Fri Apr 5, 2013
Mark Zuckerberg famously quipped that “a squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” Except that this statement was no quip. Zuckerberg was quite serious - and it is precisely this blithe sentiment that underpins the real problem with Facebook. But when one becomes the world’s youngest billionaire you hardly identify with the proletariat anymore, do you? Heck, he doesn’t even fit in with the crusty 1 percent. He’s an outlier - a Kurt Kobain of the tech world - who probably has as much furtive distrust of his legion of “fans” as the father of grunge did.
Facebook. Where each narcissistic post about vacations, promotions and new babies is endorsed by the replies and “likes” of sycophantic followers eager to generate social currency. Obvious conceits such as the absence of a “dislike” button, drive Zuckerberg’s agenda to perpetuate endless promotion and fakery at the expense of realness. Is he trying to engender such superficial discourse because he envisions his users, no, his audience, as the fickle hordes of frat boys and “yay” girls from his tormented college years? Whatever his motivations, the laugh is on us, as he sells you and me to advertisers salivating at the thought of converting all this data into hard currency.
If I sound vitriolic then it’s not because of some deep-seated misanthropy. It’s because I place a high value the social web. Because there are still those who try to engage in meaningful dialog (that is, if Facebook’s what’s-hot-and-what’s-not algorithm doesn’t push it to the bottom of the news feed). And when I see the world’s most popular social network, with its dodgy privacy policies and obvious mandate to pander to its newly acquired investors at the expense of the user, I get a little frustrated. Because Zuckerberg’s ideals about a connected internet just don’t jive with his pocketbook, and never will. Take his latest venture, Facebook Home - the trojan-horse android launcher he hopes will propagate throughout the mobile space. He’s basically embedding a walled-garden on an open platform so he can feed us tailored full-screen advertisements. Where is the trust here, the respect?
When the industrial age was in full swing, people started feeling anomie - a disconnect from society in a way that had never happened before. Their social identities began to fracture - they began to feel like cogs in a machine. This same phenomenon is happening now on Facebook. People are withdrawing from full disclosure - they are mistrustful, hesitant to share, unsure of the contradictory social norms that now exist. We need to free social media from the Facebook hegemony - we need to define our own voices or ultimately, somebody else will do it for us. Somebody like Zuckerberg, who clearly is the most disconnected of us all.