Did you see The Social Network? Jesse Eisenberg plays Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg, on the brink of founding the Facebook phenomenon, as a snarky, sarcastic, and rude narcissist, peering out a the world with cold-eyed disdain. When his girlfriend dumps him, all he can think of is rushing back to the dorm to go online and have his revenge. Nowadays, we call this online bullying. In 2003, it was the birth of a $41 billion empire.
I have no idea whether this portrait of Mark Zuckerberg is in any way true or accurate. But I've always found something a little creepy about the Borg-like stealth of Facebook and the way everyone needs to plug in, hook up, and drop out of real life. Resistance is futile, all right; every time I delete one invitation to join FB out of my inbox, six more pop up in its place.
Me, I'm not much of a joiner. I agree with Groucho Marx, who once famously said he refused to join any club that would accept him as a member. He was making a joke about snooty, "exclusive" Hollywood social clubs, but it's the inclusiveness of FB that bugs me. When Santa Cruz still held its own First Night celebration, reports of 20,000 people thronging downtown were reason enough for me to stay home. The virtual crowd on Facebook is something like 500 million.
A couple of years ago, when I first came blinking out of my bat cave long enough to notice there was an entity called Facebook, there wasn't much to distinguish it from other trendy Internet destinations like My Space. (Art Boy and I started referring to this collective online phenomenon as "My Face") The idea seemed to be that kids went there to talk about themselves. Fine. (Although in my college days, we accomplished the same thing over a glass of wine at the Catalyst.) Then, more people my age were brought into the FB fold, usually via far-flung relatives eager to share family photos. Not a problem.
In those innocent days, I thought FB was an option, and that nothing would be held against a person in the cosmic scheme of things for not joining up. There's an obscure, 1950s sci-fi movie called Friend Without a Face; I was content to be a friend without a Facebook. But when I recently got a reproachful note from a girlfriend saying she couldn't find me on Facebook, I realized that FB is becoming mandatory. My friend could have emailed or called me for any reason, at any time. But suddenly, not being on FB was like I'd ceased to exist.
"Freakishly addictive," a character in the movie says of the fledgling Facebook. What freaks me out is the pack mentality involved, that adolescents need to do everything their friends are doing (and nothing that they aren't). In the Harvard milieu of the movie, we see boozy frat parties, idiot pledge rituals, the online humiliation of coed girls ranked for their relative hotness, vindictive of boys who can't get laid. This is "the total experience of college" the movie Zuckerbeg is so eager to capture online? Who wants to stay in college forever? Remember when they used to tell us the best years of our lives were in high school? Only for the extremely unlucky.
Set aside for a moment, the Big Brother implications of everyone plugged into the same network, where any competent hacker can locate, steal, use, or spread your most private and intimate information. (Or monitor your friends, your purchases, and your political affiliations.) The larger point is, as a society, we're already vastly over-stimulated. Who needs more input? My inner hermit requires a lot more downtime than I'm getting now just to rattle around inside my own brain for awhile. Space is at a premium in there; I don't want it so cluttered up with the random chatter of the Borg, I can no longer hear myself think.
Last week, the real-life Zuckerberg announced a new plan to consolidate FB users' disparate, offsite communication tools (email, texting, instant messaging, chats) into one system—located on Facebook, natch. The stated goal is to make users' real-time conversations with friends even faster and more "seamless" by creating a one-stop-shopping inbox where users can collect all their incoming correspondence.
But the real point seems to be to herd everybody onto FB and keep them there, in thrall to the Borg, with less and less inclination to wander off to somebody else's site (and somebody else's advertisers). And here's where it gets extra creepy: according to Zuckerberg, since Facebook already "knows" a user's network of friends, messages from FB Friends will automatically go into a "priority" inbox. Messages from non-FB users end up in the loser inbox, somewhere in cyber-Siberia.
Sorry, but I don't want the Borg ranking the relative importance of my friends, much less orchestrating when and how I can interact with them. There aren't many of us left who are still not on Facebook, but until it actually becomes illegal, count me out, thanks. I'm all in favor of community, and I'm grateful for anything that brings people together rather than dividing them, but I still prefer to socialize with real friends, offline and in person. Preferably over a nice glass of merlot.
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