Facebook/Meta Asks: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Die?” | Defector

Given the company’s character and scale and long ethical rap sheet, it is reasonable to construe every message issued by the company formerly known as Facebook as a threat. The company surely doesn’t intend this, but the story of the company’s growth and success has by now been overtaken by the sum of the many, many catastrophic things that it didn’t intend or just didn’t anticipate or anyway didn’t care enough to do anything about until people noticed that the company was facilitating genocidal regimes abroad and speeding the dissociative mental breakdown of basically everyone using their technology pretty much everywhere that technology is used. When people started yelling at the company about all that, Facebook changed its name. It’s called Meta, now.

The core business, which is surveillance-driven digital advertising, is still the same, and remains preposterously profitable. Stories about the company’s disastrous last fiscal quarter, in which news of declining users caused Meta’s stock to crash, also noted that the company’s revenues were $33.7 billion, a 20 percent increase year over year; the company turned a profit of $10.3 billion. That massive profit was slightly below projections, though, in large part because Meta spent $10 billion building out its capacities in the metaverse, a wholly virtual and not yet real virtual reality gambit. When and if ever the metaverse matches the experience depicted in the company’s promotional materials, it will afford users the opportunity to experience what it would be like to attend a work meeting on their home computer, or in one of the Sims games. At some point after that, the metaverse might offer an experience that was much more nuanced without being any less virtual—the opportunity to pay in cryptocurrency (which will have been purchased with actual money) for a virtual espresso that your virtual avatar can enjoy while you yourself sit somewhere in your hilarious and unoptimized human body, wearing VR goggles and feeling faintly carsick. We are not quite there yet, though.

But if you were where Meta currently is, which is presiding over a hugely profitable but ungovernable, unwieldy, widely detested derangement engine ruled by a sociopathic algorithm and an overbearing cadre of psychotic power users, reviled and abandoned by younger users and in every sense but the most literal a haunted space station overrun by goblins and skunks, you too would want to live in the future. There was something poignant about Facebook’s insistence, in the last days before the Meta pivot, that it was actually a place for people to find other people and enrich their lives in so doing—poignant because the site was quite obviously by then a place where lonely retirees turn into blood-and-soil fascists, and also because Facebook as a company had long seemed so wildly indifferent to the experience of the people using it.

The company’s new presentation, though, is noticeably sweatier and darker. This is only partially because the technology that the company is touting doesn’t really exist yet. The true darkness of it all is latent in the sales pitch, which amounts to an admission that the old reality—the haunted space station that generates the profits and luridly deranges America’s aunts—is beyond salvaging. There are just too many goblins and skunks running around, for reasons that are not really worth going into, everyone’s at fault if you think about it and there’s no sense in laying blame and so on. It’s regrettable, but what are you going to do? Try to fix any of it?

The ambitions of our reigning tech lords tend to be ridiculous and tacky—imagine, if you dare, a reality roughly as cheesy and brutal as ours, laid haphazardly over the top of this one, with the same people in charge—but there is also something ominous about the specific ways and places in which their powerful imaginations fail. The hyped-up rhetoric about Saving The World with the wonder-working power of cryptocurrency or other web3 gimcrackery is in some ways just familiar Silicon Valley noise, the lorem ipsum text swapped in for “to profit” under the Why heading on everything these people do. But while it is clear what these interests want, which is to continue to control a large and growing amount of money and power and impunity, it is also clear that they have moved on from the systems in which the rest of humanity is left to grind it out. That all is dying, and will be left to die. The new system will have a virtual nightclub in it, where you can buy drinks that you cannot in point of fact actually drink.

