Facebook Politics and Decorum

Ghost

I’ve noticed some Facebook unrest recently, people equating it to the devil and whatnot. Actually, the unrest isn’t all that recent. It’s been this way pretty much since the onset. Really, it’s a testament to how powerful a tool Facebook is that it’s remained so prominent. The way people, and by ‘people’ I mean the people I’m friends with, use it has evolved through the years. But I digress. First allow me to enunciate the different types of users. The list is in ascending order of contribution frequency.

The Tree Who Fell in the Woods: Doesn’t have an account. It begs the question—if a person eats, sleeps, and breathes but doesn’t have Facebook, does he exist?
The Abandoned Building: Having an account but not checking, updating, or participating in any way.
The Ghost: Having an account and pretending to be an Abandoned Building but secretly consuming like The Whore.
The Whore: Likes everything but contributes nothing beyond birthday posts.
The Moderate: Contributes and consumes in a thoughtful way, successfully toeing the line between doing so too frequently and too infrequently.
The Old Person: Over 60 and very actively participates on threads held by those who are more than 30 years younger and with whom he’s very tenuously connected.
The Advertiser/Activist: Uses it primarily to spread word about his, his company’s, or his favorite causes’ latest endeavor.
The Spazz: Posts at least once every 48 hours. The content is usually inane and reveals some sort of gap in awareness. The Spazz is a lot like The Old Person but doesn’t have the excuse of being old.
The Narcissist: The most damnable of users, The Narcissist posts at least every 24 hours and is clearly in love with him/herself.

Most people consider themselves either an Abandoned Building or a Moderate. I consider myself a Moderate. Such an indulgent word, isn’t it? I’m sure more than half of you think I’m a Spazz. I’m not! I’M NOTTTTT!!!! Convinced? Oh shit, this is very Narcissist of me, isn’t it? I know, right!

But enough about me.

But more about me!

One trend I’ve noticed is that it’s somehow more desirable to be seen as an Abandoned Building than as a Moderate, and that’s why there are so many of you Ghosts out there. I know for a fact that Ghost is the most common type of user among my friends because the previous roaming20s post, the one about the value of money beyond functionality (you should know, you read it), got 300 views but only 5 Likes. As I have around 700 friends, it means 3 out of 7 of you clicked on the link. The low Like-frequency (LF) could be attributed to poor content quality or generally not wanting to associate with me in a visible way, but that’s obviously not the case. I mean, seriously, you read the article. You know how perfect it is! No, there are greater issues at play.

This leads to an excerpt from a recent, rather Seinfeldian, conversation with the photographer of my most recent profile picture:

Ghost: “It’s perfect! I stared at it for LITERALLY 15 minutes! With the umbrella and the sunglasses! At the same time! And the shirt! Oh my God! Everything just came together! The Eiffel Tower in the middle, and the spire on the far left to give it balance! It was just too good! Unbelievable!”

Me: “If you liked it so much, why didn’t you Like it on Facebook?”Facebook Interaction

Ghost: “I’m not a Liker.”

Me: “Why not? It’s one of the most non-zero-sum things you can do. Nobody judges you for Liking a photo, and the recipient appreciates it. Don’t you like it when others Like your stuff?”

Ghost: “Ya, that’s true. I guess I just don’t want to be known as someone with a social media presence. If people see that I use it, my anonymity is gone.”

Me: “What’s so bad about a social media presence?”

Ghost: “I just don’t want a footprint. There are so many people who I like less just because of how they use Facebook. People don’t think better of you based on how you use it. At best you break even, and that’s rare.”

Me: “But you liked that photo you took, didn’t you?”

Ghost: “It was glorious!”

Hence, my thesis: Spazzes and Narcissists scare the layman into Ghosthood, or, worse, into becoming The Tree Who Fell in the Woods. Because of a chronic and persistent lack of awareness among the most vocal 5%, Facebook has been ruined for the majority. Otherwise-Moderates have lost their voice!

