We Fear Change, Part 1: Facebook

We live in turbulent times. REM stopped making music, major college athletic programs change conferences almost daily, and Leonard and Penny split up after more than half a season together (I’m watching Big Bang Theory on Netflix Qwikster, so I’m a little behind the times). With all of this change, it’s a little unsettling when you reach for one of your comfort blankets at the end of a long day only to find that Mark Zuckerberg has knitted it into a completely unfamiliar pattern.

Welcome to what we’re calling Garth Algar “We Fear Change” Week here on IBD. I will discuss Facebook today, and Shea will address Netflix Thursday. Some day down the road, when we’re all emotionally prepared for it, we’ll write about the new logo for the Florida Miami Marlins baseball team.

In the 1992 movie Wayne’s World, the hateful Benjamin Kane (played by Rob Lowe) comes to Garth (Dana Carvey) with the insidious notion of giving arcade tycoon Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle-Murray) a regular interview segment on Wayne and Garth’s cable-access TV show. Garth responds with a simple “We fear change” and starts smashing the robotic hand he’s building with a hammer.

Those of you who use Facebook may have noticed that there have been some changes recently to the design and functionality of the popular social media site. Those of you who don’t use Facebook, this is why two-thirds of the people you know recently spent the better part of a week screaming as though someone (Mark Zuckerberg) had stabbed a fork through their hands.

To say that the reaction to Facebook’s redesign has been negative is a little like saying some people didn’t like the movie Cabin Boy. (Note: One of my favorites.) As with all of Facebook’s previous changes, this one was met with tears, confusion, and threats to cancel accounts (and that was just one guy).

The difference now is that there’s another option. Google+ is gaining momentum and is seen by many as an alternative to Facebook, if only they could get their friends to come along. The irony is that many of Facebook’s changes (increased interactivity, larger images, tweaks to the “list” feature) are in response to the emergence of Google+.

And this is the crux of the issue: Facebook is in the unenviable position of needing to stay current, respond to competitors, and adapt to emerging technology, all while keeping the Garth Algars of the world from freaking out.

The day the changes were unveiled, there was a collective uproar on the site. When I posted on my Facebook page that I didn’t mind the changes (I actually like the new scrolling, Twitter-esque news feed), it garnered a pile of comments, some of them unnecessarily personal. (I will say that I don’t support the changes wholesale; Facebook needs to address the fact that some of the new features have upended privacy settings by allowing friends of friends to see items only meant for a select few.)

The thing is, this all felt familiar to me. I was searching for reactions to the new look on Google and found articles going back years where irate Facebookers were screaming that they wanted the old site back. Every time the site has been updated, features have been added, users resisted, then got used to them and even came to enjoy and rely on them. (In 2006, Facebookers were unhappy with this gimmicky new thing called a “news feed”—now a staple of the Facebook experience.)

Facebook is an optional leisure activity, like watching baseball or visiting interpretive sites. People don’t want to feel confused and annoyed by something they choose to do in their spare time. Any change to a comfortable environment is going to be disruptive to some people.

Interpreters faced with the task of creating materials for visitors—especially repeat visitors—should be extra careful that changes to exhibits, publications, websites, and logos are not just for change’s sake, but for the improvement of a product. If you make drastic, unnecessary changes to a place where visitors come to learn and relax and enjoy some solitude, you may just find your self playing the role of that robotic hand in Wayne’s World.

If you make changes that are warranted and actually improve your product, people will get used to them, but you still may find yourself cursed out on a highway construction sign.

13 thoughts on “We Fear Change, Part 1: Facebook

  1. Great article,despite the fact you used the “F” word…..( I am cringing at the very notion of typing out this word……”functionality “).
    Change is inevitable yet unnerving. Evolve or die is the motto of the day. Gone are the days when you could be born, live and die without ever traveling outside your own little village, as evidenced by Paul’s posts as he rarely spends two consecutive nights in the same town. Yet, with so much change whirling around us, we naturally seek out those places to calm and restore our souls and sanity. The forest or ocean offers solace for a weary world. Our interpretation of nature may change but the interpretation is not the big draw. We support, preserve and educate. We cannot supplement. The Grand Canyon does not require one thing from an interpreter to be grand, except, perhaps, silence. Change is good. Quiet change is gooder.

  2. I question whether all this social media is actually adding value to places or if it is just making the job of front line interpreters that much harder. Pretty soon I’ll be gathering everyone’s cell numbers during an introduction for a tour and tweeting or texting my discussions instead of having real personal interaction. I know I sound resistant to change, and I am a bit, especially when it comes to people becoming less interested in being together in real life and more interested in their friends on a website that they never actually come into contact with. There is a lot going on right in front of people’s faces and they can’t look up from the screen long enough to see it. And while I am on facebook, I use it so rarely I didn’t even know they had changed anything.
    @Patricia- I really liked your comment, I believe more interpreters need to learn the value of silence, it speaks volumes.

