Sticks and Stones

Here’s something I wrote for AusOpinion today

So Wicked Campers have raised their reprobate heads again, which has caused Tim Wilson to do the same, defending to the death their right to spraypaint slogans about kidnapping and abusing women all over their cut-price rent-a-vans.

Both Wilson and Wicked are major beneficiaries of this latest spat, as are the Greens who can sink their teeth into the red meat of outrage and looking to silence them. Everybody gets some free publicity and nothing of substance changes.

5593226-3x2-340x227But there is something problematic about the debate around free speech, and I frankly don’t know how or whether it can be resolved.

Wilson’s (and indeed, many people’s) argument, that free speech should not be curtailed except in cases where it leads directly to violence, is a long-standing tenet of advocating free speech, and it is a powerful one. It is a clear demarcation in an area often lacking them, and it is quite reasonable.

But there are two corollaries to this that are not so easily accepted. The first, which is really impossible to pin down or properly critique, is the fact that almost everyone who advocates this position lives in a world where they can happily ignore words aimed at them.

Tim Wilson, and indeed the vast majority of public advocates for near-open slather on free speech, are in positions of power, wealth, privilege, or all three. Wilson’s acceptance of people’s rights to gay slurs is admirable, but he is also a prominent, educated, male community leader who can take a slur because he’s sitting on a job pulling $300k-odd and lives in a world that happily accepts him. The words cause him no harm at all.

But a Muslim woman living in Braybrook, or Redfern, for whom regular verbal abuse may be a simple part of life, the implicit power imbalance of a larger, stronger, whiter man shouting abuse entirely changes the context of any verbal abuse being hurled.

Which leads to the second corollary. We are increasingly aware of the importance of mental health in the community. When traditional notions of the importance of free speech were developed, mental illness was literally not a concept. You were sane, or you were crazy. There was no spectrum on which to exist.

wide-7623035-620x349Put another way, I grew up in a world when, as a child facing verbal bullying at school, I was told by my mother the classic: “sticks and stones may break your bones but words cannot hurt you.” As an adult today, I find that adage nothing short of laughable. Indeed, the scars from most physical violence from school fade faster and more completely than the psychological damage from constant verbal intimidation. Cyber bullying is being treated as a serious problem for young Australians – as well it should – and it is characterised by remoteness, the absence of violence.

So, the question is, if we are increasingly treating mental health with the same seriousness as physical health, and we know that some forms of speech are clearly damaging for the mental health of people – particularly those who are disenfranchised or disempowered – does this mean that we need to consider moving the goal posts around what is and isn’t considered permissible speech?

To be frank, I don’t know the answer to that question. But it seems that it is a question that no one else is asking.

Best music 2013

Once it was that come December, the battles over lists would be all about who made it in and where. My Bloody Valentine fans would face off with Nirvana fans over which was the #1 record of 1991 in a flurry of flannel, while Massive Attack fans sat in a corner pulling cones and condescending to everyone.

But today, in this ridiculously post-modern artistic world where to belittle One Direction is to somehow demean an utterly nebulous idea of ‘taste’, the debate is now about whether we should do lists at all. And heaven forbid we attempt something so gauche as putting them in ranked order.

Well, suck it up and strap yourselves in, you tweed-wearing nebbishes, because this is an entirely subjective, numerically ordered, borderline autistic LIST, from 20 to one (plus some also-rans), of the best albums of 2013. If you’re one of those song-thieving spotify-types who doesn’t ‘do’ albums, you are not welcome here and please take it to Pinterest.

Also, my apologies to metal fans. None crossed my path that even remotely appealed to me, so feel free to complain about its absence in your various internet message boards.

First up, the also-rans

Dirty Beaches – Drifters/Love is the Devil

Dirty Beaches’ previous record, Badlands feels, in retrospect, what this gem should have been called. Through a fog of distortion, Alex Zhang Hungtai creates a dreamlike soundscape that evokes if nothing else the dirt, sand, highways and dive bars of the remote American midwest. Ostensibly a double album, the second half veers into the abstract, like the pulsating, multilingual ‘Aurevoir Mon Visage’, but at no point does the record lose its power to dazzle with its nightmarishly propulsive discotheque.

