Watching the Facebook feed is a beautiful thing. It twists and turns and pulls you in directions like a swirling river current, going you-know-not-where, endlessly flowing, eternal and irresistible. It consumes all before it, devouring knowledge relentlessly and regurgitating every piece, big or small, serious or trivial, into equal prominence in space and time. Like the nano-bots we read about in science fiction, it destroys all in order to piece it back together in its own design, to its own rules of order and legitimacy. In the future, all AI will be based on these principles, the technology world as we know it will transcend into the real world through AI bio-interfaces sucking all life into the immortal vortex of The Feed. This is the Tree of Knowledge, this is the Tree of Life.
I’ve been fascinated by RSS since around 2004, when I began to write my own feed to accompany my blog at the time. I jumped with joy when I could see my feed added to my webpages, or to my feedreader. In those days I thought this was quite cutting edge. I used an assortment of feedreaders, usually desktop based apps, to collate my favourite sources and make it possible for me to follow web news in a more efficient way. It was like a miracle then, to see the sources update ‘by magic’.
Something I loved to do with RSS was find ways of making OPML (a feed of feeds), to generate a feed for collections of similar news items, to make a record of what was being published in different topics. A favourite way was to use Drupal to achieve this, because it made it really easy (still does). The mental leap between a normal OPML and the Facebook feed is tiny, yet changed the world. This is the miracle of creative thinking, of mucking about, of wasting time on computers.
So now I watch the feed and my brain fills up with thoughts: from my friends, their discussions, their fears, their jokes, their art and poetry, their life changing moments. Lucky for me my friends are a clever bunch and much of their talk is fascinating. Then, I see news and trivia and tech talk and political discourse and it all enriches me, promotes thinking, ideas, knowledge, inspiration. I learn things I never knew, I learn things that earn me money, I learn things that I teach to others, I learn things, endlessly. And this is all possible because someone realised how powerful RSS and OPML could be. Other social streams can never match Facebook, because they are always only ever an also-ran, too short, too unselective, too drab to compete, to labour intensive to manage.
God, I love The Facebook.
(The title of this piece is a homage to James Blood Ulmer’s ‘Jazz is the Teacher, Funk is the Preacher‘, from ‘Are You Glad to Be In America?’, Rough Trade, (c) 1980.)