Is Facebook Useful?


I’m deeply ambivalent about Facebook. Inevitably, in the wake of a controversial news event, my feed fills with a stream of indignant ranting. A day later I’ll see the “thoughtful” reflections, and a day after that, “thoughtful” reflections on the reflections.

I don’t want to seem holier than thou. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a mildly public person with a blog, podcast and books, I’d probably be participating in this social media shadow boxing and punch back with my own intemperate comments or “thoughtful” reflections. I know that those outbursts would come back to haunt me so I restrain myself. But, like watching a playground fight, I can’t resist reading those back and forth comments. Which is why, exhausted by the social media response to the Paris attacks, I decided to take a week off of Facebook and reflect on whether or not it is a useful tool.

Facebook is not all bad. It’s great for:

  • Keeping in touch with friends and family that I might not see on a regular basis.
  • Hearing about and helping promote interesting events.
  • Getting advice and/or help on homesteading projects.
  • Getting rid of stuff and finding free things for a project.
  • Access to expert advice (the Garden Professors Facebook group is a good example of this).
  • Hearing the opinions of folks I don’t agree with.

The negatives?

Facebook as acedia engine
If I’m avoiding an important project Facebook is there for me to offer distraction fueled by my own narcissism. Did anyone react to my post???? If I’m bored, lonely or depressed I can scan my feed for a quick dose of righteous indignation. The back and forth chatter serves to drive us all to distraction and keep us from doing the things that will actually make the world a better place.

The scapegoat complex
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor speaks eloquently of humanity’s innate need to find scapegoats. I’ve noticed that a large constellation of dodgy websites exist with the sole purpose of serving hastily written articles that point the finger at whatever group we don’t like. I don’t care if you’re on the left, the right, or none of the above, there’s a click bait website ready to make you comfortable about your ideological bubble. The solution to scapegoating lies in the realization, as Taylor notes, quoting one of one of the characters in Dostoyevsky’s The Demons that, “We are all to blame” and that the only way out is to accept our collective responsibility for a solution. Facebook profits from dissent rather than collective and productive action.

Working for free
The creepy business model of Facebook is to get us all to talk about ourselves and then harness that data to sell to marketers. Use Facebook and you’re signed up for an invasive and unpaid marketing focus group. I used to think that I could post quirky and random things in Facebook to throw off their algorithms, but I guarantee you that Facebook’s programmers are always one step ahead of us all. Who needs the NSA when we’re (myself included) willing to give up so much personal information?

Competition for eyeballs
At the risk of sounding bitter, Facebook takes eyeballs away from Root Simple. If I try to use Facebook to send people to Root Simple posts, Facebook’s algorithms punish me and shunt them to the bottom of my friend’s feeds. I have a Facebook page for Root Simple but Facebook wants me to pay to promote posts. So instead I mostly use my personal page to promote stuff with limited success. But, worst of all, Facebook has distracted me from responding to comments on this blog and, instead, focusing on comment threads on Facebook. It may be futile, but it’s time to fight back.

What I’ve resolved to do
I’m not going to give up on Facebook just yet. I can’t really. As authors we have to use it to promote our work and events. And I like keeping up with friends and family. But I’ve resolved to:

  • Post only post positive things on Facebook. I do this already, but occasionally feel the pull of negativity. My favorite Facebook posts are by friends who post stuff that they are actually making or doing rather than linking to click bait articles.
  • Curate my “friends.” I don’t mean that I’m going to unfollow everyone that I don’t agree with. One of the things I like about Facebook is hearing from people outside my own liberal, Los Angeles milieu. But I’m going to unfollow “friends” who only post finger pointing click bait rather than their own opinions.
  • I will move some of the things I post from Facebook to Root Simple. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing you’ll have to come to this blog first. And I promise to do a better job responding to comments on this blog. Sorry Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t want to provide you with free content.
  • Limit my time on Facebook and other social media to two short periods a day. I already do this with email and I’ve found that it’s boosted my productivity.

I’m really interested in hearing from Root Simple readers about how you use or don’t use Facebook. Let’s get a discussion going!

A Day of the Dead Altar


I’ve been observing the Day of the Dead in one way or another for many years, because I believe it is important to acknowledge the presence of death in life, and to remember my dead family, friends and pets in a more direct way than the usual way of carrying loss around quietly within my own heart.

Also, I live in Los Angeles, which used to belong to Mexico, and still does in many ways. Halloween is big here, and Día de Muertos (more often called Día de los Muertos, at least up here in the north, but I believe Día de Muertos is correct–although it may be one of those cases where the incorrect swallows the correct via common usage) reigns alongside of Halloween, extending the celebration over the course of three days.

The Mexican celebration of the dead goes back to the Aztecs, at least, and during the colonial era was grafted onto the Catholic three day festival, or triduum, of Allhallowstide: All Hallow’s Eve (aka Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Care of grave sites and genteel remembrance of the dead is practiced during this period in Catholic communities worldwide, but this more pagan, colorful celebration of the dead is distinctly Central and Southern Mexican– yet it is spreading through Anglo culture, especially in the southwest, and I believe it will spread more widely still, rather as the American version of Halloween has spread across the globe.

I believe the Day of the Dead is taking hold because, as I said above, we need a time to remember our dead as individuals, families and communities–and be reminded of the eventuality of our own deaths. In our death denying culture, such thoughts have been considered morbid, even unhealthy, for a long time–but that is changing.

Continue reading…

065 The Martian


On the podcast this week Kelly and I discuss the horticulture and philosophy of the Ridley Scott/Matt Damon film The Martian, which is based on the novel by Andy Weir. It’s apparent that the character played by Matt Damon has read both John Jeavon’s How to Grow More Vegetables and Joe Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook. We have many questions about the film: Can you really grow potatoes on mars? Do you need to compost human waste before applying it to crops? Is NASA headquarters actually full of tasteful, mid-century modern furniture? We also discuss some deeper philosophical issues raised by the film. We reference Adam Bartos’ book of photographs, Kosmos: A Portrait of the Russian Space Age and Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris, which you can view in its entirety for free (part 1 and part 2). Here’s the highway scene from Solaris that I mention. If you saw The Martian let us know what you thought of it!

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

When It Rains in LA

I post this for the benefit of those of you who don’t live in Los Angeles. It reminds me of a junior high memory. I went to one of those schools built in the 1950s with a broad bank of windows on the side of each classroom. During an English class it started to rain. The entire class spontaneously got up and ran to the window. The teacher, a transplant from New England was, at first, confused and then started laughing at us.

061 National Heirloom Expo Report


This week we go to the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in Northern California to the National Heirloom Exposition. The three day Expo is run by the folks behind Baker Creek Seeds and features speakers, a huge hall of heirloom fruits and vegetables, vendors, livestock, a biodynamic pavilion and live music. I’ve attended each year for five years in a row. This year I took my portable recording equipment and on this episode of the podcast you’ll hear interviews with root vegetable expert Grant Brians, Sir Cobalot, Sustainable Santa (yes you heard that right) and we’ll conclude with a discussion about the California Grange. During the show we mention:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.