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

There is something incongruous about a band calling itself ‘Fuck Buttons’, then naming an album Slow Focus. But there is method there. Fuck Buttons’ survivalist electro – building thick, abrasive walls of sound with any and all instruments (musical or otherwise) that come to hand – are slow builds that demand attention to appreciate. But that attention is rewarded in spades as track after track pulverises you into blissful submission.  

Volcano Choir – Repave

Justin Vernon is notoriously celebrity shy, which explains the very existence of Volcano Choir. Had Vernon decided to release this under the Bon Iver label, it would have been accepted as a gentle turn to incorporating his more rhythmic tendencies he collected while touring For Emma, Forever Ago a few years back. In collaboration with  Collections of Colonies of Bees and All Tiny Creatures, this is a more accessible outing than the previous Unmap, and when tracks like ‘Acetate’ and ‘Byegone’ hit their straps, they’re as lushly impressive as anything Vernon has done under his more famous moniker.

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Beyond being among the more delightful people in the known universe, Neko Case continues to make equally delightful music. The Worse Things Get… doesn’t veer far from the formula perfected on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, but when the songwriting’s this good, and the words are emerging from what could be the world’s most golden throat, that hardly seems to matter.

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Charming, youthful Glaswegian pop music may be the most eternal music in the world and Chvrches do a wonderful job of dragging it into the post-jangle era. With a talent for uplift and choruses with industrial-strength earworms, this deserves to feature on many Australian summertime playlists.

Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

Recorded in a share house with the help of housemates and little else, Cerulean Salt’s nostalgic reach for early-90s indie DIY is an unintentional callback to the influence of Lou Reed. Instrumentally simple, with the idea of production being more of a concept than a reality, it is the ultra-tight songwriting and Katie Crutchfield’s restraint that make this a lo-fi revelation.

Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost

Perhaps unfairly, Iron and Wine dropped off the radar somewhat after being the explosively popular bearded folk sensation nearly a decade ago. As Sam Bean’s sound has fleshed out, Iron and Wine is no longer a minimalist, man-with-acoustic folk cliche, but a rich, lush celebration of soul and funk as interpreted by a bearded hippie. And the result, at its best remains glorious.

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

Custom made for critical acclaim – semi anonymous Swedes who released a phenomenal, forward-looking record in 2006 (Silent Shout), then basically disappeared until emerging with this. Not as welcoming as its predecessor, Shaking the Habitual is unconcerned with making you tap your feet, but rather making you tilt your head and cock your eyebrow.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Of all Nick Cave’s various guises and personas over the years, world-weary barfly seems almost the most appropriate, yet it’s taken until his 50s, and a detour into sleazy middle-aged licentiousness, to get there.  Given the space, and the embrace of production techniques that the loss of Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey has necessitated, Cave has slowed things down, messed things up, and delivered. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ remains far and away the best song ever to drink scotch to after 11pm.

Atoms for Peace – AMOK

Look, a Thom Yorke solo project is kind of doomed from the start as being labelled ‘Radiohead without Radiohead’, and while that is true, it is not to say that it is without merit. Yorke (with an all-star lineup including Flea and Nigel Godrich) has an unparalleled knack (well, perhaps paralleled by Johnny Greenwood) for creating sounds that are simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. His arrhythmic beats and glitchy arrangements somehow manage to reassure and unsettle, and that works just fine. 

Iceage – You’re Nothing

Furious Danish teen post-punks grow up (by two years) and remain furious and Danish. Like last year’s superb debut from Cloud Nothings, there is simply no way for adults to properly replicate the uncontained lashing out of young, angry men. And yet that anger is truly universal. If only we could keep these guys at about 21.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Since the glory that was Funeral, new Arcade Fire albums are greeted with an almost fundamental assumption that they are great. Because Arcade Fire are a Great Band. It remains uncertain whether they’re a good one.

