been disabled and whether it can be reversed, are not really great. I’ve certainly had no response so far, and it’s clear that this is a common experience.
Also a common experience is being entirely clueless as to what you might possibly have done to breach Facebook’s conditions. The automated messages from head office provide no clues, other than drawing your attention to the terms & conditions, which leaves many of us none the wiser. As someone said on one forum – and I agree – it’s entirely reasonable for the administrators to run such automated sleuthing processes, provided that this is accompanied with prompt and thorough processes for investigating reports of “false positives” (geek-speak for people or messages incorrectly rated as spam, etc.). However this doesn’t seem to be the case, which is considered very bad form and rather unprofessional by people in the IT industry. And in similar vein, there are no warning messages about suspect behaviour etc – just ‘sudden death’ suspension. So what happens (quite frequently it seems) is that Facebook users unknowingly trip a wire that gets them disabled, and then simply stay disabled for days, weeks, months, or permanently. Some people have struck it lucky with some personal communication – which may or may not lead to them having their names cleared and accounts reinstated. Others have ended up receiving a final ruling from the administrators advising them that their accounts will not be reinstated and expressing “regret” that reasons cannot be given. Most just hear nothing at all ever.
There’s one interesting blog article here: 13 Reasons your Facebook account will be disabled . Raises many possible clues, but no answers really. From reading that and similar articles and trying to understand the Facebook terms & conditions, here I think is my best guess as to my punishable crime. And may my profligate confessions stand as a warning to other would-be loose-living felons …
Facebook’s genre is “social networking”. However it seems that it doesn’t pay to be too liberal with one’s socialising, lest one be judged a spammer. A day or two before my account was disabled I thought to myself in a moment of boredom: “I know – I’ll do some social networking on this great social networking site.” So I set about trawling my longterm memory for names of people who were part of my life at various times in the past 40 years or so, and searching them on Facebook. I hasten to add that this didn’t result in wholesale friend requests – I think I may have lodged 3 in an hour – that’s all the “positive sightings” I had. But what did happen was a fair bit of trawling of long lists of old friends and associates with more generic names. So, you know .. you click on several at random, seeking clues … From what I can gather Facebook’s antispam software gets rather suspicious if a user clicks on too many other users’ profiles in a certain space of time (there’s nothing published about what the offending rate is).
So there it is, for what it may be worth. The sad tale of a young man cut off from society and marooned through wanton loose-living. You may or may not ever meet me on Facebook again. Take my sad tale as a solemn warning as to the perils of excessive social networking. Admonish your children and grandchildren with my story. (It’s just a pity you can’t show them what a social felon looks like … ).
Feel free to share this sorry account with others.