The saddest part, I think, is that one of our generation’s most useful tools carries such stigma. It’s faux-pas to reference something from Facebook in a face-to-face interaction. Or information gleaned from any form of Internet stalking, for that matter. A former colleague of mine famously let slip about another former colleague, “She’s younger than me. She was in First Grade in 1998.” Is that creepy? Come on. Don’t pretend to have never had a conversation with a person in which you had to be careful not to let slip knowledge gained from a nice little Google search. It should be assumed that people know everything about you that’s on the Internet. That’s what admissions and Human Resources personnel say. In that sense, it’s a good idea to minimize, or at least manicure, your digital footprint.

At ease with the generally creepy, I, for one, love Facebook. A person’s relationship with social media requires some customizing for it to be enjoyable. The majority of Facebook malaise, I contend, results from finding it frustrating that a digital medium requires so much psychoanalysis. The reason I love it is I’ve eliminated the annoyances. I’ve chosen not to follow all the Spazzes, Narcissists, and people I don’t particularly want to know about, such as Jabronis and ex-romantic interests. Another thing I’ve started doing is Liking favorite sources of news and information. Now that Grantland, Quartz, The New Yorker, and Rafael Nadal appear on my newsfeed, my procrastination has been streamlined. If you use it the right way, it’s an incredibly practical tool!

Facebook CartoonIt’s the human part that makes it tricky. It’s a trilemma, participating yet remaining the least bit fetching. The individual has to align the way he sees himself, the way he would like to be perceived by others, and the way others perceive him outside of the platform, all in an appealing way. This leads to another rule, Rule #1, in fact. It dictates: there’s nothing you can do on social media to get someone to like you if they don’t like you outside of it. Thus, altering one’s identity is strategically ill-advised because the only result is to turn off those who might’ve wanted to follow you. The biggest truth about social media is it exposes major insecurities and delusions among its contributors, whether they’re aware of them or not.

There are subtle ways of pandering to the loosely connected while appeasing the masses though. One might, purely hypothetically, change his profile picture to a glamor shot in front of the Eiffel Tower before sending a friend request to a jolie femme he recently met. Such scheming is only petty once an audience is aware that it was calculated, purely hypothetically speaking. (Throat-clear).

As has been illustrated, the politics of Facebook are difficult to navigate. It’s been made even trickier, especially for The Old Person, because usage trends evolve both naturally and due to changes in age and location. Back in 2006, when Facebook got started and I was in high school, Wall Posts were competitive because Facebook displayed how many posts you had. Further, a large number of friends was representative of high social standing, and we talked poorly about people artificially inflating that number.

These days, Likes are the currency. The super-competitive socialites have moved on to Instagram. In my Insta-episode, my 12 hours on Instagram, I mistakenly chose to “Follow” all of my Facebook friends. This was before I realized Instagram prominently displays how many people “Follow” you and how many people you are “Following.” The game is to “Follow” fewer people than are “Following” you. After 12 hours in which I was “Following” 300 people and only 40 “Followed” me back, I felt very uncool. It’s funny how a 25 year old can feel like he’s 15 again. I cut my losses and quit Instagram after a person I dated briefly in October Liked my profile picture but opted not to “Follow” me. What a bitch. It should be noted that she was very IN on Insta, as she had over 3,000 “Followers” and only “Followed” 250 people.

Rest assured, I’m still very much on Facebook, where Likes carry almost as much caché. Liking-frequency (LF) behaves a lot like an inverse tangent function (pictured below) that’s been shifted up and a little to the right. What usually happens is your Facebook Allies (FAs) Like everything you post. After a critical number, say 20, second-degree connections join in. At another critical point, those second-degree connections have been exhausted, and the likes begin to plateau around a limit. This tailing-off is the most interesting part because that’s when the real randos, the ones you haven’t seen or heard from in years, make themselves known.  Unfortunately, most of them are Spazzes.

