I’m sorry we do this

1 07 2014

I pretty much ignore all things Facebook (because I can!), but I do want to comment on the blatantly unethical study of newsfeed algorithms.

My ire is focused on both the researchers and on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for engaging subjects in research without their knowledge and consent (the former) and not flagging this lack of consent in their publication (the latter).

Since the promulgation of the Nuremburg Code following the trial of Nazi doctors, informed consent has been a cornerstone of research ethics. The World Medical Association followed with its own guidelines in the early 1960s (revised many times since), and in 1974, the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health & Human Services) promulgated 45 CFR 46 (also updated numerous times); the US regs were later reinforced by the Belmont Report.

My point is, these rules are not new, and any social scientist trained or working in in the US (Adam Kramer received his PhD from the University of Oregon, and Jamie Guillory and Jeffrey Hancock work at UC San Francisco and Cornell University, respectively) should know the basics of them.

And the most basic of the basics about these rules is the necessity of obtaining informed consent from potential research subjects.

You don’t get to say, as Kramer did in a recent Facebook post,

Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.

and expect that your emotional sorriness  makes up for your ethical sorriness.

Not that Kramer even gets the ethical problem: he’s sorry for the way the paper described the research and sorry that the results did not justify the anxiety, but nowhere is he sorry for violating the dignity of his subjects.

Which, by the way, is the whole point of the regs: the recognition and protection of the dignity of human beings.

