January 25, 2014

Randi Zuckerberg Thinks We Should Untangle Our Wired Lives


how hard could it be, none of those circles are actually connected

Randi Zuckerberg is CEO of Zuckerberg Media, which, according to its 10-K, is an iphone.  If you have no idea who she is, and you shouldn't, then the answer to your one and only question is yes.

In her considerable free time she wrote a book about social media. Here's a question: why does a woman who epitomizes the online world need to write a hardback book?  Could it be there's no money in the online unless you actually own the online? I'm guessing that wasn't in the book.  Ok.

randi zuckerberg bookstore.jpg

I understand she gives a lot of interviews too, I'm sure they're TEDy optimistic and unactionable, but she's apparently an expert, shrug, here is her insight from six years of watching people work at Facebook: social media is a bad thing, unless it's used responsibly, then it's a good thing.  Settle in for nuance and shades of grey, all 50 of them.

She thinks it's important to "find a balance" between plugged and unplugged life, a phrase you hear all over the plugged place but has suspiciously avoided scrutiny and is an example of media allowing you to debate the conclusions but forcing you to accept the form of the argument, in this case that a balance is what is desirable. 

I'm definitely not advocating a complete disconnect or complete unplug, that's not realistic... But what I am thinking is that people, we've reached this point where we feel like we just need to be always on. Always answering emails 24/7 connected, and the pendulum needs to swing back a little bit for us to reclaim a bit of our own time...

Someone is lying, time to figure out why.  While she misdirected us with "pendulum" and "thinking" and "little bit" which are words vicious ideologues use to sound nonideological and "realistic", she substituted the plugged/unplugged balance with work/home balance, don't think I didn't see it.  Consequently, when someone/Randi tells you about the negatives of being too plugged in, they almost always blame work emails, as if the things that pay for your dinner are what distract you from dinner.   Really?   If I had to make a sexist yet 100% accurate prediction I'd say that it isn't hers but her husband's work emails that she can't stand at dinner, I'm pretty sure that no husband has ever gotten away with telling his still Anne Taylored wife to put her phone away, "the senior partner will just have to wait, we're about to say grace."   I'll cover myself by saying that, indeed, wives do sometimes answer work emails at dinner, however and importantly if this is occurring you can be sure the wife is extremely, extremely bored with everything that happens after 5pm, and this is compared to everything that happened before 5pm which was also *yawns*.  "Huh," she soundboards as she one thumbs a text to anyone else,  "Obama said that, you don't say, pandering to the flavor profile demo, what are you gonna do."   I'll be first to observe Obama has failed in every imaginable way, but Jesus, if that's your dinner conversation, just Jesus.  One of you should cheat just to force the eye contact. 

Email is a convenient scapegoat not just because "family time should be protected" but because it gets us out of inquiring what went wrong with our home life that we could ever be tempted by work emails, and the avoidance of this inquiry is highly suspicious, i.e. on purpose.  "Honey," she says putting down her Trader Joe's summer salad, "I gotta take this."  Only in America does gotta substitute for wanna so we can avoid the guilt.  #behavioralgenetics.  You may recall industrialization/capitalism/Carousel of Progress's great promise of fewer working hours, and for the most part this has come true, please observe what we have done with our increased leisure time: filled it back up with work.  There was some consternation that evil capitalism had forced Target's employees to work all day on Thanksgiving, "no respect for tradition or family time!"  But how many of them wanted to be home on Thanksgiving?  The customers sure didn't, they were willing to camp out/throw down to get in a store what they coulda got easier/cheaper/faster from their Zuckerberg Medias.  "But the store itself has the responsibility to respect tradition!"  And only in America do we want the system to force us to do the right thing so we can take the credit.  #behavioraleconomics

One of our time's great sociological questions is why we filled downtime back up with work, and the reason is it's better than alcoholism.  At some point during the Truman Administration home life became more stressful than work life, where stressful is defined either as hysterical drama or rheumatismy boredom, and by Reagan II the home was no longer a respite from modern society's incessant demands to produce or at the very least a place to get a nap.  Home became work, it became a work, and not coincidentally this parallels precisely the history of homework.  ("But don't you think kids get too much homework nowadays?"   Sure, if you're doing it for them, you have become so myopic about your kids' possible trajectories that not only do you think faking their grades is their only hope, you think that will work.)  Neither is there home cooking at home, Trader Joe's does it cheesier and anyway it's on TV.  The XYs have long been resigned to this, hence their desire to "get an early start" or eat their lunch in their cars, while little girls were hooked on the potential of a fulfilling work and home life, or at least work or home life, now women are in on the reveal...  and it is shaking their very souls.   WTF.   If home is stressful for adults, think about how bad it is for teens, all they want to do is hang out and talk about how phony everything is and instead they're stuck upstairs with Snapchat while listening to their parents masturbate in separate rooms.  Better than listening to them divorce, I guess. 