While Reflektor is an undoubted improvement on the tepid The Suburbs, the whole thing smacks of an effort that was blissfully absent on the band’s first two releases. Whereas tracks like ‘Une Année Sans Lumiere’ gracefully segued from gentle French lilt to driving folk rock, here tracks slam and clunk between gears. The magician is still amazing people, but the sleight of hand is becoming ever-so-more obvious. I wish Arcade Fire didn’t make having fun sound like such hard work.

Mavis Staples – One True Vine

Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy come together to do an album of folky-soul, with a healthy dose of some standards reimagined. Enough said.

Julia Holter – Loud City Song

‘Baroque’ may be the most misused word in music, but if ever it was applicable, it is to Julia Holter. Her rich voice delivers the work of an overeducated arts school graduate, but in a way that never condescends, but rather invites the listener to join in. This, her first record done with a label, has more room to breathe – it feels like it was recorded somewhere larger than a cupboard – and the result is a quietly majestic thing; bedroom music for the pipe-and-brandy set.

Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus 7

Aphex Twin may be the Velvet Underground of 21st century electronic music. Never moving beyond a cult act, the banned clip for ‘Windowlicker’ eventually drew attention to the fact that glitchy, beat-heavy electronic music could have soul and ride a groove. But until Oneohtrix Point Never, there was never a true successor. While Daniel Lopatin’s clips are unlikely to feature the goblins and mutants of Aphex Twin, the sense of making the

HAIM – Days Are Gone

Sometimes a buzz band actually delivers. In the never-ending spin-cycle of popular music in the 21st century, the inevitable co-opting of 80s pop-rock (beyond the hair metal and the synth pop, obviously) emerged in the form of HAIM (pronounced like ‘time’, fyi), all rhythm sections and multitudinous hooks. Those hooks, however, wear a little over time, and a bit more patience to let songs pay off wouldn’t have hurt, but with songs like ‘The Wire’, it usually doesn’t seem to matter.

The austerity of grandeur

Sigur Rós have gone from post-rock saviours to forgettable, bloated, orchestro-philes, but on Kveikur, their homeland’s descent into austerity has seen them trim back and become relevant once again.

When Sigur Rós released their second, breakthrough album, Ágætis Byrjun, at the end of 1999, Iceland was a talismanic island of freedom and egalitarianism. The government had opened up their markets to the world, and the flood of foreign money had led to an extraordinary standard of living while still retaining income equality that was the envy of the world.

This boom was reflected, unwittingly or not, in Sigur Rós’ output. Not only were the four young Icelanders given to lavish excess, but everything they did was underpinned by a sense of fairness and equality. Witness the stunning, Broadway-in-heaven coda that keeps taking ‘Olsen Olsen’ to new heights. alongside the clip for the iconic ‘”Svefn-g-englar” with its familiar sonar ping and troupe of dancers with down syndrome. The video is joyous, stately and quietly thrilling – a celebration of difference, rather than a sombre dirge.

Sigur Rós have fluctuated tonally since, but that sense of optimism, married with an underlying heaviness, a vague sense of menace that is likewise translated as a sense of place – the obligatory references to volcanoes and rocky plateaus that come with every Sigur Rós review.

In Iceland, though, we all know what happened next. The great free-market experiment went tits up, and how. GDP went from regular 7% increases to a crash of 7% in 2009 and 4% in 2010, and income inequality is on the rise.

This comes as the Icelandic government is enacting savage cuts to public spending – the austerity that has inexplicably become the response of many countries worst affected by the global recession.

Sigur Rós’ latest album, Kveikur (pronounced approximately like ‘quaker’) continues this loose connection between the island nation and the band that is increasingly coming to symbolise them abroad. Today, even Sigur Rós find themselves trimming their sails. Since the disappointing Valtari earlier this year, the band have divested themselves of keyboardist Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson, and the results are instructive.

