Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
March 28th, 2006



David Stein brings up a provocative article by Arleen Spenceley encouraging us not to get absorbed in the virtual social networking world:

I thought of AIM as a great way for a writer to communicate. After all, it’s easier for me to explain things more clearly in writing than vocally. I excused MySpace as an electronic community great for keeping in touch with my friends, classmates, random strangers, good musicians, etc. But the longer I used it, the more it fostered a sickening obsession with myself, even if it did take me forever to notice that. My electronic community “great for keeping in touch” gave me a reason to take pictures of myself on every good hair day and to talk about myself in detail. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.”

Last May, I explained quite eloquently why I even maintain this blog. As more and more people my age join me in establishing presences on the Internet, I’ve often noted that, with only a few notable exceptions, their reasons for even getting on the Web are becoming more… shall we say, shallow.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I started this blog at MingerWeb, my first online “profile”, if I could even call it that. That was way back before the terms “personal publishing” and “social networking” became real buzzwords – nay, the very mantra – of the Web (2.0) itself.

Don’t worry, I won’t turn this post into yet another of those diatribes by a reminiscing oldtimer. It’s just that, I think jumping on the bandwagon before the bandwagon arrived really did me a service this time. When I established an online presence, my purposes were decent enough: I wanted to learn how to create things. Code. Program. Write.

When I hear that another of my real-life friends or classmates has started a blog or a profile at some social networking site, I don’t hear anything about a purpose: the person was just bored out of their wits and decided to get an account for the heck of it. If they’re angry enough a person, they’ll rant and rave their days away on the site. Is it any wonder why there are so many one-entry, abandoned blogs out there?

Those who know me will have heard of my contempt for the likes of Xanga, MySpace, and Facebook. Why is that? Precisely because it’s one giant, conflated popularity contest. Even if you’re not trying to be popular. Just think about it: what do the systems behind those sites reward? More and more “friends”. More and more “eProps”. More and more wall comments. That’s why everyone was so ticked that a prankster wrote an Ajax worm that added over a million users to his friends list overnight.

What dismayed me was how much of a stark contrast these “friends” services presented against the egalitarian/productive goals of projects like Wikipedia and Mozilla that I had come to involve myself in. But—

These people just want to post pictures of themselves online? Couldn’t they be doing something better with their lives?

For the most part, I’ve seen something peculiar and very fortunate happen to various blogging communities. “Blogs are only really worth reading when the author has something to say,” Mr. Ott once told me, and it’s becoming apparent that the vast majority of people who really don’t have something worthwhile to say just vanish. Their pithy stream of useless blog posts just ends mid-sentence, as soon as blogging becomes a chore. And good riddance to them; our collective IQ may have just risen a tad!

Not lost to me is the irony that I may be propagating such drivel by running Planet Xavier. But don’t get me wrong: I understand that it gets boring to constantly read lengthy philosophical or “emo” posts day in and day out – I get that reading pX sometimes. There’s a difference, though, between expressing yourself and pumping out loads of smalltalk (quizzes, for instance) just to keep the conversation going. Thankfully, those who write well and write good tend to keep at it, and that’s what makes pX worth existing, because you don’t have to spend hours searching the haystack for those few good posts.

On the flip side, these “social networking” sites like Facebook have no possible utility like “expression” to fall back on. It’s an overblown contest at vanity: let’s see who can post the most pictures of themselves, tag the most people as their “friends” – try explaining that relationship to your parents – and waste as much time as possible, all the while feeling guilty about it.

In the end, it all comes back to this: if you can’t express the reason for your blog or profile in a brief manifesto (say, one paragraph maximum), that blog or profile has no business being online. It’s the same reason not everyone can be published in a book: not everyone has any business getting published in a book. After all, no one but you will buy the book containing only the picture you took in a mirror.

To Arleen Spenceley, I say: bravo. You got off Blogspot, Xanga, LiveJournal, instant messaging, and MySpace. And you knew why. For most people, they’ll first get tired of keeping up with this lame social networking game, then they’ll quit. But they’ll feel guilty and return, and quit, and return. And that’s what we call an addiction.

In the interest of full disclosure, I too have a Facebook profile of my own, and it’s fairly lengthy. In fact, I’m embarrassed about it, but the profile was always a one-time affair for me, so I “set it and forgot it”. No addiction here.


  1. Those of you who’ve known me for awhile probably know of my contempt for so-called “social networking” sites. They’re run by for-profit companies, and that means they need a way to monetize our eyeballs. My eyeballs don’t ...


  1. One of these days I promise to sit down for an afternoon with a cup of tea and read through your amazing buy lengthy entries. Until then, I will continue to skim.

  2. How ’bout that π entry from earlier this month? That should make for some light reading.