Three Months Without Facebook: Some Reflections About Social Connection, Disconnection, and Technology

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You might remember that my New Year’s resolution this year was to ask Facebook to delete all the data it had collected about me, and leave. Now, I only have Facebook’s word for it that it has complied with my request (I did try to sign in using my old email address last month and it no longer recognizes me), but other than that one quick check, I have thus far resisted any temptation to reconnect.

I’m not going to kid myself that Facebook doesn’t have some sort of “shadow” account about me, based on information provided by my friends and associates who still use Facebook (for example, pictures uploaded to the service by other people that have been tagged with my name). My vote to leave was one of protest; I was simply fed up with the data privacy and security scandals that erupted time and again with Facebook, which were very effectively covered by the New York Times and other news media. I had had enough.

So, you might ask: do I miss Facebook?

Surprisingly, the answer is “no”. I have found that my overall cellphone usage has dropped a fair bit in the past three months, as I no longer haul out Facebook just to see what’s up when I have a spare minute. The truth is, most of the people I was connected to on Facebook were what I would call acquaintance-level friends, or online connections whom I had never actually met in real life.

So, do I feel disconnected without Facebook?

This time, the answer is “maybe”, but I don’t really think that Facebook is to blame for that. I think I just was using Facebook as a sort of crutch to fool myself into believing that I was actually getting my social needs met, without really taking any sort of concrete action. Taking that crutch away has made me realize that, to a large extent, I have isolated myself too much in my many virtual worlds.

But the solution to that is not to rejoin Facebook; it is to reach out in real life to my family, friends, and acquaintances, restrengthen the weak ties within my existing social networks, and form new connections. Get out with my arts and entertainment group and take in a real-life play or concert. Go out for a walk with a friend. Make a dinner date with someone I haven’t spoken to in a long while, just to touch base.

I know many of you hesitate to leave Facebook because of FOMO: the Fear Of Missing Out. I have discovered that there is a certain freedom in cutting the social media ties that bind us, and with that comes a certain serenity. (Turning off the near-endless political outrage machine that social media has become has had some immediate therapeutic effects!) I’m not saying my life is perfect—far from it!—but I am saying that I have found that there is life beyond Facebook. I just need to get out there and explore it a bit more.

Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash

And yes, I do know that Google, Amazon, and Twitter have just as much information collected about me (perhaps even more than Facebook), but my point was to take an active, symbolic stand against Facebook’s privacy abuses in particular, which I began to see as truly egregious. After a point, I decided that what I was getting out of my devil’s bargain with Facebook wasn’t worth what information I was feeding into that ecosystem.

Hey, it might be different for you. Everybody has to make their own decision on this one. But I can report that I’m happy with my decision so far. I’ll keep you posted 😉


Decentraland Launches Their Drag-and-Drop Scene Editor with a Contest

Up until recently, the only way to build an experience in the much-hyped, blockchain-based virtual world Decentraland was to use their rather non-user-friendly command-line SDK. Note that Decentraland is still in closed alpha; numerous developers have been impatiently waiting for an opportunity to get in and try Decentraland out. (Me among them.)

Well, Decentraland has now announced a new, easy-to-use, drag-and-drop editor to create scenes, called the Builder, and to promote it, they are having a contest. Prizes include MANA (their in-game cryptocurrency) and LAND (parcels of virtual land on which you can publish your creations for other avatars to visit).

There’s obviously been a lot of thought and effort put into this new scene builder. You start off by selecting what size of LAND parcel you want to work with, anywhere from 1 to 32 parcels. You can select and change the default ground texture, and place items on the ground from a side menu of objects: trees, ponds, fences and paving stones, fire pits and furniture, even an extensive array of Chinese Year of the Pig themed items such as gates and statues. You simply save your created scene under your email address to automatically enter it in the contest. Simple!

