Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blind Narcissus

Facebook, the simpleton's way to start your day, has let the mask slip of late. Big-palmed creator Mark Zuckerberg pitched it as a sort of computer smoothie - no chemicals, no plastic wrapping, no monthly book selection blocking up your letter box, no bailiffs biffing your old gran because you skipped the small print.

Its acolytes sailed gaily through the Gates of Spontaneous Order, eager to share their news and photos with friends they don't see every day. But this band of pure users has long been smothered in the mental dandruff of:

  • Night bus nightmares lacking the trip-switch betwixt brain and fingers
  • Brazen blogpost pluggers like me
  • Playground showoffs impressing the girls with their update push-ups
  • Link jockeys with news and weather updates for people who don't have Internet access, and 
  • Bored secret policemen.

The difference between the early innocents and these human retreads is motive. The former want to share; the latter need to sell. Now that Facebook is stuffed with hand-me-down opinions and stale jokes, Mr Zuckerberg has set aside his bucket of soda and commanded the macro-minions to slip back into their "Yo La Tengo" t-shirts and get messing with some minds.

My favourite coarsening of the Facebook grain is the "Highlight" button. This lets buffoons shuffle their latest brain daubs to the top of his friends' feeds for a small fee and no conceivable reason. Those who avail themselves of this new service might find it cheaper and more effective to change their avatar to an animation of an endless deflating phallus.

I'm reminded of the lager pump in Reading's Hobgoblin pub (now the Reading Alehouse - flavoursome as ever but far less intimidating). This establishment still caters exclusively to men in beige who gave up on women when Felicity Kendall married and now dedicate themselves to flat beer and books with gnomes as the protagonists.

A student absorbed in mobile phones and dance music might occasionally press through the fog of halitosis, survey the barrels of Old Hedgefumbler and alight with relief on the cheery, elf-free Fosters label.

"Pint of Fosters, please!" he'd chirrup.

The matted mass of sinew, soup and Ulster Scots belligerence that was Paul, the crepuscular landlord, would then ring the Lager Bell, and all would gather round and mock.

The Highlight button is Facebook's Lager Bell, a tool for showing others you're a tool.

Another sign that Facebook is toying with its creatures like a kettle-wielding toddler bestride his ant farm was Mr Zuckerberg's twin decision to float the company on the stock market then get wed. These two acts are calculated to sweep all Facebookers into a handy tray of rage.

Users see Facebook as a self-sustaining anarchist cooperative of fisherfolk, where money has long yielded to black flags and free love - or at least amusing photographs of the like. They don't like markets, unless run by tie-dyed white-flighters posing as farmers, and they certainly don't like their blow-up Internet doll being sold as someone's dowry.

But Mark Zuckerberg's most galling gag, set up long before he careered off in his ironic "Just Married!" titanium Heinkel bubblecar, was Timeline. One morning you log on, and your neat ribbon of thinks has been spliced and jammed like some hipster's birthday party retro mixtape.

Some sigh and live with it, others flee to Google+ ("Where The Manager's Golf Buddies Are"), and the rest go all haiku and lose themselves in Twitter. Luis Buñuel shot his films in a linear fashion - I imagine because he wanted to know what happened next - and Facebook has blundered into the hag-haunted halls of hubris if it thinks it's further out there than Spain's top Surrealist and smoker.

So how can Mark keep us down on his farm now that he's seen Gay Paree? One way would be to adopt my Update Displacement and Disclaimer Editorial Reversal System (UDDERS). How does this work?

In its present, pedestrian configuration, Facebook allows the user to post and delete their own updates, and merely like, dislike, share or comment on others. UDDERS works in reverse. It allows you  to post solely on the feed of others and, by the magic of hacking, via their IDs.

This is much more like it. Imagine four old friends - John, Paul, George and Ringo. It's easy if you try. John is a bit of a dick and packed full of mordant conscience. Most of his chums quietly block his updates, so how can he get across these urgent views on Vietnam, hair and decreasingly imaginative music? Well, UDDERS allows him to post as, say, Paul.

Paul is a bit of a dick but clings to a shotglass of self-awareness that keeps his ideas about Ireland and meat largely to himself. Consider the interest, then, if updates like "Playing for HM The Queen's Jubilee! Fantastic!!" and "Playing at the Olympics! Fantastic!!" were superseded by "Hey Mr Obama, yer Agent Orange gives me the blues!" That's one deep cavity search booked at JFK next time Paul plans to give his regards to Broad St.

Or take Ringo. He's a bit of a dick, but affable enough when he concentrates on Bond girls and practicing his signature. Unlike John, he doesn't want to force his helium opinions on others. Like all drummers, he is one of life's terrible simplifiers - if you don't believe me, listen to Buddy Rich's version of Birdland - and so prefers the "altruistic elimination" application on UDDERS that allows you to delete other users' posts.