Anyway, this is all kind of a long way of explaining how Meta chose to make and air this advertisement for itself during the Super Bowl on Sunday:

The ad is absolutely state of the art, they picked a fantastic song to tie it together, and this vision of the metaverse is objectively a more appealing one than Mark Zuckerberg pitched late last year, which was a virtual space in which Zuckerberg himself slipped into an avatar that looked at most 10 percent more uncanny than he does in real life and then answered text messages. That this advertisement is so well-made, though, only serves to underline what an astonishingly bleak and hopeless vision is for sale, here. Everything you have and everyone you care about will be taken from you by forces beyond your control, the ad says. You will be surplus to requirements, first fungible and ridiculous and then literally disposable. You will lose everything. Which is notably a departure from the normal types of Super Bowl ads, which as recently as last decade were 1) Draft Horse Salutes A Troop and 2) Hot Babe Eats A Hamburger.

The ostensible selling point here comes in the back third. You may get rescued from the trash compactor, maybe. And you also might get a job, and you may, should you happen to put on the right pair of VR goggles, be able to experience a simulation of the world that you remember and see the absent friends that you miss, and so enjoy something like the life you once had, albeit all by yourself and only until the goggles are removed. That’s the product, but also that’s the threat.

It is unwise to read too much into any advertisement, let alone one prominently featuring Chuck E. Cheese–style animatronics. Also it is axiomatic that you will never see a commercial for anything that is actually and authentically liberating while watching the Super Bowl; that space is just too expensive, and too valuable, for anything but the institutions invested in the opposite of liberation to be able to afford access to it. But there is something infinitely bleak in seeing a company’s ambitions laid out as plainly and mercilessly as this. The world we’ve made is going to use you up, they say, but the next one might be kinder. It’s a lot easier to trust the first half than the second.

Source: Facebook/Meta Asks: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Die?” | Defector

Life of solitude: A loneliness crisis is looming – The Globe and Mail

Shaheen Shivji was happier in Kabul. There were bombs going off outside the compound where she worked for a development agency, but she preferred life in the Afghan capital to the one she had at home in Abbotsford, B.C., for one simple reason: She wasn’t lonely.

“For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t feel isolated,” she says. “I felt socially connected, I was with like-minded people. I was doing something important to better the world.”

Afghanistan became too dangerous and, after a year, Ms. Shivji moved back to B.C., where she lives with her parents and works as a communications manager for local government. She has one friend she texts regularly, but otherwise her old university crowd has married and drifted away. She yearns for simple connection in her life, to meet a friend regularly for coffee or a movie, to occasionally feel a kind hand on her arm. Work is her main source of satisfaction.

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The toll of her loneliness isn’t just emotional. At 44, she feels tired, distracted, unable to concentrate. It’s an effort to get to the gym. Over the phone, her voice becomes strained. “I just feel sad most of the time.”

Ms. Shivji feels like she’s on the outside looking in and, in that sense, she’s not alone.

In the West, we live faster, higher in the air, farther from our workplaces, and more singly than at any time in the past. Social scientists will be struggling to understand the consequences of these transformations for decades to come, but one thing is clear: Loneliness is our baggage, a huge and largely unacknowledged cultural failing.

In Vancouver, residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern. More Canadians than ever live alone, and almost one-quarter describe themselves as lonely. In the United States, two studies showed that 40 per cent of people say they’re lonely, a figure that has doubled in 30 years. Britain has a registered charity campaigning to end chronic loneliness, and last month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt gave a speech about the isolated many, calling attention to “a forgotten million who live amongst us ignored, to our national shame.”

It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.

The issue isn’t just social, it’s a public-health crisis in waiting. If you suffer from chronic loneliness, you run the risk of illness, and premature death.

“This is a bigger problem than we realize,” says Ami Rokach, a psychologist and lecturer at York University in Toronto, who has been researching the subject for more than three decades.

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“Loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, interpersonal hostility, increased vulnerability to health problems, and even to suicide.”

And yet loneliness is the longing that dare not speak its name. Keenly aware that isolation carries with it the whiff of failure, Ms. Shivji was reticent to be identified for this story. Inside every lonely adult is a kid eating lunch by herself on a bench.