But while Iceland is suffering under the yoke of the oppressive conditions of international bailout money, Sigur Rós represent a masterclass in the benefits of creative destruction. The loss of Sveinsson has forced the band to pare back, cast off the orchestral flourishes that had become both trademark and millstone, and emerge leaner, tighter and more relevant than they have in nearly a decade.

Ubiquity can be an awful thing for some bands, and the alien thrill that accompanied Ágætis Byrjun and ( ) had faded being replaced by a familiarity that comes with being on every uplifting soundtrack and slow-mo football outro montage. As a result, suddenly albums like Valtari sounded banal, even boring (also because Valtari was quite boring). And for a band with a baby angel for a lead singer, an electric guitar played with a violin bow and a penchant for nine-minute epics, that’s a worrying thing indeed.

On Kveikur, the shock of the renewed doesn’t take long to kick in. At 0.30 on opening track and lead single, ‘Brennisteinn’, a cacophony of metal kick drums and squalling guitar noise signal a leaner, wiser, less blissed-out group. The lurking menace has returned – the title translates as ‘Brimstone’ – and its prettiness has a purpose. It’s a song hard to imagine accompanying a a Leo Barry mark or Israel Folau try.

Dissenters from the regular waves of effusive, overwrought praise (the purplest of which was probably describing the band’s sound as “the sound of god weeping tears of gold in heaven”) have regularly dismissed that group as ‘elevator music’; a forgettable wall of background noise.

It is harder to make that case today. The meeting of ubiquity and austerity that characterises Sigur Rós today is best reflected in perhaps the album’s best new song – ‘Ísjaki’. As the band has become more embedded in the world’s pop music consciousness, so has their sound become embraced and normalised. In 2000, this five-minute excursion in squalling melody would be odd. Today, it’s almost benign. Its immediacy means that the choral hook is one of the most arresting pieces of music this year, and it must be a hard soul that remains unmoved by its beauty.

Sigur Rós have long been associated with a more humanist style of politics than the fierce ‘rationality’ of right-wing fiscal hawks. And yet, on Kveikur, by embracing that mentality, and intertwining it with their intrinsic self of childish wonderment, they’ve made something as beautiful, immediate and, yes, relevant as they have in nearly a decade.

Martin Ferguson, giant of the resources industry

“‘The National Generators Federation would like to acknowledge the hard work and contribution that Martin Ferguson has made to the energy sector.  He was an outstanding Minister who provided stability and leadership to the sector though a time of significant change,’ NGF Executive Director Tim Reardon said.”

“Martin Ferguson resignation huge loss: Australian Mines and Metals Association.”

“The Australian Coal Association salutes a champion. ‘Martin Ferguson is a stalwart of working people and a champion of the Australian black coal industry,’ said Nikki Williams.”

“Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray today paid tribute to his predecessor Martin Ferguson, saying he was a ‘giant’ of the resources industry.”

I’m sorry, what?

Have I misunderstood the role of an Australian politician? Is it healthy for democracy that the departing Minister for Resources is hailed as a ‘giant of the resources industry’? Surely ‘loyal servant of the people’ would be what we’re hoping for.

What is the role of a Minister in Australia today? Is the role of the resources minister purely to advocate for the interests of the companies in that sector? Or be a reasonable, measured presence, judiciously advocating for the industry while simultaneously clamping down on its worst excesses?

Either way, much as in a game of footy where one side (and only one side) praises the effectiveness of the umpires, the glowing sendoff of ‘Marn’ by the industry ought to raise some eyebrows about the relationship between business and government in Australia.

Moreover, the is the question of Ferguson himself. In his farewell speech, he lauded himself for his work with the minerals and energy sectors, ostensibly due to the jobs he created in his time there. Unfortunately, this man of the people also oversaw a 56 per cent drop in labour productivity in the resources sector, and an enormous increase in electricity costs – costs borne by those same low income families he proclaims to have represented.

Ferguson, who odds-on finds himself serving on several mining sector boards before the year is out, pulling an income that his beloved union workers could only dream of, while effectively lobbying against their interests.

