Facebook and the Discontinuity of Narrative

I find Facebook frustrating. As storyteller, the Facebook algorithm creates a logistical dilemma. In some cases, I like to use the first comment as a, for lack of a better term, the punchline, or, in most cases, a secondary punchline. Sometimes it is to give further comment to what I’m posting, other times it is to beat my readers to the obvious joke. I am not always successful, but narratively I find that first comment area gives me the necessary “beat” before a nice aside. It’s is the “Ching” to my “Ba-dum, dum.”

Unfortunately, when enough comments appear, Facebook shifts the order around, placing the “Top Comment” in this coveted spot, erasing any of my intended narrative flow—a small example of the Facebook news feed as a whole—shifting the narrative flow from a temporal progression of my Facebook feed to one decidedly non-temporal. Were I to view my feed in the default view, I would find posts from the day before at the top of the list because that one friend is a particularly prolific poster, or due to the apparent closeness of our “relationship.” As one who developed her online narrative style on bulletin boards, forums and IRC chat rooms, this presents a neverending mish-mash of content. More importantly, from a reader’s perspective, it completely undermines the immediacy of social media. This is also why I find Twitter much more useful, though not without its own narrative obstacles. (Snapchat, for what it’s worth, is useless to me, since I was never comfortable with the app’s user interface. Snapchat understands this and has been working on redesigns, but that ship has sailed for me.) The immediacy that social media promises is rendered moot within the confines of Facebook, a platform that was never interested in keeping its users in touch with their friends, but only interested in keeping its users on Facebook. A high-walled garden where all your friends play is still a prison. Yet Facebook’s greatest illusion is how it has completely obfuscated the temporality of human storytelling.

Typically, our narrative history progressed from one white man to another, creating a canonical trajectory. The present is easier to deal with if one can see a straight line leading up to a moment. Yet we have been and will continue to expand that canon, introducing and recovering new voices adding breadth to that timeline, or, more accurately, adding parallel lines of narrative, creating a multiverse of voices and stories. Though parallel may not be the accurate description, because these narrative lines dip and cross and intersect, changing the vectors of other stories, shifting perspectives and, in the worst instances, ending narrative lines altogether. How then do we find the time (in a tactical sense) to make sense of all the intersecting twists and turns that make up our present? What is the defining feature common among this tangled mess of narrative?

We are temporal beings, therefore the stories as we write them tend to flow forward, not necessarily from one action to another, but in enough of a recognizably linear fashion that we, as reader, find some sort of progression in narrative. Even stories that break timeline rules still follow a version of linear progression even if that movement is not past to present to future. So our stories are created and consumed temporally, by necessity of the mortal time boundaries of their creators. Yet, the stories as entities do not. They exist out of time, in a sense, from the first moment we were able to record an idea in a semi-permanent manner. Our stories exist as delineated moments along a our timeline, if not reflective in the narrative itself, then reflective of the fact that it was created at a particular time by a temporally-bound being.

Facebook essentially shifts our narrative from time-based to topic-based, disallowing users to see stories develop from one moment to the next in favor of feeding users similar stories hoping to keep users on the site and deliver sponsored content. By creating these new lines of narrative, Facebook (and those that use a similar method) disrupt not only our natural ways of telling stories, but our natural ways of consuming stories, creating less of a network of ideas that touch and influence each other, but a sticky web of stories that envelope a perceived desired narrative. The news feed does not damage us by hiding stories that are in political opposition to our own worldview, it damages us by disappearing the existence of other worldviews entirely. Our ignorance is actively curated.

For all of our discussions about Facebook and politics, we sometimes forget that we are creator ourselves. Facebook should be approached as just another publishing platform, one with its own rules and quirks, yet something that should be manipulated by us instead of the other way around. While many of us create with a rhetorical mindset, we must learn to consume in the same way: looking at dates of publication, looking at sources, reading critically even the most innocuous post. We must remember that we are temporal beings, stuck in a mortal timeline, all with the same end. Only our stories survive, unless the algorithm pushes it off the page.

Post-Ac-Life: Sleeplessness and Productivity

Last night a friend and I texted back and forth about the “waiting game.” All of our PhD applications are in and now it’s just a matter of sitting by while committees of people decide our fate. While texting, I was also checking out thegradcafe.com for information about wait times, acceptance/rejection ratios and general conversations about applying to graduate schools for Literature, Composition, and Rhetoric.

