I remember a glorious time, back in, say, 2009, when Facebook was a legitimate way to keep up with people I cared about. Most of the content was generated by real-life experiences my friends and family were enjoying (or enduring as the case may be) so I was able to participate quite easily. And then…
After a couple of years of relative contentment, a new trend emerged: personal, original content was largely replaced by external content (usually photos). Every time I scroll through my news feed, I encounter shared posts about well-loved photography, inaccessible articles, and random pictures of, I dunno, cats. Sheepish as it makes me, I must admit that I feel more and more isolated. I can no longer participate as fully as before. I can no longer keep in touch in any meaningful way.
I’ve discussed how to make posts more accessible on Facebook, and reassured sighted users that they don’t have to describe every single photo, whether personal or shared from an external source, in expansive detail. It’s way too much bother for limited reward. I can’t pretend it doesn’t make me feel like I’m being excluded, though. Instead of hearing about the antics of my friends’ cats, I miss out entirely because photos tell a better story. Instead of enjoying a new recipe a friend posted, I get to scroll right by because the text is inaccessible. Instead of laughing along with my friends’ favourite image-based jokes, I get to hope that the accompanying comments will give me enough context to go on. Most of the time, they don’t, and while I occasionally ask for explanations if I’m really intrigued, I hate to do it. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I thought perhaps my feelings were exaggerated. How much of my feed was genuinely hidden from me? I wanted to find out, so I performed an informal experiment. I scrolled through the last hundred posts in my news feed (yes, it took ages), “hiding” all the posts that featured only photos shared from external sources. Eighty-six percent of the posts were eliminated. It was even worse than I’d thought. While I can comfort myself with how clean and clutter-free my news feed is, that comfort is awfully cold.
I’m probably not missing much in the grand scheme, I know. Considering all the other consequences of inaccessibility, this is really small potatoes. Even so, a lot of my friends and family spend so much time appreciating other people’s image-based posts (some spend hours on Facebook per day) while I spend five minutes, tops, because there’s nothing to see. (Yes, it does wonders for my productivity, but still!)
I’ll get over it, I really will. Most days I don’t even think about it; but I admit to moments of weakness when I let it bug me. Social media can make people very lonely, and this is a special type of loneliness that won’t ever go away, not really. Facebook is implementing groundbreaking image recognition technology to help blind people figure out what’s in an image, but there’s no telling how accurate or useful it will be.
Like I said, most days it’s no biggie. Just for now, though, I’ll have a bit of a wallow. Indulge me.