Ferguson, this man of the people, for whom jobs were always a paramount concern received a more tearful farewell from the leader of the opposition than from his own Prime Minister.

If Ferguson truly was a man of the union movement, a representative of working Australians, surely the party of WorkChoices should be high-fiving and cracking open the Veuve Cliquot at his exit.

Instead, they’re shattered.

And I think that speaks volumes.


Album review: The Drones – I See Seaweed

The Drones’ first album in nearly five years is a thing of dark, unsettling majesty

No band so seamlessly marries the emotional, intellectual and visceral like The Drones. Even as far back as their breakthrough album, 2005’s Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By…, song after song was a lucid, witty, insight into themes as varied as suburban domestic disputes, asylum seekers or good ol’ breakups. And all of it was set to the compelling, deeply discomfiting combination of Gareth Liddiard’s grating snarl and original guitarist Rui Perera’s discordant, unhinged guitar.

DronesThe swirling result was music that was, unusually for an Australian band with such a firm grasp of melody and song structure, something that routinely rewarded repeat listening, that could take the mundane – or the extraordinary – and sandpaper it back to a matte finish, leaving the listener raw, exposed.

In hindsight, then, it feels inevitable that today, nearly five years after the sprawling Havilah, we have I See Seaweed, a monstrous, confounding thing of dark majesty.

If nothing else, after over a decade of playing together, and five years on various solo and side projects, The Drones have learned the value of getting out of each others’ way. For a band so influenced by the raucous noise of 80s punk and garage, The Drones’ latest is most notable for its willingness to forego music almost entirely.

Songs ebb and flow, often resembling the score for some long-lost horror flick, shifting from near silence (a muted kick drum, Liddiard’s morbid groan, the occasional bass flick) to flat-out, shred-the-guitar, kick-the-drums-down-the-stairs cacophony. There is an ever-present ominousness, the threat of left-turns, a sudden fill of horror-movie chimes, a squalling guitar fill, incomprehensibly creepy backing vocals from the until-now underused Fiona Kitschin.

Never more are the album’s unsettling delights on display than the stunning, epic ‘Laika’, the story of the first dog the Russians fired into space. Approaching eight minutes (not an unusual runtime for this band), the song never lets the listener listen in comfort, shifting from a dark, off-key guitar coda that repeats throughout the song, to an almighty crescendo of chaotic noise, then back to Liddiard, mirroring the same melodic call with the uneasy, ambiguous phrase ‘half a pound of sugar!’. Again. And again. Pianos tinkle mysteriously, bass rumbles, then everything explodes.

Much the same can be said for the titular opener, yet it is an utterly different song, allowing Liddiard’s wit and lyrical sense of humour shine through.

Barnburners that old-timer fans would lament the passing of are not forgotten, though. ‘A Moat You Can Stand In’ is a searing, rollicking four-minute tour de force, closely reminiscent of ‘I Don’t Ever Want to Change’ off the band’s previous best, Gala Mill.

There are even moments of (semi) sweetness. ‘How to See Through Fog’ is held together by a chiming minor-key piano line that could very nearly be described as ‘pretty’, while Liddiard sounds very nearly at his most ennui-filled and lethargic, chanting “They only ever think you’re good/When you’re walking like you’re made of wood.”

I See Seaweed ends on another unexpected moment. The tender ‘Why Write a Letter’. While nothing like the blood-soaked convict tale ‘Sixteen Straws’ from Gala Mill, ‘Why Write a Letter’, softly lets the listener out of the album’s clutches. The band waft gently behind Liddiard’s paean to a simpler time (a topic, incidentally that would be horribly gauche in lesser hands) with a half-time lounge groove.

On that closing, it feels as though the band are gently guiding us back to land. By album’s end, the title’s possible purpose becomes apparent. You’ve been on a voyage. In a storm. Buffeted about, exhausted, but exhilarated. And better for the experience. Liddiard drops you back off on dry land, shakes your hand, but suggests that no one’s going to correspond with anyone. Rather, you’ll hear from them again only when you come back together.