And PNAS? Shame on them for publishing such egregiously unethical work.

~~~

h/t Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic, for Kramer’s Facebook link





The rest is silence

9 06 2013

Say nothing.

I am, as you may have guessed, a talker, someone who always has something to say and almost always knows how to say it. I can be quite obnoxious—always something to say—but also useful in social situations. And as a professor who glances at rather than reads her notes, the ability to float words into air comes in handy.

Like a lot of talkers, I can be unnerved by spaces without sounds. I almost always have the radio on, and in class I’ve had to force myself after tossing out a question to wait one, two, three or more beats for a student to grab it, rather than reeling it back in immediately. I’m a pushy broad who has to restrain herself not always to push so hard, to give time to the laconic to make themselves heard.

Yet whether despite or because of that need for words, I know the force of silence.

When I was an undergrad I went into therapy, briefly, with a psych resident, J. She was. . . fine, I guess, but I was pissed off and messed up and deeply, deeply ambivalent about therapy. I was abashed at my need to talk to someone, so—I could see this only in hindsight—cast about for any reason not to talk.

J. gave me that reason.

Not on purpose, of course. It’s just that she had this rule that she would follow no matter what: the client had to start the conversation. Well.

The first coupla’ sessions I’d wait a bit, and then start in. J. would follow up, but too often in that Interviewing-101 kind of way.

Me: I’m just, I’m always worried what people are thinking of me, like I’m doing something wrong.

J: So you’re feeling kind of judged, huh?

(I don’t know if that’s exactly what I said, but I do remember, for whatever memory is worth, her saying that exact phrase back to me.)

It got worse from there. There was a large plant next to the loveseat on which I sat, and while I could see J. concentrating the hell on me as she shifted from one attentive position to another in her office chair, I’d  lean back, finger the leaves of that plant. And say nothing. Five minutes. Ten minutes. By our later sessions, I was silent for 20, maybe even 30 minutes.

Did I mention that, because she was a resident under supervision, all of our sessions were taped?

I was an asshole, and while some of the jerk things I did while I was messed up were due to my being messed up, this wasn’t one of them. I knew I was being an asshole, knew that she’d have to go back to her supervisor with that half-blank tape—knew that by not talking I had power over her—and I enjoyed it. You gotta rule about who talks first? Yeah, well, here’s what you can do with that rule!

I did, finally, put an end to it all. I don’t remember if I thought, Okay, quit being a jerk or This ain’t working or some other mashup of decency and practicality, but I knew that this particular therapeutic relationship was stillborn.

The ambivalence over therapy remained, even throughout two good, if difficult, therapeutic relationships (as well as a number of abortive ones), but in those good relationships I tried not to be an asshole, tried (not always successfully) not to use silence as a weapon. I did more often use it as a shield, but in a decent therapeutic relationship you learn—well, I learned—that the person sitting attentively a few feet away from you might just want to help, and that the best way for that attentively-sitting person to help is to tell her how you need help.

And thus the ambivalence, all the way through: The need beyond desire to tell, and not tell, on myself. Was it revelation or betrayal? The urgency of that question faded, but never entirely went away.

All of this is a verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry long prelude to my own disquiet with the social admonition to reveal oneself. Now that I’m no longer so neurotic that I worry much about what people think of me—mainly because I folks have better things to do than think of me—I wonder about the social pressure to display oneself, be it on Facebook or Foursquare or whatever. If you don’t know me, what should it matter that I’m not visible to you? (And if you do know me, well, there are other ways to get in contact with me.)

Most folks I know who are on Facebook like it because it’s a great way to connect with or keep up on friends, and thus don’t really get my unease with the platform. It’s just a. . . thing, nothing more.

I don’t see it that way, of course. Yes, on one level it is just a thing, just a handy tool to stay on top of relationships, but on other levels it’s a signal of your interest in others, a scripted performance of oneself, a marker of one’s willingness to go along with social expectations, and, of course, a vast database for a corporation to mine for profit. To choose not to participate is to set oneself apart as an object of suspicion.

Think that’s too much? I don’t want to hang too much on example, but. . . I’m going to hang a lot on this interchange between Farhad Manjoo & Emily Yoffe on Slate:

Farhad: . . .That question came up in the context of a debate about online dating. I said that if you’re going to set up a date with someone and you can’t find anything about them on Facebook… I’d extend that to other social networks. If you can’t find a photo of them and there’s no photo on the dating site either, then you should be suspicious. That person seems to be trying to hide something.

Emily: We’re all trying to hide something, Farhad.

