Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Facebook is the bottle

That TIME has named Mark Zuckerberg its 'person of the year' is really immaterial - but after the first couple of pages about him, its article about Facebook is really rather insightful. This man aimed to create an experience of the internet which related to, well, relationships - because he recognised that as humans, who we are is not flexibly recreated at will (e.g. myspace), but connected and relating to others. He is interested in, 'Eliminating desire for all that doesn't really matter.'
Zuckerberg just wanted people to be themselves. On earlier social networks like Friendster and Myspace, identity was malleable and playful, but Facebook was and is different. "We're trying to map out what exists in the world," he says. "In the world, there's trust. I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us. So at its core, what we're trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships, which you can call, colloquially, most of the time, friendships."
Facebook sprang from the insight that 'people yearned not to be liberated from their daily lives but to be more deeply embedded in them'. So while google tells us what the best result is to our search based on what most people in the world look at, Zuckerberg suggests we move from the wisdom of many to the wisdom of friends. (I wonder if, as a Jew, he's been reading Proverbs on that one?)
Zuckerberg's vision is that after the Facebookization of the Web, ... wherever you go online, you'll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends' reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context. Not that long ago, a post-Google Web was unimaginable, but if there is one, this is what it will look like: a Web reorganized around people. "It's a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends," say Sandberg. "It doesn't matter if 100,000 people like x. If the three people closest to you like y, you want to see y."
Yet, there's valid critique of this kind of oneness in friendship - not that we want to be a different person to different people, but that naturally we do flex between different relationships. It is right that I relate to my boss in a different way from that in which I relate to my friends. We wouldn't want the flattening of all hierarchy, structure and order - there is a rightness and beauty in everything being in its proper place. So facebook, for all its connectivity and openess, still becomes just one sphere in life. I decide what to post on facebook: being completely real with my friends, family and colleagues, I'll share x with specific friends by email (or facebook message!) which I won't share in my newsfeed, because it may be misunderstood by some.

Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody — friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade — into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You're friends with your spouse, and you're friends with your plumber.
And of course, we move from the realm of 1984 (about which people are so sensitive, when it comes to privacy and information) into a Brave New World:
But there is another danger, which is that instead of feeling forced to share, we won't be able to stop ourselves from sharing — that we will willingly, compulsively violate our own privacy. Relationships on Facebook have a seductive, addictive quality that can erode and even replace real-world relationships. Friendships multiply with gratifying speed, and the emotional stakes stay soothingly low; where there isn't much privacy, there can't be much intimacy either.
So it comes down to one of those standard aspects of maturity - knowing what to say to whom, when. There is a time to share, and a time to be private. A thing you can share with a friend, and thing to share with a colleague. They're not all the same, and that's not necessarily deception: it's a kind of wisdom.
However much more authentic the selves we present on Facebook are than they were in the anonymous Internet wilderness that came before it, they still fall far short of our true selves, and confusing our Facebook profiles with who we really are would be a terrible mistake. We are running our social lives over the Internet, an infrastructure that was not designed for that purpose, and we must be aware of the distortions it creates or we will be distorted by them. The standard cliché for describing viral technology like Facebook has always been, "The genie is out of the bottle." But Facebook inverts that. Now Facebook is the bottle, and we're the genie. How small are we willing to make ourselves to fit inside?
As with any tool, don't reduce life to it, or your life will be reduced to fit. [Read the whole article in TIME.]

1 comment:

Mark Leong said...

There is a time to share, and a time to be private. A thing you can share with a friend, and thing to share with a colleague. They're not all the same, and that's not necessarily deception: it's a kind of wisdom.

Good point!