And that’ll be just fine.


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Twitter is…

…always discussed in the singular, apparently.

I refer to something I saw this morning over coffee. Being at Saturday, it would be inappropriate if there wasn’t at least one piece I read in The Age that gave me a good chuckle, and today it was this piece by Amanda Dunn, titled “Right on skew: news takes a tumble in the Twitter hole”. Terrible title notwithstanding (another vote for the subediting fraternity), this piece was representative of something I’ve seen increasingly often among members of the legacy/traditional/mainstream/whatever media: the ‘Twitter as unitary mass’ article.

UrghDunn opens up referring to a tweet from prolific, savvy and fiercely cynical political blogger Possum Comitatus that things got pretty dumb, pretty fast after the election announcement. Ignoring the fact that he was referring to the larger media response, Dunn dives right in and extrapolates that ‘Twitter’ was behaving stupidly, focusing on the nebulous and ephemeral elements of that news (footy finals, Yom Kippur, spectacles, etc.).

This, then, naturally led to a wider discussion about ‘Twitter’; that it’s a politically biased outrage engine/outrage vector. Oh, and of course, it’s “wonderful…for a journalist it’s a fantastic resource”.

And there it is. Even though Ms Dunn is on Twitter, and may well be a prolific user, she exhibits exactly the kind of ignorance of its purpose/use that SO many old media types seem to. She sees it not only as a singular mass, but as some kind of encyclopaedia of public attitudes, to be dipped into every time she needs to pad out a piece with a quote.

Much of this stems back to the abstract verb that headlines this post: “is”. Discussion of Twitter always seems to be about what Twitter “is”, even though it has millions of users in Australia and hundreds of millions of users globally. Any time you collect hundreds of millions (or even dozens) of people in one place, using the third person singular “is” is a mistake.

Twitter (and almost all social media for that matter) is not some unthinking mass consciousness. It is an enormous group of people who self-select into sub-communities based on shared interests. Kind of like the real world. There are crazy lefties on Twitter. Crazy tories on Twitter (#auspol). Bieber fanatics. Food bloggers. Fashion bloggers. “Mummy” bloggers (god bless ’em) and everything in between.

Sometimes they overlap and a Twitter user with a passion for poaching eggs will offer some trenchant political insight, and get re-tweeted around the political twittersphere, as the gargantuan Venn diagram that is Twitter will inevitably overlap. But mainly, she will likely tweet primarily about food with other food fans on Twitter.

And here’s another thing. Dunn, in writing this piece, isn’t looking at ‘Twitter’, she’s looking at the small subset of Twitter that she has carved out for herself. This outrage factory she sees fit to mock and follow simultaneously is the part of Twitter that best reflects her, a point that naturally goes un-raised in the piece.

And even if she somehow stumbled across some representative cross-section of the entire community in her feed, there is a larger point here. When people collectively get wound up about the latest stupid thing Kochie said, or whether they like the PM’s new glasses, or whether it’s ridiculous that everyone’s focusing on the PM’s new glasses, this is not some indictment of the medium. It’s the kind of conversation people have had, every day, since forever. Only now, they’ve found entire communities of like-minded people willing to share that conversation. And that can only be a good thing.

Perhaps the answer, to return to the headline, is to think about the verb. ‘Is’ is inappropriate. Twitter is full of people. One would not say ‘people is focused on the inane and the trivial’. Perhaps, discombobulating as it feels, we should be saying that ‘Twitter are crazy’. At least, reductive as that argument may be, it would convey the notion that the million-plus Australians on Twitter are not some unfettered hive-mind, bent on gossiping the country to early senility.

Side-bar: On a semi-related note, the piece Dunn wrote, readable as it was, was written in much the manner I wrote this (I would also like to think that I can be readable on the odd occasion). I wrote this, in about twenty minutes, after witnessing some media, having some feelpinions about said media, and then expressing those feels in a fairly stream of consciousness manner. I did this for nothing, and perhaps on one will read it. Ms Dunn probably got $1 a word. Perhaps this is another way in which traditional media is behind the eight ball.

