Friday, June 22, 2012

Mark Zuckerberg and The End the World

What are the odds that Facebook will
bring about the Zombie Apocalypse?
(c) 2012 by Tom King

I love all the pundits that are busily predicting the end of Facebook with a note of sadistic glee in their word processors. Yeah, the IPO didn’t go as well as everyone hoped (presumably including the inimitable Mr. Zuckerberg). So what? Why should Facebook’s hiccups make so many intellectual snooty persons happy?

I think it’s all the ordinary raggedy humans on Facebook that bug them - all those ignorant masses trolling around on Facebook telling their friends all about themselves. Here we have a publishing engine that allows people to present themselves in a deceptively attractive online format, their ruminations completely unedited and uncensored. And all these untrammeled thoughts and ideas, pictures and art just flow through Facebook’s pipes like either some sort of gigantic sewer system or like the vascular system of some amazingly vast unpredictable fun beast.

Which you see it as, rather depends on whether you are a regular raggedy human being or one of the legions of self-appointed arbiters of taste and culture who think that information flowing to and from “the masses” ought to pass through them to be cleaned up and made presentable first.

One good professor argued recently that Facebook and its social media compatriots, the smart phone, laptops, tablets, podcasts and eBooks threaten to make us all narcissistic slaves to cultural group think. He joins a tiresome procession of pundits who have predicted the end of civilization as we know it if some technology or other becomes widely adopted.

The telephone was supposed to make us slaves. And for a time, it did keep us hopping to answer the thing every time it rang. So, we invented the answering machine and voice mail so we didn’t have to get up from our movie or our book or our supper to answer its jangly summons. Email was supposed to chain us to our computers answering a vast flood of trivial communications. We invented the spam filter and learned to block obnoxious communicants the way we learned to throw out junk mail without reading it.

Now Facebook has changed our concept of friendship. Not to worry. Facebook and other social media have only freed us from geographical proximity as the end/all be/all basis of friendship. Facebook and its ilk have, instead, replaced geographic proximity as the primary determiner of friendships with social proximity through electronic connections. Facebook became as an expander of human relationships. With it and the modern array of tele-communications tools available, it is more than ever the kinship of ideas, beliefs and interests that form the basis for friendships. We may have 1200 Facebook friends, but we still effectively communicate within only a relatively small circle of active friendships.

We are no more slaves to the temptation to narcissism and groupthink than we ever were. Used to be we all accepted what the newspapers told us about the world. Later it was two or three radio networks, then pretty much it was Walter Cronkite on the six o’clock news. Now, you can find both sides of any story if you don't mind cruising around the cable news networks. You can even subscribe to a plethora of newsfeeds that send the news of the day in all its conflicting forms directly to your cell phone.

All this technology has NOT led to a melding of the minds or robot people with no will of their own. Au' contraire. The explosion in communication technology, far from drawing us all together, has confirmed us in our differences. Arguably better communication with our peers has led to near anarchy in places like the Middle East and to a looming civil war between the right and left in our own country. It’s not the smart phones that will destroy us. The technology itself is benign. If the world rings down to an end it will be because we surrender ourselves to the same old impulse to greed, lust and power that’s haunted the human race since time immemorial. It wasn’t cell phones that started the Crusades, the Holocaust, The Cultural “Revolution” or the Inquisition. If anything, improvements in communications technology have dragged such nastiness out from under its rock and killed it with light.

Let’s face it. Most of us realize our hundreds of "friends" on Facebook are just a network of acquaintances with no more influence over us than mere acquaintances ever have. Our circle of true friends still remains rather small - limited almost entirely by our inability to cope with more than a finite number of close relationships anyway. It's just that some of our new "friends" live halfway round the world. Thanks to social media, we are free to choose our friends these days unbound by the constraints of geography.

I think I’ll Skype my buddy, Martin, in Poland this weekend.

How cool is that?

Tom King
Puyallup, Washington
Now you know someone you can worry about if you ever hear that Mt. Ranier has blown up.

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