Says Prof. Rokach, “There is such a stigma about it. People will talk about having depression or even schizophrenia, but … I’ve been practicing for more than 30 years, and never has anyone come to me and said, ‘I feel lonely.’ But then they start talking and it comes out.”

This is why David Sutcliffe has launched a bit of a one-man shame-reduction campaign. Mr. Sutcliffe is no one’s idea of a social outcast: He’s a handsome and accomplished actor, once a regular on Gilmore Girls and now the star of CBC-TV’s Cracked, about a detective with mental-health issues.

And yet, for his whole life, he has been plagued by a profound sense of isolation. He stayed inside. He self-medicated. When he was in his mid-twenties, his therapist asked, “Have you always been this lonely?” He burst into tears.

There was a point when Mr. Sutcliffe, now 44, felt so alone that he would get a massage just to feel another person’s touch. He has a friend in Los Angeles who runs a “hugging practice,” offering long embraces to people who have no one to comfort them. “At first it seemed like a wacky California idea,” he says, “but now it makes complete sense.”

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It was difficult for Mr. Sutcliffe to watch himself on screen during the first season of Cracked: “I saw a very lonely guy, and I know that pain wasn’t the character; it was me. But I was glad to put it out there, because it’s important for people to know they’re not alone. We’re all struggling.”

We are, indeed, but why? Chronic loneliness has roots that are both internal and external, a combination of genes and social circumstance, but something is making it worse. Blame the garage-door opener, which keeps neighbours from seeing each other at the end of the day, or our fetish for roads over parks, or the bright forest of condo towers that bloom on our city’s skylines.

Or blame an increasingly self-absorbed society, as John Cacioppo does. Prof. Cacioppo, the leading authority on the health effects of loneliness, is director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. “One of the things we’ve seen is a movement away from a concern for others,” he says in a phone interview. “Economics basically says you should be concerned about your own short-term interests. There’s more division in society, more segmentation; there’s less identity with a national or global persona, but rather on the family or the individual. People aren’t as loyal to their employers, and employers are certainly not as loyal to their workers.”

Loneliness, it turns out, is as bad for your health as smoking, or being obese. The research that Prof. Cacioppo has done with colleagues also adds to the growing body of work that shows how bad loneliness can be for your health. It shows that loneliness suppresses the immune system and cardiovascular function, and increases the amount of stress hormone the body produces. It causes wear and tear on a cellular level, and impairs sleep. As he writes in his book Loneliness, “these changes in physiology are compounded in ways that may be hastening millions of people to an early grave.”

His theory, simply, is that we are social animals who function most successfully in a collective; the physical pain and degradation caused by loneliness are a kind of early-warning signal of a failure to connect, the way the pain of a cut finger tells you to fetch a Band-Aid.

A study last year from the University of California at San Francisco showed a clear link between loneliness and serious heart problems and early death in the elderly. Seniors in the study who identified themselves as lonely had a 59-per-cent greater chance of health problems, and a 45-per-cent greater chance of early death.

Carla Perissinotto, the doctor who led the study, said she once encountered an elderly patient in a hospital emergency ward who seemed to have nothing wrong with her. She soon realized the woman was so lonely that she just wanted someone to talk to.

Older people come to mind first when we think about loneliness. As a 78-year-old woman living alone in a small Ontario city puts it, “I feel like everything is behind me, and that there’s nothing to look forward to.”

About 20 per cent of older people in this country report feeling lonely, according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report. But that’s not the whole picture, because a sense of isolation doesn’t arrive with grey hair: In a study of 34,000 Canadian university students, almost two-thirds reported feeling “very lonely” in the past 12 months. More Canadians are living alone than at any other point in history, and half again as many of them (21 per cent) are more likely to report feeling lonely than those who are part of a couple (14 per cent).

Being alone is not the same as being lonely, of course. Plenty of people are happy to sit in their studies, play World of Warcraft and not see another human being for days. The problem arises when the lonely become incapacitated by their situation, losing all sense of how to reconnect, and withdraw even further in a wearying circle. The holiday season, which comes wreathed in idealized depictions of cheery families, is particularly dreaded.