I had made the conscious decision not to check these forums before getting my applications together. That was both a wise and unwise decision.

Had I known that one of my schools only accepts one student with an outside M.A. I would have saved the money on the application. (A similar realization for my friend was what spurred our conversation in the first place.) Also, had I known about the terribly low stipend from another school (information not easily found on their website) I may have skipped that one as well. Foreknowledge is forewarned, I suppose, but at the time I was adamant to keep outside influence out of my decision process. Sometimes I forget that some influence is helpful. Lesson learned.

I’m not sure if that realization led to my sleeplessness last night. I can’t remember anything other than the general self-loathing and self-doubt that normally invades the bookends of my nightly unconsciousness, but dang if I didn’t have a heck of a time getting to sleepytown. I woke up at the usual “stupid-early” o’clock to the smell of coffee being brewed by the programmable coffee machine (my life, my love) and am strangely lacking in the normal exhaustion that would accompany a short bout of sleeplessness. I’m sure this will catch up with me later today.

In the meantime, I will be productive. I have freelance work to do, thankfully, and I’ve decided to create a bibliography of my own work over the last four years. Time and again I will come across a paper I wrote and think, “when did I do this?” Moving forward with other research interests is my priority, but I think it will be beneficial to take a look back on what interested me in the past. Perhaps I’m hoping to rekindle an old flame. Perhaps I’m just procrastinating.

Either way, I need to get words on the page today; different words on different pages. Let’s hope the coffee holds out.

Death Taxes and Hillary

I put the blame of this election squarely on the shoulders of Stephen Colbert. Metaphorically, not literally. However, the inevitability expressed in “Death, Taxes and Hillary” transmuted from a commentary on the outcome of the Democratic primary to an assurance of the outcome of the general election.

Only Death is inevitable. President-elect Trump proved the other two wrong.

And we didn’t actually discover that half of the population felt comfortable electing a man who used racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric to attain the most powerful office in the free world. It was only a quarter of the population—a minority—but they were active enough to get their man in.

Half of the population didn’t vote. Was it because the outcome was inevitable?

Think of it this way:

Four people are in a room deciding on what type of pizza to order. One person suggests pepperoni and onion—not terribly popular, but a reasonable pizza recipe. Another person shouts for a shit pizza—literally a pizza covered in human feces.

The other two people just shrug. I mean, come on, of course we’re going to get the pepperoni and onion right? No one would actually order the other one. The pizzeria wouldn’t even consider making an actual shit pizza, would they?

Guess what we’re having for dinner.

So what do we do?

First, stop “draining the swamp” in your social media. I’m not suggesting that you allow harassment to continue, but there are people in your followers and friends list that are listening and those are the people you need to reach. The 46% who didn’t participate are going to have to eat the shit pizza just as much as we are, so it’s our responsibility to activate them in any way possible.

Keep in mind, the people who will have to eat the biggest slices of the shit pizza, the people who have always been disenfranchised and exploited, the people who have always had a target on their backs and woke up Wednesday to find it was the opening day of hunting season—those people ALREADY KNOW HOW TO VOTE. If you’re trying to preach to them, you need to turn around from the choir, my friend, or maybe, just step down from the pulpit altogether.

One suggestion: reminding your senior citizen friends that the hulking form of Paul Ryan is lurking in the background ready to privatize their Medicare.

Second, as much as the symbols and outrage and marches give you a positive outlet for your energy, we need to point some of that energy toward the people actually in possession of our government. It’s time to remember the power of the written word, not just in posts on Facebook groups or Snapchats to friends, but the power to inundate a government official with the will of the people.

WRITE. Write to your congressman, your senator. For the love of the cosmos, write to your state house and senate—where most of the damage to you is wrought. WRITE, not in emails, but in actual tree-killing paper letters. (Please buy recycled paper.)

READ. Find out what your representatives are voting on. READ the legislation. Make the time. If you can’t make the time, pick a few key issues and read up on them, not what is spinned out to you through pundits, but the actual bill. That’s what will become law.

March, scream, hug, support, shelter, fight, do all of these things and do all of them with righteous fire and kindness.

But don’t forget to WRITE until your hands bleed and READ until your eyes ache.

Only Death is inevitable…or, Death and Change.

Links in this post (If you have other links that would be helpful, please post them in the comments):