Farhad: Well, the person might be married or have a girlfriend, or in some ways trying to hide their activities. I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk case. I don’t think that’s necessarily the situation, but I would be a little bit suspicious.

But to the letter writer’s question beyond dating, I think that it’s better to have a social networking profile for a couple reasons. You are taking control of your online life then.

[. . .]

And if you don’t have [an online presence], I think people will judge you based on that. . . .

I’ve looked at the numbers for Facebook. If you look at the demographics, it’s not like only young people have Facebook. It pretty much cuts across most demographic lines, and from what I can tell, also socioeconomic lines. They have a billion people around the world. Lots of people are on Facebook and I think you’re kind of judged now, for better or worse, if you don’t. [emph added]

Manjoo is a tech fanboy who is puzzled by any criticism of tech which is not about glitches or efficiency—he does not get the concept of social-techno-coercion—and thus ought not be considered a general representative of all social media users.

But he ain’t alone, either. Consider Senator Lindsay Graham’s response to concerns about the NSA’s vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic information: “I don’t have anything to worry about because I’m not talking to terrorists.”

And there it is: If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be afraid to show—with the barely concealed implication, If you don’t show, you must have something to hide.

Do I have something to hide? Like Emily Yoffe, I’m of the belief that “We’re all trying to hide something”, that it’s normal to keep a few things to oneself and not something which has to be justified.

It’s also normal to want to share oneself, not to hide away everything. Even as I’m a non-Facebooker, I am a blogger, and I call and text friends and colleagues and regularly go out in public. I’m a private person in society, someone who believes one ought to be able to be both private and social as she sees fit.

 

To bring this back around, not all or even most of my political beliefs can be traced in any direct way to my personal experiences, but my views on privacy and sociality are most definitely jacked into something deep inside of me. Even as I write that “I’m a private person in society” I fret over the tension contained within that assertion, wonder if it is possible to be both without betraying either the private or social side of me.

In the end, I think I ought to be the one who decides whether to speak, or not. More than that, the conditions under which I choose to speak ought not unduly pressure me one way or the other. I get that there will always be some pressure, but there should be freedom, too.

And if not, well, I like to talk, but if you tell me I have to talk, I’ll enjoy your frustration as I lean back, and say nothing.





Hey, you’ve got to hide yourself away

12 05 2012

Is it time for another anti-Facebook rant?

(Well, okay, not really an anti-Facebook rant so much as an anti-YOU-MUST-BE-ON-FACEBOOK!!!! rant. And if it’s not time, I don’t care, because it is time.)

Ahem.

Farhad Manjoo loves him some social media. He loves Google and Apple and Facebook and smart phones and probably Twitter and Linked-In and implanted RFID tags which will “let” everybody know where everybody is and what they are doing at all times.

(Well, okay, probably not, but this is rant so I get to lie exaggerate for literary purposes. And, seriously, it took him until May 1 to ask Is it Time to Stop Trusting Google?)

Manjoo and Emily Yoffe have been tag-teaming on online etiquette for awhile in audios for Slate, and their most recent venture has them pondering whether it is possible to opt out without being a weirdo?

Yoffe cautiously suggests that, perhaps, for the young ‘uns, it might seem a little weird. It’s fine, but it’s going to be odd. Still, for those over 35, say (the age of the letter writer to the manners-duo), I really don’t think we’ve gotten to the point where if you don’t have a Facebook page, you’re somehow signaling you’re socially inept.

At which point Manjoo throws his pom-poms into the ring and starts yelling Give me an F! Give an A! Give me a CEB! . . .

Let me first address what I said before. That question came up in the context of a debate about online dating. I said that if you’re going to set up a date with someone and you can’t find anything about them on Facebook… I’d extend that to other social networks. If you can’t find a photo of them and there’s no photo on the dating site either, then you should be suspicious. That person seems to be trying to hide something.

At which point Yoffe helpfully interjects, We’re all trying to hide something, Farhad.

But the Head Cheerleader WILL NOT BE DETERRED!

But to the letter writer’s question beyond dating, I think that it’s better to have a social networking profile for a couple reasons. You are taking control of your online life then. If you have nothing about yourself online, your friends may post stuff about you on Facebook, you may come up on a news story, you may come up on a search engine. I think it’s better just generally to take control of your presence online.

And if you don’t have one, I think people will judge you based on that. Maybe it’s different in some circles. This guy says he works in the trades. I think that in some kinds of professions, it’s not as necessary as others. In our profession, it seems like it’s required.

