Sunday, February 6, 2011

Since when has Facebook become a scholarly source? Or, why I think Facebook is turning our brains to shit

I try to avoid expressing my socio-political views on this blog, but what I just encountered is too ridiculous to keep to myself. At least, it's ridiculous to somebody of my sensibility. So bear with me as I rant and possibly, rage in the rest of this post.

I don't have a Facebook account. Never have, and don't ever intend to. I have this conspiracy theory that Facebook is part of a big evil plan on the part of those in power to prey on the need for attention and validation on the part of the hoi polloi, get the hoi polloi addicted to constant visual stimulation, and then progressively rob them of their power of verbal reasoning and speech. In other words, I believe that Facebook is part of an evil plan to turn our brains to mush. I have kept this opinion to myself so far, because I have no systematic way to prove it.

But today, something happened that seems to validate my theory. I was grading a student's paper. The paper seemed to be very well-written, and I was enjoying myself reading her clear writing and concise reasoning. Until I got to this particular section of her paper. She quoted the following "famous equation found in Facebook." I have no idea that it's a famous equation on Facebook, since, as I said, I don't have a Facebook account (Maybe some of you know this equation?). Here's how the equation goes:    

"No study = fail (1)

Study = No fail (2)

No Study + Study = Fail + No fail  (adding equation 1 and 2)

Study (No +1) = fail (1 +No)

Study = fail"

As I understand it, if we were to translate (1) and (2) into English, we would get:

"If you don't study, you will fail.

Therefore, if you study, you will not fail."

Anybody who knows even a little logic will know that this is nonsense. Even if it is true that if I don't study for a test, I will fail it, it does not follow that if I study for it, I will not fail. There are a million and one reasons why I can study for a test and still fail it. Actually, who needs logic to see this? Commonsense is more than enough, don't you think? I'm not even going to bother critiquing the rest of this "famous equation."

Which means that Facebook (or whoever is behind Facebook) is robbing us of our most basic common sense. We are being slowly drained of our ability to think for ourselves. In its place, people are given this false sense of security in what they think is right and wrong ("If everybody thinks this way, and I also think this way, then I must be right.").  So much so, that college students have the audacity to cite Facebook as a scholarly source!

Well, if you are a big Facebook fan, sorry to rain on your parade. Please ignore these random ramblings of an ivory-tower academic. Do not let his ramblings make your Facebooking less merry and joyful. After all, the man doesn't even have a Facebook account! What does he know? You may go back to your Facebooking now. Thanks for taking the trouble to read through what must be a very unpleasant few paragraphs. May the Force be with you.


  1. Hmm...I can see why you're so frustrated with this incident, but I'd stop at saying that FB is part of some grand scheme to turn our brains into mush. I'm no FB junkie, it's just that we have the rest of the media that's already doing the mush-making and they are well on their way to success (Fox News?).

    That said, with Goldman Sachs' latest investment in FB (which is a pretty questionable move to me considering they're not making any real profits), you may be onto something about the powerful trying to gather information. Information = power.

  2. I take it you haven't seen the movie "The Social Network"? FB is like the Internet or the telephone. You can use it for positive purposes (connecting with old friends and family all over the world) or negative purposes (spread rumors and stalk people).

    It can also definitely be abused by people with higher powers, using FB as a platform to sell products, broadcast certain ideas, or analyze consumer/social network tendencies and use the knowledge to their advantage.

  3. I know you know it's too late to sound this alarm. :) What I still find amazing is that it was all surrendered willingly and in a few cases ignorantly, but mostly because of narcissism, which is no longer considered abnormal and no one notices it any more.

  4. I agree with all the comments above...

    I'm on FB, but I use it as a lazy way of keeping a directory of friends and family. I rarely go on unless I need to contact someone who I may not have an actually email address for, or to see photos someone has posted and directed me to.

    I find it tedious and overwhelming, so personally, it's not attractive to me. I have a lot of FB addicted friends, though. If I were still at a boring desk job, I'd probably be on FB all the time. My time means something different to me now... now that I'm not being paid to be bored. ha ha!!

    I'd rather be reading blogs or emailing friends directly.

  5. @savasanaaddict, I might be overreacting, but it might also be true that while Fox News is already doing the mush-making, FB just carries it one step further. Hmm... I wonder what's next? Real-time video feeds of everybody 24/7? (Video-Facebook?). I haven't heard of the Goldman Sachs' investment in Facebook, but I'll look into it (I'm so ignorant).

    @Yyogini, yes, I do suppose that Facebook could be used for certain positive purposes... but only if you consider them to be positive. I, for one, do not want everybody I know to have access to the latest information/pictures about me, or to be able to connect with me whenever they want to. I know, I'm a snob like that.

    @sereneflavor, my sentiments exactly.

