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Barbara Basting
The Algorithm and I

The post I’m now sharing was somewhat unsettling: “Barbara joined Facebook 6 years ago!”

12 Feb 2011 — 12 Feb 2017

Barbara Basting, 24.03.2017

Facebook recently wanted to make merry with me. To this aim it posted an entry on my notice board, which is actually closed to others. Because of the trolls. But for the FB people this barricade apparently doesn’t apply. Must be in the small print. The post I’m now sharing was somewhat unsettling: “Barbara joined Facebook 6 years ago!” I recognize my profile picture on the largest button. A selfie I took some time ago in front of a very corrugated silver-foil wall in an exhibition by Joëlle Turlinckx in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Basel, and in which I look like a streak of oil paint. Absurd attempt at camouflage. On the smaller buttons I recognize the selfies of my so-called Facebook friends. In the middle of the button salad an arrow. An animation to click on.
Here an urgent warning. It’s cringeworthy. A mockery. As thanks for all the years of FB membership I’m offered a mediocre animation in the style of a somewhat inane children’s book. It shows a balloon rising into the air with a wow-smiley and a card with my first name hanging from it. Then comes the text “Today may be just another day. And yet it’s something very special.” Why? Because it’s my Facebook anniversary, of course. Apparently I’ve been on Facebook since F­ebruary 12, 2011. The animation then presents me with a pinball machine with the magic date on a calendar page on top. Then like-love-rage buttons race through the gadgetry like pinballs, and along with a few pics from my past—called my “timeline”—the machine emits a spinsterly sigh of “How time flies!” The following five or six photographs have been fished out by the algorithmic ladle.

This so vivid presentation of my Facebook anniversary warrants a comparison with my hitherto service anniversaries as an employee. It’s the way of the world that sitting tight in a job is no longer acknowledged as generously as it used to be. On the whole you can be glad if you’re allowed to stay, or if you can stand the work long enough—and in particular if it isn’t just supposed to provide you with a living but also, quaintly, with meaning and work fulfillment. The unpaid work for Facebook is unconvincing in this respect, I’m afraid.

It does, at least, provide some gratification in the form of likes and free souvenirs. To be more exact these are algorithmically generated chance and forced souvenirs. I recently read, in a clever and most enlightening study by the literary theorist and social-media expert Roberto Simanowski, that precisely because of their algorithmic randomness these souvenirs, these memories are never joined into a genuine, coherent narrative, but only bait us with the illusion of one. Sadly, I admit it, this visual bait works fine with me. Because Facebook does without material gratification and remuneration, I have decided to participate monetarily from now on in the success, to which I have contributed, of the network as an advertising platform. For my Facebook service anniversary I have purchased a Facebook share (entry-level price: around 133 dollars). Now we’ll see how the trade in illusions develops.

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