Part of the reason work and home keep mixing despite our professed desires is that that's how Americans were taught to see an aspirational adult life.  In every TV show and movie after Leave It To Beaver the gimmick has always been that the protagonist's job and personal life overlap-- doctors in love, CIA agents defending their family, late nights at the office trading zingers or abuse stories.  While we no longer think we want the overlap, the shows reinforced the false psychology that a person is something, all the time and everywhere, and the backdrop world "sees" it, accepts it.  This applies just as much to negative depictions of work/life overlap, e.g. the obsessed cop whose wife is now divorcing him because of the job: the point isn't that the overlap is "good", that's not the aspiration; the point is that the structure of these depictions represents the fundamental narcissistic fantasy: a fixed and clear identity-- a character-- seen by a potential audience.  This is why home is not relaxing: we are working to not let it be all that we are.

Work, email, and Target's hours, expand to fill the time available, by request.  We took one look at the void and lack of interesting 5pm TV and started texting to anyone as fast as we could.  The truth is we're not overwhelmed by work emails, we just laid them on top to make it seem like we're buried in work.  Here's your #OWS update: work doesn't bleed over into home because capitalism is evil, work bleeds over to home because we have no idea what else to do at home, and thank God we can blame it on work.  "But capitalism reduces human relations to market relationships."  Oh my god, feed Bobby for a second, I have to totally tweet that.


Together with work emails, the social media evangelists will lump in porn and gaming, because those are seen by the person in the doorway as "bad."  Their inclusion in the plugged/unplugged balance is to get you to accept the form of the argument--that there is a moral balance: work emails, porn, gaming= time away from human relations= bad; while things like Facebook and texting are "used responsibly can connect us all", these require a balance.  "Balance" means "not at dinner", though even this is nuanced, because while you shouldn't check your Instagram during dinner, it's perfectly acceptable to post to your Instagram during dinner, pretty sure that's what it's for.  Here's a foodie tip: the secret ingredient in every Instagramed delicacy is salt, and blowing the whites.

The false dichotomy of "the balance" starts even earlier with reversing the direction of the vector of plugged/unplugged.   "You need to unplug" assumes the default is plugged, but the vast majority of our response to the blinking blue light is a volitional search for anything else but now.  It's worth recalling that the phrase, "you need to unplug" came from The Matrix, and the phrase was important because it had an ironic second meaning: not "you need to stop drawing from the Matrix" but "you need to stop feeding it at the expense of your life."

"But the internet is soooooo distracting."  No, it's not.  A headline like, "When It Comes To Pubes, You Have The Following Options" feels like totallies but after ten thousand or so similar headlines, aren't you wise to the bait and switch?   I frequently get emails informing me that there are sexy singles available to chat right now, and I never click on them anymore.  On some site I saw a story to the effect, "You're not going to believe what a kitten and Miley Cyrus did at the AMAs!"  Not believe what?  That a Disney approved character-actor "won the internet" by pretending to sing a song written by the middle aged white guy who writes all of the 3:40s in front of a stage background of the hackest internet meme of all time-- and together they cried like girls?  "This. Is. Everything."  Yeah, I believe it. 

dr luke.jpgtell HarperCollins that women will like what you tell them to like, just get a boob to promote it