I’ve looked at the numbers for Facebook. If you look at the demographics, it’s not like only young people have Facebook. It pretty much cuts across most demographic lines, and from what I can tell, also socioeconomic lines. They have a billion people around the world. Lots of people are on Facebook and I think you’re kind of judged now, for better or worse, if you don’t. [emph added]

Aaaaannnnnd we’re all back in junior high.

Manjoo does at least insert a “for better or worse”, and later admits that It’s work. This guy says he feel overwhelmed by it. He raises setting up a generic profile, but that’s going to still be work. I agree. But,as he goes on to say,

it’s your reputation. You have to maintain your reputation in the offline world. If somebody is talking about you and telling untruths about you, you have deal with it and you have to deal with it online.

And how, pray-tell, does a Facebook account slay those untruthy evildoers? Will the mere presence of a Facebook page demonstrate my upright nature, disciplined work-habits, uncomplaining demeanor, and good hygiene? And in such a manner to override and overcome any possible suggestions otherwise?

Here’s a new tagline: Facebook: When You Need To Prove Your Innocence. And You Do.

Who knew social technology could be so liberating?





Doesn’t anyone stay in one place, anymore (pt I)

6 04 2009

‘Not all social networking stuff is bad, you know.’

C. may have even raised her eyebrows as she said it.

‘I know,’ I mumbled. ‘Hey, I blog, don’t I?’

Still.

Two things lead me to this point. One was this post by Meghan O’Rourke at XX Factor, how those of us old enough to have a past can be thrown off by the jumbling of time when one is friended by a memory. Sometimes I find it reassuring; at other times, extremely destabilizing, a vortex forcing me to contemplate years gone by, loves lost, friends I let go of without fully intending to. Sure, there are class reunions and gossip through whatever thin vines are left connecting one back to the old days, but reunions are fixed in time, recognizable as the artifacts they are.

But a poke from the past? As cool as I find quantum mechanics (what I can understand of it, I mean), I am utterly turned-off by the wormhole aspect of Facebook. It’s not that I hate everyone, or even anyone, from my past; it is that I am content for the past to remain so.

Yes, I rootch around in it, and sometimes memories come, unbidden, but I am ever aware of that distance between then and now—and of the panoply of feelings around that distance. Sometimes I am sad, sometimes relieved, or confused, or embarassed, remorseful, and sometimes I feel nothing other than I am not who I was.

There can be a poignance to this recognition. I am mortal, and will lose and gain and change as I move through this life, until there is nothing left of me at all. I can’t gather all my life in, live simultaneously as the happy third-grader or shattered teenager or tentative new adult. There are people I knew then who I don’t know now; what would it be to have them here, with me, now?

It’s not that there must have been a Reason for us to have parted; time and physical distance are as good an explanation as anything. We simply lost touch with one another, that’s all.

So why not get back in touch? I am, after all, still friends with two women who I’ve known since kindergarten, some others from high school, college, grad school, post-grad. . . if I can hang on to these people, why not throw another knotted rope to the past, in hopes of enticing the others to grab on?

I don’t know, really, that I have a good answer to that; I think it’s a why/why not choice, that is, one made less through reason than a shrug.

Perhaps I can only justify my choice after-the-fact, to say that this is what seems appropriate to me, what works for me. I need to have a sense of time, and to remind myself of the inevitability of loss inherent in time. It’s not about despair—some of what was lost deserved to be shed, and I am the stronger and saner for it—but about understanding, making sense of the trajectory of my life.

Would friending someone I knew in, say, 10th grade foul up that sense? I do wonder about some people, about KB and CM and SP and how and who they are, today, and have even thought about trying to get in touch with them.

But then what? We were tight then, and now we’re not. I am curious, but do I miss them? I miss what we had, but would we have it again? I don’t think so.

So why not take the chance, track down the old running buddies and confidants to see if there is still something there?  Am I afraid?

Again, I don’t think so. It’s more that my life is here, today, in New York City in 2009, and I need to make my life stick here, today, in New York City in 2009. Time spent with those I’ve lost is time not spent with those I’ve hung on to (and who’ve hung on to me), and those I’ve found.

And the people here matter. I like them and getting to know them, and letting them getting to know me. We can’t take anything for granted, can’t call up a shared past or a ‘remember when’ as we huddle over our beers. I have that with some people, but with these new friends, there is the frisson of wondering what to reveal and what will be revealed, of risk and anxiety and the delight in discovering that, yes, there is more than mere proximity to our relationships, that we are, in fact, friends.

O’Rourke noted that Sometimes I have an almost physical need to touch the screen and get past the pixels. I understand that longing, I do. I also understand the necessity of bearing such longing, and remembering that not all can be reconciled.





Where was I?

3 02 2009

Still happy with the apartment.