Inverse TangentMajor life events such as engagements, career successes, graduations, and births of kids garner the most Likes. If you’re particularly wealthy or prominent, Like totals are artificially inflated via suck-ups becoming FAs. And if you’re going for glory, if you want to test out your upper-bound, there’s a formula: Alert people that something awesome has happened to you in a ‘humble’ way. My personal favorite has been, “Didn’t know I looked like such a slob until I saw this picture of me on Forbes’ 25 Under 25. Honored nonetheless!” That one got hundreds. If nothing else, Like-a-Palooza tells you who in your network you should be jealous of, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a bit scornful, secretly liking these people less, even though you don’t actually know them.

It’s these Like-related stresses causing most of the Facebook unrest, causing people to equate it to the devil and whatnot. Disagreeing with your network on who has been crowned king and queen, and so forth. To enjoy Facebook, it’s important both to know that the high-schoolish part exists and to not pay it much credence, focusing instead on the positives. And Facebook’s positives are so powerful! With it you can keep up with people you don’t see or talk to regularly. That’s a huge upgrade on the nothingness that it replaced! This brings me to my issue with Ghosts, beyond them not Liking my shit. It’s selfish to consume without contributing every once in a while. More so, it’s creepy to covertly keep tabs on everyone. We want to see you, provided it’s from neither too close up nor too far away, and we want to hear from you, provided you’re neither doing too well nor too poorly.

Advertisements

The Value of Money Beyond Functionality

Gatsby

Having attended some of America’s most elite institutions, I’ve experienced my share of decadence. Think Sunday brunches, champagne fountains, and concert pianists.

Having worked for a development organization and traveled widely, I’ve been surrounded by debilitating poverty. Consider living under a cardboard roof, having to walk miles for fresh water, and not knowing from where the next meal will come.

What separates these circumstances?

If you guessed ‘money,’ you were close. ‘Wealth’ is more accurate.

The relationship between wealth and money is similar to that of a square to a rectangle. A wealthy individual most likely has a lot of money, but someone with a lot of money is not necessarily wealthy. The difference is wealth encapsulates all things of value amassed by an individual or family unit. Money is merely a medium of exchange, the most liquid asset in a portfolio.

Wealth is obtained and passed down in many ways. The most obvious is through inheritance of an estate. But that’s only part of it. If you come from wealth, you most likely go to elite schools and liaise with the other products of the grand patriarchy. You are endowed with better learning environments and bullet-proof networks that comprise all the friends of your very successful mom and dad along with the very successful moms and dads of all the people you happened make sand-castles with at four years old. Real wealth is the type that transfers across generations on the back of superior opportunities, and it does not require an agent to do anything particularly dynamic to sustain it.

If you were born without wealth, the reasons to accumulate it are countless. Financial stress is very highly correlated with depression, anxiety, and other physical maladies. A couple of weeks ago, I got coffee with someone who is passionate about drawing but doesn’t want to pursue it professionally because she’s seen how difficult financial stress has been for her parents. According to this Forbes article, “The wealthier people are, the more satisfied they are with their lives, at least when you look at nationwide figures. They also find, contrary to what many economists believe, that there is not a point of wealth satiation beyond which happiness levels off.”

In a hypothetical situation in which you are presented two sums of money and in which the world is in no way impacted depending on which you choose, I, for one, would choose the larger bundle. Doing otherwise, I further contend, would be masochistic.

But why, I wonder, would someone from the trust-fund class make it his life’s ambition to accumulate wealth-above-all-else (WAAE)?  Isn’t that redeundant?  Isn’t there something worthier?

There are a few practical explanations. First of all, it isn’t inconceivable that a person makes a lot of money by contributing something of value while genuinely enjoying the process. In this case, bravo. These individuals, I would argue, are the most valuable in a society and should be compensated thusly. The second completely understandable reason someone from privilege might pursue WAAE is out of a sense of duty to his offspring. We want our kids to be at least as advantaged as we were, for better or for worse.

There is a level of wealth, though, that supersedes practicality. Warren Buffett once said, “I should write a book on how to get by on $500 million because apparently there are a lot of people who don’t know how to do it.” Beyond a critical point, there is no pragmatic reason to pursue WAAE. Beyond that critical point, it’s about ego.