Haters beware, clicking on a link because "I can't believe a stupid person actually wrote such a a stupid article about a stupid thing" is 100% the exact same mental process, and anyway, the system doesn't care about your motivations, so long as you act in the required direction.
"OMG, you're referencing something that happened like, three months ago?"  But it was the top story at the time-- so it wasn't that important?  You think you've forgotten about it because it's pop culture stuff, but this is wrong, you've forgotten about it because you are conditioned for novelty, so all topics become forgettable, which, in the logic of the system, is sort of the point of the technology.  "Come on, that's just a bunch of BS, of course we can distinguish between pop crap and things that matter."   Yes, but when the dopamine falls, you won't care.   #SandyHook  
"So because social media is mostly a waste of time, we should shut it off and be more present in our offline relationships?"  No, that's what the internet paid Randi to tell you so that the default=plugged.  This standard criticism of social media and texting is backwards: it doesn't detract from real life relationships, it represents a much desired break from them.   Having to be with someone, especially someone you're not having sex with, especially someone you're not having sex with anymore, is very, very hard; having people see you, especially when you're not amidst the symbols that you believe form your "real" identity-- say, a hedge fund trader who has to be home with the kids or a pretty girl in a sweats at a supermarket-- this is a kind of exposure far more embarassing than any selfie.  What if they confuse that as the real you?  You can see a version of this in married couples who talk to each other, joke, eat, raise kids, do couples stuff, but don't make eye contact.  Avoiding eye contact is a way of keeping reserved a part of yourself, to yourself. "I'm here," you whisper to yourself, "but I'm not going to let this all overtake me, I'm more than this."  This message is strictly internal, after all, you may not be looking at them but they can still see you.   Avoiding eye contact is avoiding a full on Sartre moment, the "scrutinous gaze" of the other.  "Umm, first of all, scrutinous isn't a word, second of all, Sartre called it 'the look'."  Um, hello?  My eyes are up here.
What the couple should have done to avoid this calamity is formed a shared identity, "this is us".  But how were they going to do this?  Everything conspires to drive them apart, hell, even a big tent TV show would be a shared hour but media loves multiple Nielsen boxes so just go buy yourself another flatscreen and watch your own targeted ads.  On the other hand, when TV ignores demography and tries to make a show for all audiences, you get Laverne & Shirley,  and you get it for eight seasons, so I admit there's no easy solution.  "What about not watching TV?"  Hush your crazy mouth, telling America not to watch a Disney network is a non-starter, and for clarification ESPN= (0.5)Disney; the Princesses, Thors, ABC, the theme parks-- all that combined is merely the other half.  Now you know what's a stake.  The NFL's been handing out traumatic brain injuries for decades, but the moment Disney decided it needed the women that was the end of lockerroom hijinx.  But until it completes the NFL's rebranding as a kinder, bully-free, concussionless game, complete with engagement rings and Us Weekly's "Ten Hunkiest White Or Articulate Quarterbacks", it's going to have to keep broadcasting Nashville.  Please don't make the mistake of assuming that the NFL wants female viewers, it couldn't care less, the ad dollars from beer and trans fats and cars are plenty.  What the NFL/Disney needs is to reduce the tension between females and males over all that's spent on it: merchandise, tickets, time, men would gladly watch all the commercials on Sundays if women didn't drag them to baby showers and home repairs.  Sports are male expenses that women reluctantly accept, but there's always a ceiling and if women were more into the experience then that ceiling could go up, way up.  The key is to rebrand the NFL not as a man's game but as America's game, thus reducing the barriers to consumption.
("You know, you could use an editor."  You could use some free association, it may help you see unconscious connections which drive your life.  "I find that weed helps."  Amateur.)
The only shared identity these couples pull off nowadays is "the kids", which is why they can make eye contact easily when they talk about them.  But relationship experts have analyzed today's marital difficulties completely backwards: rather than trying to find some common connection amidst the the turbulent waters of life, they are actually struggling against the current of the relationship to keep themselves private.  This is what they practiced for two or three decades, how can they unlearn the skills?  They fought so many years to be seen as individuals, "be true to yourself", a few years past the exploratory segment of the relationship and a shared mental space becomes suffocating.  So for them, plugging in gives them some privacy, a micro-break from shared reality, under the rhetorical cover of "connecting with others."
But why do we need "the balance?"  What does it replace, what went missing?  The very thing Holden Caufield hated: "phoniness", protocol and ritual for seemingly no purpose.  Politeness is fine, but why do I have to make small talk?  Why do I have to pretend to care about the weather?  Why, after a decade of marriage, should dinner be a regular review of the somewhat boring goings-ons of "the day"?  Because that formality is freeing, it allows self-conscious physical bodies to get used to standing next to each other without having to be acting, this includes husbands and wives.  When dinner is a controlled process with "manners" and expected topics of shared conversation and start and end times, as boring as it may get, it is boring, not you.  Women are especially sensitive to this absence of convention, this is one reason for the popularity of Downton Abbey, not to mention alcohol and iphones at dinner.  It is against this background of "phony" convention that teens can productively "rebel" and find their own individuality against a status quo; fighting against an emotionally illogical, arbitrary, unpredictable structure results in learning the opposite lesson, "whatever gets me through the day..."  Without this structure to social activities, when the "natural" conversation stops being interesting-- and it will, even if most of you weren't bad at it-- it would be a judgment about your relationship, about you.  And you'll beg St. Jobs to blink a path to safety because otherwise you have to sit there with no existential support.
Texting and social media's slowness gives them their power for this purpose.  You read a text, and it lingers, it keeps your attention because it's all there is; and then you respond with a piece of your real self, and wait for a response... what's happening is time travel-- while you are on pause, the rest of not-your life goes faster.  It is far more efficient at killing time than a phone call.