Still happy. Who’d a thunk I’d ever use that term to describe myself?

____

I took time off to move, and while it was good to have those days to sort my shit, it threw me off.

I have a routine. I may not particularly like it, but I do rely upon it. Last semester, it was Job3, Job2/Job1, Job 3, Job 2, Job 1, Job 1, day off. So, to have four days off in a row was a spanner in the works.

(I don’t know what a spanner is. I just like the sound of ‘spanner in the works’.)

Then, with the new semester, the routine changed up even more. I teach a third class, and ended (temporarily) the temp Job3 last week.

So, finally, the new routine is: Off, Job 2/Job1, off, Job2, Job1, Job1, off.

Diggin’ those days off, yet still adjusting to new routine.

Yeah, I know: radical politics, conservative nature.

Now, when to write. . . .

____

The bummer with the move was that stress so befogged me I was unable to enjoy the inaugeration. C. has a nice take on it at her blog, SoundofRain (link at left), so check it out.

And even though I’m creeping back into crank mode, I am still delighted to hear the term ‘President Obama.’

President. Obama. Fuck yeah!

____

Spanner: wrench.

And I thought it was some sort of sailing term.

____

Fuck Farhad Manjoo.

He had a piece awhile ago in Slate in which he insisted there was no reason not to join Facebook.

Apparently, not wanting to join is an insufficient reason.

Now, some of my best friends are on Facebook, so I don’t want to be trashin’ the ‘book. But. I have no desire to join.

‘You can connect with old friends!’ Yeah, well, I want to connect, I can look up their numbers. If I don’t have their phone numbers, there’s probably a reason why.

‘Old classmates can find you!’ And this is a plus?

I’ve managed to skip all of my class reunions thus far, and am not particularly anguished by my absence. No axes to pick or bones to grind: it’s just that mild curiosity is not enough to get my butt on a plane to SmallTown for an event which will feature food I don’t eat (i.e., meat) and music I no longer listen to. Yeah, I’d like to see LW and LdB and thank JK for one of the most excellent gifts a person could have given me, but, hmmm, if I were to see them, I’d want to see them. So, if the next reunion coincides with a visit, I’ll go. But otherwise? Nuh-uh.

Manjoo also states that privacy isn’t really an issue, given that a ‘booker can calibrate her privacy options, but what of the company itself knowing your business? And the guv’mint hasn’t had many problems getting tech companies to turn over records on its users to whatever master spies/doofus office grunts request them.

Besides, if I can configure my privacy options so that if you want, you can let everyone see essentially nothing about you, then why the hell bother with setting  up a profile, anyway?

What’s truly irritating about Manjoo’s piece, however, is the utterly unrecognized coerciveness of his call to Face: The site has crossed a threshold—it is now so widely trafficked that it’s fast becoming a routine aide to social interaction, like e-mail and antiperspirant. In other words, it is precisely because everyone else is using Facebook that you’re expected to do so. It is the inversion of  ‘if all your friends jumped in the lake. . . ‘ moral, in which the correct response is now ‘yes.’

Not going along with the crowd is no longer an option. Sure, you can trade e-mail addresses or phone numbers, but in many circles Facebook is now the expected way to make these connections. By being on Facebook, you’re facilitating such ties; without it, you’re missing them and making life difficult for those who went looking for you there. That’s right: it is now incumbent upon you to make life easier for those around you—and if you don’t, your life will be made much, much harder.

Okay, so not yet. But I think Manjoo is right, in that Facebook (and related technologies) will become as omnipresent—and necessary—as a phone. As I ranted to coworkers at Job1 the other night, such techs are coercive insofar as they demand their adoption to retain a basic social existence. Sure, you can go live in the boonies without a phone or internet connection, but try to apply for a ‘regular’ (i.e., non-day) job without a phone number. If you lack access to or knowledge of certain techs—like e-mail or antiperspirant—you jeopardize your standing in society. Hell, I got a cell phone because I found it difficult to operate in NYC without it—movers, landlords/rental agents, potential roommates, new friends, potential employers tended toward the incredulous when I said I didn’t have a cell. I consider myself lucky my jobs don’t require a Blackberry and that my friends humor my anti-texting stance.

But don’t I love my cell, now that I have it? Not really. The reception is worse than a land line, and even at the most basic PhoneConglomerate rate, I pay considerably more than I did for my old phone service. Sure, it’s convenient when I’m late or unsure of where to meet someone, but given that I managed to deal with these exigencies pre-cell, I’m not at all convinced of the absolute (as opposed to relative) necessity of the walkabout phone.

Will I capitulate on FB? After all, Manjoo argues that my friendships might ‘demand’ that I sign up. I don’t know. I once stated I’d never own a cell phone, given that there is rarely a political theory emergency ( i.e., that it was hardly necessary for someone to be able to reach me at all times), and now I carry the damned thing with me almost everywhere.

I don’t answer it, though. Loooove those caller i.d. and voicemail features. . . .








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