George is a bit of a dick - lives on a trampoline in Henley - but funds terrifically tasty films. Ringo deletes all his posts, replacing them with "Peace and Luve", and George really doesn't mind. Everyone's happy.

I have other ideas for applications to make Facebook a site fit to loll in:

1. The Political Chameleon. A young lady asks to befriend you, and you idly wonder whether she might be a nympho whose father owns a brewery. She earnestly comments on a cheek-streaking array of stuff. You have neither the time nor inclination to read them, but would like to leave either a pithy comment or knowing link to keep her sweet.

Lo - the Chameleon codes her updates by colour and shape, so you know where she stands and you may stoop.

  • Red Wedge = Old Left: trade unions, banners, her lips move when Ed Miliband speaks.
  • Red Crescent = WikiLeaks Left: trustafarian or Oxbridge-via-pinched-suburbs. Media fringes, Trotskyist blogs, hates daddy.
  • Green Thorn = ditto, but lives in Brighton.
  • Grey Goth = Occupy, Obama, Ovaries.
  • Blue Frigate = Rugby Club Right: Clarkson stalker, strike breaker, loves daddy.
  • Rainbow Vortex = Cthulhu Central: Ayn Rand, Ron Paul - Run Miles.

You might manage to steer a Frigate into harbour, but you'll be hosing down the docks for weeks afterwards. Otherwise look out for the Pink Glove (Blairites) or Swedish Flag (Coalition) - they're all looking for love right now.

2. Automatic Arguer. You post something bold and arresting, such as a merged photo of Presidents Bush and Obama, or a European Union flag with a For Sale sign on it, hoover down a can of lager and await the debate. But nothing happens, apart from a few "likes" and "uh-huhs". You've hit rock-lobster bottom on the Shelf of Self-Knowledge with a clammy slap, as all your Facebook friends - apart from the Japanese cosplayer you suspect might be your old chemistry master - clearly share your scintillating Weltanschauung.

That's where Automatic Arguer comes in. The free app generates ill-humoured snarls, threats to defriend, or photographs from children's hospitals in your target country.

But for a small fee it will post your erudite update on the wall of the Middle Eastern political movement you'd least like to be kidnapped by, embellished with some swastikas, Stars of David or amusing fusion of both, along with a composite of your profile photo having good times with their best daughters.

Then it will disable your "mute" button and sign off with your home address. In Comic Sans.

3. We Live As We Dream. Depression is the Plimsoll Line that divides healthy societies from Britain. Post something about bipolarity and your American friends will offer all sorts of encouragement. But from the Tamar to the Thames comes the sound of distant shuffling. Why? Beats me, but here's what to do.

Install this app, as it's ideal for the chatty melancholic. If there's an election, weather event or excellent new film going down in America and you simply can't find anyone on Facebook to put their arms around your updates, click on one of the three settings to get the desired result:

  • Sympathy. This hacks various friends' accounts and sends you inspiring thoughts etched on stock photos of domestic animals at sunset, and makes your laptop smell of chocolate.
  • Retired Colonel. Comes in "2nd Duchess of Gloucester's Own Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire Battalion" or "US Marine Corps" modes. One counsels brisk walks, cold showers, thinking of the regiment and marrying well. The other suggests that you might want to drop something and give him twenty thereof.
  • Head Tilt. When words only wound, this tips all the photos on Facebook by a reassuring 25 degrees.

Please note - despite some persistent complaints, there is no Voices In My Head setting. It just means you've stumbled onto Twitter.



Ms Scarlet said...

Where is the button to share this on Facebook?

No Good Boyo said...

Is there such a thing? I'll look and add one asap xxx

No Good Boyo said...

Done! Up at the top - says "share" rather mysteriously.

Ms Scarlet said...


No Good Boyo said...

It works! I feel like Dr Frankenstein more than ever.

Pat said...

Still and all I do enjoy the Scrabble.

No Good Boyo said...

Welsh Scrabble is best Scrabble. No zs, qs, xs or vowels.

CambriaPolitico said...

Where do I erm... pull sign up for the UDDERS?

No Good Boyo said...

I'm waiting for Facebook to contact me, Cambrio, and they'd better have their holiday money ready.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I say, NGB, that you were rather too free with airing your ideas, and that the FB staff is feverishly implementing some of them ideas right now, what with their boss not having any for quite a long time (I heard that marital bliss tends to do that to people).

As for your sharing button: I am afraid that you've stuck it in the wrong spot, where it shares the whole blog rather than a specific post. So I just tweeted the post, using my own button.

Which means, by the way, that people are distinguished these days by the set of buttons they use.

No Good Boyo said...

I admit I'm defeated by most of the new Blogger applications, and will have another look, Snoop. Thanks for putting me out in Twitteria, though - I must go back there and see what's up.