    @Evelyn, "I'd rather be reading blogs or emailing friends directly." I can't agree more :-)

  6. @Everybody who has commented on this post thus far, I think that Facebook might be more interesting/less superficial if we are allowed to have Facebook enemies in addition to Facebook friends! That way, if somebody whom you don't particularly like asks you to friend him/her, you have the option to "enemy" him/her instead! Maybe it's just me, but I've always believed that you can tell what kind of a person someone is as much by the enemies he has as by the friends he keeps :-) Am I revealing too much of my dark side?

  7. Disclaimer: I have friends (mostly girlfriends) from my youth scattered through the four corners of the earth. Sometimes facebook makes it possible to pretend that we all are in the same hotel room talking nonsense. What I really wanted to comment on is on your idea for facebook enemies. I think people would go wild over it. Trademarkable if that's a real word. If this is too much of your dark side, then your dark side is problably not huge!
    That's good news,no? :)

  8. Facebook Enemies, I LOVE it! So much better (and un-PC) than putting people on the "Limited Profile" list haha!!

    Nobel: when you put someone on a limited profile, it means they can only see parts (or none) of your FB page/updates/photos, etc. It's the polite way of keeping in touch but still keeping the distance.

    On Goldman Sachs, the NYT has a great analysis of the bank's motives for investing in this company, and pushing their valuation to $50 billion (!)

  9. @sereneflavor, hmm... if the Facebook enemy concept is really trademarkable, then I really should try to find a way to obtain a trademark/patent for it before somebody steals the idea :-)

    @savasaaddict, I'll look up the NYT article. Sounds like interesting material for my Business Ethics class :-)

  10. I have a FB account but I don't really 'like' FB (FB joke of sorts) anyway, I had a moment of real insight recently when a 'friend' from high school (which was 30 years ago) posted a right-wing Christian false and stupid argument advocating prayer in school (if prayer is allowed then bad things will never happen ... you know, too stupid to comment on) and I realized "hey! I don't know this person really, she doesn't live near me, I will never see her again so why do I need to be aggravated by her spreading her 'faith' in a public arena?" I don't! So I de-friended her. It was hugely liberating. The point of this long-winded comment is that we can use FB how we want only if we can summon up the courage to act. I think too many people become sheep on the site caving to peer pressure. Me? I must be a wolf. And how I love the enemies idea! I wrote a post about facebook too, called frenemies. Similar theme.

  11. Oh and it was so dismaying to learn that a student quoted FB as a source I immediately blotted it out and forgot to mention my horror.

  12. @Loo, I get the "like" Facebook joke, even though I don't have Facebook :-)

    "we can use FB how we want only if we can summon up the courage to act. I think too many people become sheep on the site caving to peer pressure."

    I totally agree. Having a powerful mind and being able to act appropriately does not necessarily come with having access to more information. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening with lots of people: The more information people have, the more insecure and unable to think and act they tend to become.

    And yes, about the student quoting Facebook: It is quite dismaying indeed.

  13. Nobel - I tried to escape the FB vortex by starting my blog. But I was pulled back in because, even thought I asked my closest friends and family to follow my blog (which could be construed as more narcissistic than FB) only a very few people do.

    Being 3500 miles away from my children and grandchildren, I have found FB an excellent way to stay connected and see pictures of everybody. Since, once again, nobody even writes emails anymore, now that everybody is on FB.

    I agree it is insidious; and I agree it could be a conspiracy. So I am also aware of the problems associated with it if people use it as the only way to connect with others.

    Also I see people post things on FB that are inappropriate and hostile - which as we know could happen on a blog, but on FB people do it to an audience to their 600 friends. Its very weird.

    I haven't yet had the great pleasure to have a student use FB as a scholarly resource - but I will be on the lookout for that whacky occurrence!

  14. Cathrine, yes, I can definitely see how FB is a useful way to stay connected and see pictures of people whom you care a lot about. I guess in my case, this must be enough of a reason for me to surrender myself to the FB vortex.

    I guess for me, I just don't get the sense that there is enough of a genuine exchange of ideas happening on FB (beyond soundbites and posting inappropriate things that one wouldn't even imagine saying to others in real life) for me to feel that it's worth my time and trouble. And of course, having students who think so highly of it that they even cite it in their papers doesn't help, either :-) As for your not yet having "the great pleasure" of having a student use FB as a scholarly resource... hmm, why do I think that you will be experiencing this pleasure soon :-)?

  15. Oh, Cathrine, I meant to say in my previous comment that "I guess in my case, this must NOT be enough of a reason for me to surrender myself to the FB vortex." But you probably have figured this out anyway.

  16. Hi again Nobel - I totally agree with you that there is no meaningful exchange dialectically on FB.It is full of a lot of useless, narcissistic minutia like what people ate for dinner and stupid pictures of dogs and things people wouldn't say to each other in real life.

    Re: the pleasure of having a student use FB as a scholarly source - I have seen every other kind of crazy reference - I am sure I will see FB soon! And I will be sure to keep you posted.

    FYI - I saw that movie about FB - Social Network - on the flight I took at Xmas to go to California. It was as boring as watching a colonoscopy, but without the laughter. :-(