UPDATE: So when I posted this, I also tweeted it, including a nod to @amandadunn10, the author of the piece in question. She didn’t respond or acknowledge. Again, speaking volumes about how she views Twitter as a medium.

The Knackery

So today’s ephemera are a bad joke told by the PM’s partner, a series of opportunistic photo ops from the Opposition Leader, Andrew Laming being Andrew Laming, and Twitter losing its collective shit over whether pubs have the right to ban kids from venues that strictly speaking are for over 18s. And of course it was Australia Day, so the national soul was subjected to its annual body cavity ordeal.

So, you know, late January.

More importantly, much of the news is, of course, focused on the Queensland floods, and the Courier Mail and ABC are naturally ideal places to look for that news.



Australia’s corruption watchdog is struggling to make ends meet, raising questions of corrupt raising of needed funds (SMH)

In an effort to stop retirees draining their savings too soon, there is a push to cap super lump-sum payouts (AFR)

A good summary of the…

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It’s already called ‘stalker search’

Everyone seems to be losing their shit over Facebook’s announcement of its social search function (which, incidentally, would be a much nicer name than ‘Graph Search’, seeing as there are no graphs involved).

Obligatory thumbs up image

Obligatory thumbs up image

The idea, simply enough, is that you will search Facebook instead of Google. Want to know what film to see? Search in Facebook for ‘people who like films I like film recommendations’ (or something) and you’ll get recommended films from friends (and friends’ friends, and their friends, as far as privacy settings allow) about what films to check out.

In principle, it’s a pretty nifty idea. It’s well targeted, it’s highly practical – in the sense that you will use it to search for things you will do in your life, rather than simply trying to find awesome Wikipedia pages – and in theory, it’s building off the recommendations of people whose interests (or social circles) you share.

(Sorry, by the way, about all the parentheses)

But I’m not sold. Not yet. The reason? The assumption that Facebook mirrors our lives and proclivities. And it doesn’t. Not yet.

I can’t say for certain how representative I am on this, and Facebook’s famed stinginess with information means that there is little to no data on it, but my Facebook page is really no great reflection of the person I am. It isn’t even my real name.

I ‘like’ very few things, and when I do, it’s not exactly an endorsement, but almost always liking a media publication or product that I see merit in having pop up in my feed. For instance, I’m an avid reader of Slate, so I ‘like’ Slate on Facebook, and they will fill my feed with links to articles I can then choose to read.

I also really enjoy The Napier in Fitzroy and my local bar, but until right now, I didn’t even know if either HAD a Facebook page. Because my Facebook page is no more useful to me by ‘liking’ them, I haven’t bothered, even though I ardently love both places. The same applies to film, music, food, you name it.

While I can’t speak for everyone, I’m fairly confident that most people don’t keep an accurate representation of themselves online. At the very least, we like to put our best foot forward publicly, so we may not, for instance, ‘like’ Jersey Shore, for fear of opprobrium. Some people are deeply private. Some people obsessively ‘like’ brand pages in order to score deals and discounts, even though they’re not exactly champions of Harvey Norman.

Even further down the rabbit hole – if you were to ask Facebook who my closest friends were, it would get the answer profoundly wrong. Most of my closest friends are not avid users of Facebook. It would know who I’m married to, but if it treated Facebook interactions as a measure of close friends, they’d be off the mark.

I interact on Facebook with friends who are more inclined to interact with people on Facebook. Sure, this keeps them closer to me than if they didn’t, but it doesn’t mean I care more about their opinions than some of my mates who may not even have Facebook accounts.

So, go ahead, Facebook, make social searching a thing. I think it’s a good idea, and it sure can’t hurt. But until Facebook becomes an accurate representation of how our lives work, let’s not get too carried away by the idea of a Google Killer.