In some cases, isolation is taken to gothic extremes. In Britain, a young woman named Joyce Carol Vincent died and wasn’t discovered for three years. Neighbours ignored the strange smell coming from in her apartment and, when her body was finally found, the TV was still on. She became the subject of morbid fascination, and a documentary.

This month, the story of Harold Percival, a British veteran of the Second World War, caused a brief sensation. When he died alone in a nursing home at 99, a Twitter campaign drew hundreds to his funeral. More than a few observers wondered whether the mourners might have been better employed visiting Mr. Percival while he was still alive.

Does the wired world make us feel even more cut off?

Proponents and detractors of social media can cherry-pick from studies showing that technology makes people feel either more connected, or more isolated. But one this summer from the University of Michigan analyzed subjects’ responses to a variety of texted questions during the day, and showed that using Facebook increased feelings of loneliness and alienation: “On the surface,” the researchers wrote, “Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”

Talk to enough lonely people and you’ll find they have one thing in common: They look at Facebook and Twitter the way a hungry child looks through a window at a family feast and wonders, “Why is everyone having a good time except for me?”

Marci O’Connor, 42, is an anglophone living in the largely French-speaking community of Mont Saint-Hilaire, just south of Montreal, with her husband and two children. She “almost feels guilty” for her feelings of isolation, but years of working alone as a freelance writer have taken their toll, and she’s now applying to be a waitress so she’ll have more human contact.

She has come to believe that there is no substitute for that contact, even if it’s just a smile while delivering a beer. For a while, Ms. O’Connor advised companies on their social-media strategies, but she has become increasingly disenchanted with the online world. “It’s so hollow,” she says. “You might get a lot of likes or retweets, but it’s fragile and meaningless. It’s not like I could call any of these people at 3 a.m. and they’d help me with my flooded basement.”

Ask Vancouverites what bothers them, and you’d think they might say house prices. Drugs on the street. Not being able to get into the hot new sushi joint. But when the Vancouver Foundation asked that question, it received a gobsmacking response.

“The biggest issue people had is that they felt lonely, isolated, and unconnected to their communities,” says Kevin McCort, president of the community-outreach charity. Last year, the foundation conducted a survey of almost 4,000 Vancouverites and found that one-third of those between 25 and 34 felt “alone more than they would like.” Another one-third said they have trouble making friends. Forty per cent of high-rise dwellers felt lonely, almost twice the number (22 per cent) living in detached homes. Crucially, the study found that the loneliest also reported being in poorer health and lacking trust in others.

“Social isolation just may be the greatest environmental hazard of city living,” writes Vancouver-based author Charles Montgomery in his new book, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. “Worse than noise, pollution, or even crowding.” And the way we’ve built cities – suburbs with no central meeting place, prioritizing the car and the condo tower, passing restrictive zoning bylaws – has made the problem worse, he says in an interview. “If we’re concerned about happiness, then social disconnection in Canadian cities is an acute problem.”

Mr. Montgomery points to cities that have done things right, from Portland, Ore., turning its intersections into urban piazzas to the community gardens built in disused lofts in Berlin. Research has shown that a varied streetscape will cause people to slow down, and perhaps even exchange a smile or flirtatious glance, and that even a brief exposure to nature – cutting through a park – makes us feel more generous, and more social.

The Vancouver Foundation has another answer: It is giving out grants of $500 to people who will organize a community event that brings strangers together – a knitting circle, an origami workshop, a pumpkin-carving jamboree. Mr. McCort attended one gathering recently, and was struck by an unfamiliar sight: “No one was on their phone, or checking email. There were a hundred people, just talking and making new friends.”

On a personal level, being lonely can seem crippling, and saying “just get out and make friends” is like telling an asthmatic to climb Mount Everest. Prof. Cacioppo notes that lonely people will either withdraw into their shells or attempt to soothe their pain by lashing out. The first step, he says, is to recognize and acknowledge painful feelings, and to try to make small advances each day – by smiling at a neighbour, or performing an unexpected kindness for a stranger.