  3. I’m mildly irked at the FB change because I can’t see any benefit to it. Change merely for the sake of change is often not too gooder.
    I think the days of just being able to sit back and wait for people to come to us as interpreters is gone. Social media is a great tool for taking these amazing places, resources, stories, etc. to the general public, and keeping them fresh in their minds. Doing so can be everything from an emotional touchstone for reflection to the small thought that is the impetus behind scratching out a check or voting a certain way. One only need to look at the dams that were almost built inside Dinosaur Nat’l Mon. They were not installed because of a campaign that made people think, “I’ve never been there, never will go there, but I understand its significance.” Social Media is another tool that an interpreter can use (but is not required to use) to fulfill a mission and goals. We need to stay ahead of the curve, not constantly play catch-up.

  4. I completely understand what Matt is saying here, and I do think social media and other mass marketing has its place and purpose and can be very successful like his example, but I guess what I’m wondering is when does taking the message to the people become just another status update? When does it reach the point where it’s no longer relevant and people just glance past it? I just know from my own experience, the organizations (or friends for that matter) I keep tabs on through fb that post daily (my own organization does this) have gone from me checking them out every time to glancing past maybe reading the header to completely ignoring them. The ones that only post weekly or less often I tend to really show interest in because I assume it must be significant if they put this out there. I can’t imagine I’m the only one that has had this experience. I don’t know the answer here, I guess I’m just hoping that we don’t come to the point where real personal interpretation gets substituted for by social media just because it can reach a bigger audience.
    Wow, two posts in one day, I think I’m going to take Patricia’s advice and be quiet now.

  5. Brian and Matt, thanks for the thoughtful conversation on this topic. I think that social media should be treated like all other media at interpretive sites, from the lowest-tech brochure to interactive digital media. It should be mission-based and augment (rather than replace) the visitor experience. Social media in particular offers an opportunity for interpretive sites to stay connected to a community even while they’re sitting at their desks or on their smartphone in the local coffee shop.

    In fact, just reading Patricia’s comments above makes me want to go to the Grand Canyon right now.

  6. PS: Phil Sexton and I will be presenting a session at the NAI National Workshop on using social media at interpretive sites. The comments above (Shea’s excluded) have given us plenty to think about!

  7. I’m struck by two things– one, the thoughtful nature of this thread, which I think is a first for IBD in that I haven’t seen any mention of the Phillies or the Yankees, though Jeff was mentioned in the very first post (and yes, Shea, I do see the resemblance.)
    Secondly, there are so many changes unmentioned. ITunes is very ubiquitous, and think of the changes Apple has foisted upon us, claiming it’s all about functionality. Who in the heck embraces Ping on ITunes? Apple (bless their heart and my stock portfolio) also routinely orphans technology that I think works pretty darned well, with nary a thought to poor interpreters who can’t buy a replacement instantly. Microsoft doesn’t abandon so much as mutate and destroy technology beyond comprehension. How stupid is it to have to replace all your peripherals every time you upgrade Windoze?
    My own agency is trying desperately to radically change by soliciting and embracing active partners and funders to compensate for a terrible collapse in our budgets. Our Director has emphasized several times that things will never be the same again, and much of this change goes directly against my core values that drew me toward a career in governmental service in the first place. I’m left with the distinct impression that my values have become obsolete, which is depressing as hell.
    It’s a new (if not such a bright) world. I left a Federal Agency with more than a little disgust because the culture changed such that I felt that our visitors weren’t even an afterthought. Since my departure, that has become even more apparent, I’m sorry to say.
    I think that at my advanced age, I’m entitled to repair to my veranda and have a full understanding of the world around me, yet here I am trying desperately to keep up with Social Media trends. I sort of hate it, exciting as it is. I want some goof off time and some time to savor what I think I’ve learned, but everything shifts constantly Mr. Zuckerburg. Dang you! Spend some of your billions and fund my Parks and leave FB alone for a few days!
    But we’re all just the latest in a long line of people complaining about change. Racists complain about civil rights destroying the good old days (for them.) (Some) men complain about women’s equality making them having to wash dishes and help with the housework. I myself complain about recycling. I like being green, but I miss the convenience of just throwing stuff out.
    By and large, change is inevitable and constant, and mostly beyond our control. Was it Mark Twain who said that everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it? If he didn’t, he should have.
    I’ll probably change this comment later, when I’ve thought about it.

  8. p.s.– Paul already pointed it out, but the subject of change, keeping up, and trying to stay on top of trends for social media, will be a big part of our session on using social media as an Interpretive tool that we will present at the NAI National Workshop in St. Paul in November.

    Be there or be square.

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