In a conversation with an investment banking friend who comes from wealth and who aspires to billions, I finally got an honest response to the burning question, why? He gave three reasons. The first is that he wants to know that no matter how badly his kids and grandkids fuck up, they’ll end up fine. The second is that, after a certain level of wealth accumulation, the world becomes your toy.  Excess becomes an art constrained only by imagination. The third is ego. He wants to walk into a room and have people whisper about what he’s done and how much he’s worth.

businesscard-2gan793

Reasons two and three are related in that if a person leverages wealth in a creative way, people will whisper about it. A different friend of mine, a guy who worked at SAC Capital, visited Stephen A. Cohen’s house one time. Since then, whenever I’ve seen him, he’s heralded how his former boss has a room filled with original Picassos, just because he likes Picasso. Next to the Picasso Room is the Monet Room. My first friend, the one who divulged his three reasons for coveting billions, started salivating when recounted The Tale Of The Picasso Room. He wants private planes.

A private plane is just a symbol, though. How can a person work 16-hour days with a private plane as his salvation? No, it isn’t about the plane at all. What he wants is to win one of the most competitive games on Earth. To him, money is a scoreboard, and his competitors are the other prospective billionaires. What really motivates him isn’t a private plane, it’s the person sitting next to him making more money but who he thinks he’s better than. In the halls at work, all he hears about are people cashing in on jackpots. He almost screamed to me, “There are those rats all around, doing it in so many different ways!”

In the wealth game, only one measurement matters. How you got it carries far less weight than the number at the bottom.  After all, Stephen A. Cohen plead guilty to insider trading. What my friend wants isn’t a billion dollars or a private plane, it’s the knowledge that he played a game very, very well. He wants to win. I understand that. I understand that very, very well, and I hope he gets there.

The well-wishes are mutual, too. He sees that I’m playing a different game. He respects more than most the fact that I wrote a novel, and he hopes it finds a good publisher. The competition (ie. those rats), it should be noted, are the others playing his game who he thinks he’s better than but who are currently ahead of him. I feel that same spite when reading a book I don’t think is as good as mine but somehow found a publisher.

The venerable Donald Trump once said, “(Money) is but a scorecard that tells me I’ve won and by how much.”  Later on he retreated, “You have to measure somebody by more than that. There are a lot of guys that I respect a great deal who don’t have much money. And there are guys who do have a lot of money whom I don’t much respect.” What he means is that everyone is playing a different game, and a person should be judged not based on how well he plays your game, but on how well he plays the one he has chosen. More so, what he means is that you can be good at a game but still be a sleazeball.   That Trump said so himself is either ironic or self-aware.

As someone who recently learned he’s too ego-driven for humanitarian work, my threshold for condemning a behavior as ‘greedy’ extends further than that of the otherwise like-minded, New York Times-quoting Liberal. I do not believe a person should be chastised for acting within his best interest, and I do believe it’s primarily the state’s responsibility to make sure an individual’s interests are aligned with society’s. However, I also contend that there is a point at which money-mongering is more detrimental to the individual than the alternative, not making as much money. That’s when I judge.

DogCatCartoonI respect a person who has a goal, no matter how obscure, and works towards it. I respect billionaires, especially the ones who got to that level by making a significant and positive contribution. What I don’t respect is the person who is so consumed by the game and with the scoreboard that he forgets how fortunate he is to be playing it at such a high level. He forgets that money has a functional purpose. He forgets that the majority of individuals are more accustomed to cardboard roofs than to champagne fountains. What I don’t respect is the person who leverages the status achieved from being very good at a game in order to excuse poor citizenship and mistreatment of others. The biggest challenge, I imagine, that faces a person society exalts as successful, is to maintain a sense of perspective. The riddle is that, by losing perspective, no matter how many pundits or sycophants hail your victories, you’ve lost in the most important game, the one everyone has to play, the daily challenge to reconcile one’s own humanity.