David Sutcliffe says he forces himself to keep a busy social schedule, or he would never leave the house. Group therapy has been a huge help. He also is evangelical about sharing his story, to combat what he calls “society’s tranquillity mask” – our tendecy to pretend that everything is swell, even when it isn’t. He knows he speaks for those who can’t or won’t.

“There are a lot of people walking around who feel that they don’t fit in, they don’t belong. That sense of disconnection is really common. But when you realize that you’re like everyone else, not only in your dreams and passions but also in your pain and sadness, there’s incredible comfort in that.”

Source: Life of solitude: A loneliness crisis is looming – The Globe and Mail

The National Park Service Won’t Be Silenced – Scientific American Blog Network

Trump is in power, and one of his first acts has been to gag government agencies. After the National Park Service bruised his ego by retweeting a New York Times tweet showing Trump’s inauguration numbers to be lower than President Obama’s 2009 crowd, they were ordered to stop all tweets, including scheduled ones.

He then muzzled the EPA, not only prohibiting it from using social media, but also ordering it to remove a critical page on climate change from its website and put a freeze on awarding grants and contracts critical to our nation’s environmental health. (In case you’re in any doubt as to what a Trump presidency means for climate change and the environment, just consider that one of his first official acts after being sworn in was to announce he’d be eliminating The Climate Action Plan – legislation critical to combating anthropogenic global warming.)

The USDA went silent for several days, and an email ordering them to cease “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content” until further notice. As of this writing, they have not tweeted since January 18th. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service account has only tweeted once.

Other agencies have gone silent or become considerably quieter.  It’s eerily quiet on formerly chatty government social media accounts.

But the NPS refuses to be silenced. While their main official Twitter account has fallen into line, tweeting an apology for their inauguration retweets and sticking to innocuous fluff since, the Badlands National Park official account defiantly started tweeting about climate change:

 

On Tuesday, the Twitter account for South Dakota’s Badlands National Park—a subsidiary of the National Park Service—began tweeting out climate change facts, in apparent defiance of the gag order. Someone working for the national park’s social media team went rogue and started posting climate change facts from the National Wildlife Federation’s Web site in 140-character bursts. (Trump, who can generously be described as a climate change skeptic, has previously called called climate change a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese.)

 

The National Park’s tweets were retweeted thousands of times before they were suddenly deleted later Tuesday afternoon.

 

You can see screenshots of the rogue tweets at the above link.

Not long after Badlands was brought into line, anonymous employees of the NPS went rogue. They created the AltUSNatlParkService account and, after retweeting a particularly provocative image from the Badlands account along with some climate change data, announced their intent in no uncertain terms:

Screenshot of @AltNatParkSer tweets. From the bottom (earliest) to the top tweet, they are as follows: Tweet 1: "'The pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93 ppm.'" Tweet 2: "Mr Trump, you may have taken us down officially. But with scientific evidence & the Internet our message will get out. Tweet 3: "Respect goes out to our brothers and sisters at the @BadlandsNPS. When they silence you, we will speak for you."
Screenshot of AltUSNatParkService tweets. Credit: Dana Hunter

These federal employees speaking out now understand that science is not subordinate to politics, that truth is essential, and transparency vital to a functioning democracy. They are risking their careers to ensure the public is kept informed. They’re exercising their free speech rights to ensure we know the truth.

I have never been prouder of our National Park Service than I am now.

Please follow them on Twitter. Retweet their climate change data. Support their efforts. Get the word out. And support your National Parks by donating and volunteering. Tell your elected officials to support the NPS. Take a moment to thank NPS employees during your visits. They have never needed us more than now.

We will not be silenced.

We will protect our public lands.

And we will still be here long after Trump and his disastrous administration are a bad memory.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

 

The National Park Service Won’t Be Silenced – Scientific American Blog Network.