Zadie Smith recently released a collection of essays in a book called Feel Free. One of the older essays, Generation Why?, is a review of the Facebook-inspired movie The Social Network – as well as a savage indictment of social media at large. These are the closing lines:
…The Social Network is not a cruel portrait of any particular real-world person called “Mark Zuckerberg.” It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.
In particular, Zuckerberg’s motives were called into question. His dream, he claimed, was to Connect people. Then it seemed the aim became to Sell things to them. Personally, I find targeted advertising much less offensive than the unsolicited, hysterical posts from my own connections.
I have only about 400 Friends on the site, and I Follow only a few. Mainly this is because I assiduously avoid the hysteria and hyperbole of the mainstream news media – yet my right to avoid it is impinged every time a Friend shares the most horrific headline, with an ever-enlightening comment such as:
“This is terrible!!!”
In addition, I don’t care if you’ve checked in at the gym, and I’m quite capable of finding my own cute puppies and stupid quizzes.
Facebook is merely the sum of its features. Can you remember when the Wall was new? Imagine if there wasn’t a facility to share all your hilarious/earnest links and the site really was for connecting, instead of collecting Likes? The platform can, after all, still serve us usefully. I reconnected with my soon-to-be husband through People You May Know, and Events is great, for organising both private and public functions.
But I can’t continue to Unfollow every Friend who posts something offensive or pointless – so I’m skipping out on the Wall altogether.
I can’t seem to follow the right people on Twitter, either; it’s pretty much just Facebook in shorter form, with more politics and outrage. It’s a sign of the times that the most abbreviated form of social media has evolved into the forum of choice for politicians in the highest of offices. This is the equivalent of the senate of ancient Rome eschewing the forum in favour of spraypainting the playground.
Society – from top to bottom – seems to be operating at its lowest common denominator, and what hope is there when the youngest generation is the most addicted of all? As digital natives, they’ve known little of life without their favourite app, much less the internet in general. You see them on buses after school, checking screens and looking disconsolately out the window when there isn’t an update, despite the fact an actual friend is sitting right beside them.
A mere handful of men designed the networks that have ensnared us. How long before the Netflix series Black Mirror depicts the present, and not a dystopian future? In particular, the episode USS Callister calls Zuckerberg to mind, at least in light of Smith’s essay.
Imagine if Facebook was not a programme we could open and close at will, but a virtual reality world in which we ricocheted from room to room, seeing now a butcher cutting into tumour-riddled pork, and now a cat gently patting a canary?
I’m saying no to the turmoil – though this post will still appear on my FB author page 😉