But there are some puzzling and creativity-limiting choices made with the builder, too. Let’s compare it to the basic prim-building tools used in Second Life. In SL, you use the basic building blocks (cubes, spheres, pyramids, cylinders, etc.) to craft an item and texture it from scratch, which is something you can’t do with Decentraland’s builder. If none of the provided premade trees meets your fancy, you’re out of luck; you cannot modify any of the objects in any way, other than to move them around on your LAND or rotate them. (You also cannot resize objects.) I find this lack of basic building blocks to work from puzzling.

Another example: there are no wall, roof, door and window pieces with which to build a house for yourself. All you’ve got to choose from are a few small booths and sheds. It seems strange to me that they would provide all these building blocks, but omit what I would consider a basic kind of building block for people who are interested in making their first homestead. To put it another way, it’s a rather weird assortment of LEGO pieces you have to build from! Another drawback of the builder is that there is no way to import a mesh object to a scene you are building. If it doesn’t already exist in the included inventory, sorry, but you’re out of luck. You’re better off sticking with the SDK.

My overall impression is that the new Decentraland builder tool has gone so far in the opposite direction from their difficult-to-use SDK, to make it so easy to use, that it has exactly the opposite problem, too: it’s overly simplistic and limited in use, and therefore unlikely to satisfy those people who have already spent their hard-earned MANA on expensive parcels of LAND. I find myself still wanting something in between the two provided solutions, the Builder and the SDK.

Anyway, if you’re interested in entering the contest, here are the details:

Decentraland is giving away a total of 900K MANA and 50 different parcels of LAND to people who create truly inspiring scenes with the Builder. That’s over $50,000 USD worth of prizes!

We’ve broken down the grand prizes as follows:

  • 1st place: 200000 MANA
  • 2nd place: 150000 MANA
  • 3rd place: 100000 MANA
  • 4th place: 50000 MANA
  • 5th place: 25000 MANA

Each of the top five finalists will also be given some premium LAND in locations yet to be announced!

The rest of the forty five creators will be awarded 7500 MANA and parcels of LAND.

Good luck! You might win a serious cash prize and some land to boot!

Reader Survey: What Sort of Content Do You Want to See on the Blog?

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

I seen to have hit a dry spell for the blog. (Hey, after 1,128 blogposts, it was bound to happen eventually!)

So, I have decided to post a brand-new reader survey, which will run for one week—until midnight Central Time, March 30th, 2019. As before, repeat voters will be blocked by website cookie and IP address. So please take a minute and fill out the poll, letting me know what you would like to see more (and less) of on this blog. There’s a space at the end to add your own comments.

I will make the results available on March 31st, 2019, along with some commentary. Thanks for your input!

PokerStars VR: A Social VR Platform Based on Poker

PokerStars VR is a social VR poker game which was released late last year in Early Access on both Steam and the Oculus Store:

Based on the trailer alone, it sounds as if the closet thing to PokerStars VR which I’ve already reviewed on this blog is VR Trivia Battle (formerly known as Kiss or Kill). PokerStars VR would appear to have the same kind of simplified, head-and-shoulders avatars with disembodied hands.

PokerStars VR is a free-to-play game, so I decided to download it and give it a spin, just to check out the social aspects of the game. (I should add that I am not a card player at all, so don’t expect any sort of reviews as to the level or authenticity of poker gameplay.) You start off in an opulent casino lounge, where you can spin a large prize wheel to win in-game currency to gamble with, once every eight hours:

After that, you have the choice of joining an existing poker game, or hosting your own (in one of several different settings such as Macau 2050 or The Monte Carlo Yacht). Each game can have up to 8 players. I did notice that some games required you to know a passcode in order to join.

Like I said, I know zero about card games in general, and I’m particularly clueless about poker in particular. So I can’t really comment on the gameplay in PokerStars VR. I’ve had people tell me on the Discord server that they’ve found the game very social and that they’ve made new friends. I have added PokerStars VR to my ever-growing list of social VR/virtual worlds. Note that you do need to have a VR headset (Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) in order to play. 

PokerStars VR is a good example of a niche social VR platform, which is limited to one thing only (poker), and which it seems to do well (at least, according to all the positive reviews on Steam and the Oculus Store). Since I don’t plan on learning how to play poker, I am going to leave it at that.