The first and last time I visited Diaspora was back in 2010, when the social destination was still in it’s Alpha release. Although it had a reputation, as alpha releases do, of being buggy, I was surprised at how well it worked. It was impressive, a lot like Facebook but also quite different in its design. The problem was, there was nobody there. It was like entering an eighteen story highrise apartment building in which all the tenents had been evicted, hollow and filled with virtual echoes. So I ran back to the noise of the crowd on the virtual party that is Facebook.
I stay on Facebook for the same reason everybody else stays on Facebook – because all my friends are there. We’re not talking about the folks I hang with in Winston-Salem, who I can see anytime I like over at Washington Perks or Krankies. Nah, we’re talking about people that go way back, people I knew back in the 1970s when we were trying to ignore the coming of disco and, worse, Kiss, and pretend that we could keep the spirit of the 60s alive, like forever man. We’re talking about brothers and sisters who were gone forever from my life, who I was sure I’d never see again and who were already planted in the ground or turned into ashes as far as I knew.
But now we’re on Facebook, with gaps in our mouths where there used to be teeth, bare scalps that were once covered by freak-flag Jesus haircuts, and eyes that once always looked like crescent moons all aglow because we were so high on life and pot, but which are now surrounded by circles and wrinkles that announce to the world that we are on the cusp of no longer having to work for the man, unless they succeed in taking our Social Security away. I figure that’s bound to happen because I’ve always known that Nixon would win in the end.
I’m on Facebook because the only people who have ever meant anything to me are there and I’ve stayed all these years even though it’s no secret that the site sucks and that Zuckerberg is happily making deals for my soul, even though it’s not his to sell. His genius is that he’s figured out a way to put us all into a virtual ghetto from which we cannot escape lest we become all alone and without the people we love again. None of us wants that.
Which has given him a sense of entitlement that no person deserves. He feels free to change our privacy settings for just long enough to sell our identities to those we fear and hate until we can discover what he’s done and change them back, locking the door after the horse is glue. When we complain, he bats his eyes sincerely and tells us we have lost nothing, that we’ve always had the ability to roll back his changes, forgetting to say, “…after the damage is done.” And we have become so brainwashed, so fearful of losing our dear sweet loved ones again, that we believe him and tell ourselves that it’s his right because he offers us the wonderful service that is Facebook absolutely free. If not for Lord Zuckerberg we would be out of touch with everyone who has meaning in our lives.
But it’s not free. There is always a price to pay.
Richard Stallman was right when he wrote last July on Spiegel Online:
“Facebook’s users do not pay, so they are not its clients. They are its merchandise, to be sold to other businesses. If the company is in the US, or is a subsidiary of a US company, the FBI can collect this data at whim without even a court order under an un-American US law, euphemistically named the ‘Patriot Act.’”
So I change my settings back to where they were, get angry and fume for a while, then return to posting my meaningless radical platitudes as status updates, convincing myself that that I was upset over nothing, that Facebook really isn’t evil and that Zuckerburg is really not so bad for an overgrown frat boy.
And as soon as I have myself good and convinced, he goes and does it again. Fool me once. Fool me twice. Fool me a hundred times. A thousand. How much shame can I bear?
Like last night. I learned that every single one of us on Facebook had our email listings changed to firstname.lastname@example.org. This necessitated taking a minute and a half out of my “liking” and “sharing” to delete this account. Well, it seems that the account is actually undeletable. The best that could be done was to remove it from my wall.
So, for the upteenth time I had had enough and got angry over “nothing” again. For some reason, in this state, I dropped-in for the first time since that first visit in 2010 on Diaspora to prove to myself there is no alternative, that Camelot doesn’t exist in the online world anymore than on the non-virtual streets of America, that Diaspora is nothing more than an empty shell of functional software.
Firefox still remembered my user and password. I expected to hear the door creak from neglect as I entered what I assumed would still be an empty, lonely and creepy virtual cavern. But there were people there, lots of them, and friendly folks. And they were talking, holding discussions and generally having a good time – though it appeared to me they had mostly met on site. A suggestion was made for me to greet the newbies by commenting on their posts. “Say something about their likes and dislikes,” I was cautioned, “so they won’t think you’re a bot.” Nobody likes to be greeted by bots, be they of the virtual or Stepford variety, something else I learned back in the 60s.
What fun I had, welcoming people to Diaspora as if I lived there. It was like stepping back in time to a period in my life when my purpose was to teach people that we are all brothers and sisters in this family we call humankind. “I’m new here and I like the #Internet, #Apple and #iPads and #Samsung and #Cheese-Danishes.” “Welcome, friend. I like the Internet too. Don’t care much for Apple, but I know a lot of people do. And boy, a cheese Danish would be great right now, eh.” It was as if I was a harmonium in a cave on Mercury hearing from the other harmoniums “here I am, here I am, here I am” so I could reply “so glad you are, so glad you are, so glad you are.” And, indeed, glad I was.
On Diaspora, there is no advertising that I could see. Users own their data and their privacy. If you don’t like your information being on some public server, set up your own node on your own server, they’ll give you the software, then easily migrate all of your posts to your node, which will integrate into the whole kit and kaboodle. It’s the people’s Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or name-your-social-pleasure. There are no bosses or owners or people to tell you what to do so long as you mind your P’s and Q’s, which good people should do.
Today I’m going on Hootsuite and set up a daily post on my Facebook wall. “Come hang out with me on Diaspora. I’ll send you an invite if you like, or you can just go to the main page and get an invite yourself.” I’ll still hang out on Facebook, working undercover to do my best to convince my friends to make the move with me.
Diaspora has the potential to truly transform the social landscape. Facebook, on the other hand, is merely the establishment masquerading as anarchy, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.