What no one will ever say out loud for fear of being labeled -ist is that "finding a balance" is something only women are encouraged to do.  For men it is supposed to be binary, on or off.  "Honey," the wife says without making eye contact, "please put your phone away."  --But it's the senior partner.  "He can wait, we're about to say grace." 
Unlike men, women, as a group, are constantly being reminded by the media that social media is a necessary use of time-- just find a balance.  To be precise: it is not marketed as a diversion, or useful, or helpful or fun-- it's necessary to their existence.  The danger is branded as "excess."  And this coincides their role as the primary consumers and consumables, which is why Randi's stupendously uninsightful book is being heralded wherever online women congregate.   The book itself isn't meant to be read, it can't be read, it can only be hurled.  It is a MacGuffin; her interviews aren't promotions for the book, the book is an excuse for the interviews. No, of course she doesn't know this.  I'm sure she thinks she's talented and smart and fiercely independent (two fingers to the sky!), but getting her to televangelize about finding a balance (=the default is plugged) to her demo of underachieving credit card applicants is what suits the suits.   "How come Facebook's board has so few women?" ask the very women who would rather use it than run it.  Randi also wrote a children's picture book about a child who is obsessed with her ipad but "learns to unplug once in a while", tellingly even though Randi has a son she wrote the book about a girl-- a girl she named after the internet.  Get it?  Because she can't.  However, not all women are the target demo of Randi's lip synching, the CEO of General Dynamics is a woman, I think she has a higher security clearance than the entire Senate, and I know for a fact she builds alien spaceships, why not interview her about how she uses social media to promote her brand and make connections and break ceilings?  Because there's no Like button for hard work or triple integrals, which is doubly interesting because calculus was invented to make hard work easier.  "I just don't get math."  Can't do math if you weren't taught to think logically, and logic is tough on kids' self esteems and makes them way less submissive, easier just to put on a video.  "They're obsessed with the Wiggles."  And apple juice, whose fault is that?  So instead of "if you do the same amount of hard work as everyone else, you should end up in the exact same boat as everyone else, and it will sink because none of you know anything about boats," we get Randi Zuckerberg, a lot, who tells us about the occupational hazards of posting baby pictures:

First yawn? Adorbs. Facebook it. First hiccups? Obviously all my friends want to see that. Snoozing in a park? OMG, soooo cute! Who wouldn't want to see baby photos 50 times a day?

I soon found out. I had some pretty honest co-workers, and one day one of them decided to give it to me straight. "Randi," she said, "Asher is adorable, but you can't keep posting a zillion baby photos. You have a professional reputation to uphold."

I just got the bends.  What the hell kind of profession could she have had that she's on Facebook all day and then the only criticism she gets is that her pics are of babies?  Observe that the discussants are both women.  Who does woman B believe will judge Randi harshly for her baby pictures?  Men?

All this worry about baby pictures vs professionalism exists in the minds of women, not men, which is why this was in HuffPo, using the atemporal logic of narcissism: if baby pictures can sabotage a woman's professional reputation, therefore she has a professional reputation.  Men are irrelevant to this discussion, a man would never bother to tell Randi anything because the minute a professional man sees a professional woman's baby pictures, she's moved from Bcc: to cc:.   A Cosmo-feminist will hashtag this as evidence of inherent sexism, but you may want to wait a few paragraphs before you hit RT.

The easy "male" criticism is to say that too many baby pictures reveals her head isn't in the game, she's not focused on capitalism and destroying the competition so her boss can make more money.  "Wait, what?"   Don't overthink it, it's a magic trick, you're being permitted to debate the consequences because you've unknowingly accepted the form of the argument.

It's not that babies are more interesting to women than men, it is that baby pictures are more interesting to women than men.  Men would rather look at a picture of a used condom than a baby, this is a scientific fact.  They get that the baby is precious to you, but there is nothing otherwise in a picture to connect to.  Furthermore, showing a baby picture to a man is an aggressive act because it demands a reaction, you showing him a picture of your baby is entirely for your benefit and not at all for his, it is a dare, in much the same way as a woman on a first date telling you she doesn't play games is a dare, a dare you shouldn't take, trust me on this, overpay the check in cash and run.  I'll grant that there is some level of bonding that occurs between women over baby pictures, worth exploring later, but not for men: men will only (and rarely) show photos of their children doing something, the activity is what represents the kid as kid and them as a parent.  Showing a man a baby picture is equivalent to showing a woman a picture of his car.  "A #baby is more important than a car, dontcha think?"  Yes, but a picture of a baby isn't more important than a picture of a car.  "Yeah, but--"  I know.  Logic is mean. 

In the world where the media postulates social media as an absolute requirement of the modern era-- the era where everything is fetishized-- no one is permitted to make the distinction between a value and the picture of a value, they are made equivalent, so daring to criticize Randi's baby pictures is made to sound like misogyny or misobaby.  It's not. I love food but if you ask me to look at a picture of a food I will poison your toothpaste.  Be careful: the point is not that a woman shouldn't post her baby pictures, the point is that the system cannot profit from her baby except as a photo, so that in order to get them to do it more-- to be online more-- the system teaches them to overvalue the photo; and this must necessarily be at the expense of the object itself.  #porn.
And here again you glimpse the long con: a power struggle packaged as a gender war.
Usually you imagine "sexism" as a pervasive institutional power directed top down against you, oppressing you with sexist jokes or heels at work, but it's much more illuminating to understand sexism as just another tool to increase consumption.  An obvious example:  it costs women more to dress professionally, even though they get paid less.  But sexism can be run in the reverse, too, for women's "benefit."   Example: We say things like "the public has a ravenous hunger for celebrity photos," but this is demonstrably untrue, paparazzi pics are almost entirely a product for the female demo, no man wants to see a picture of any of the Kates or their babies or their homes.  However you will never hear this said out loud in the media, they will tell you (and you will parrot) that the greedy force that creates the paparazzi is "America" or "the public's obsession with celebrity"-- men are lumped in with women.  Men's relationship to celebrity  after teenage years is completely different, the pictures matter much less than "information"-- a pic of Lebron is worth way less than his stats.  But the easy money is in digital photos, monetizing envy has very low fixed costs and great margins, and nothing can be permitted to threaten the money, so when Princess Di is driven off the road we blame the paparazzi; but then, in a surprising admission of guilt, the media comes out and accepts some responsibility-- although in a very specific way: "the media has succumbed to the ravenous demands of the public's infatuation with glamour and wealth."  Because if everyone-- not just women, but everyone-- wants this, then women have less guilt about wanting it and men get the sense nothing can really be done to change it.   Do you understand the infrastructure that is necessary to cause people to disavow something that they know with total clarity, just to keep the money flowing?   The moment male America decides out loud that we're harassing actors and actresses not for "our" prurient interest but for women's prurient interest only, to the media's financial benefit, they will require an open carry permit for telephoto lenses; tell them gays also like Us Weekly and they will repeal the First Amendment.  Believe it.  The system repackages a female product as a "public" product to get it past the hairy misogynists who hate women's media because it doesn't wisely use a ball, and if a couple of celebrities have to be harassed or die for their ballless entertainment, whatevs, there's no reasonable right to privacy on the street or on a beach.   The consumers are women, the rest of you pad the numbers.  "It's hard for me to tell what side you're on here." Sides: the form of the argument you've been trained to accept.   Still not convinced?   Swap out "America's celebrity culture" with "America's gun culture" and "male America" with "Senator" and see which Amendment gets repealed.  "Now I'm totally confused what side you're on."  Jesus.  Just Jesus.
It's right about here that I should again remind everyone that for five decades we've been repeatedly assured that men are visual creatures.   Time to rewrite the evo psych texts to support the new economy.

Part 2 here