I just read Zadie Smiths’ Generation Why? and it bugged me…
Zadie’s main argument seems to be based on “I don’t like Zuckerberg so therefore Facebook is also bad”.
It seems a fairly shallow understanding of Facebook and the medium in general. I don’t like Facebook but mainly for the politics of intellectual property, not because it doesn’t model a human properly. But who said it was trying to? Mobile phones are not trying to model your social life and they have a list of your friends too. He also has assumed that everyone uses Facebook the same way he does and that all relationship you have with everyone are the same (ether all shallow or all deep).
Zadie assesment is shallow because he hasn’t really looked at the Facebook medium and understood what its doing, and more importantly whats new there. The friend feed is a (the) personal feed of information on your social network, creatred by the people YOU deem worth to call friends. I personally am constantly culling this list as to me, its really only useful when it has people I care about on it. I don’t have the same self-esteem issues that Americans seem to have wrapped up in “popularity” and evidence of it (or I assume Americans have this based on Movies and all other culture they project). Whats new about it is that its a PASSIVE way to keep up-to-date with what the people you care about are doing. The reason you don’t write emails/letters/faxes/tellagrams to EVERYONE you know/care-about is:
(a) It takes to much time (but this doesn’t mean you don’t care or are less of a person as Zadie seems to imply.
(b) Now that we are in an age where we can actually keep track of all these people we are in contact with a far greater number of people than every before and 1-to-1 communication with them all would be a full time job
(c) Facebook makes it possible to stay in communication with people as they update there info (email/phone numbers/address etc) which also requires a watchful eye if you trying to keep an up-to-date address book.
(d) You writing to them in an active way DEMANDS they are also active in keeping up else you think they are ignoring you and then you take offense or start to think they are not good friends etc etc. Imagine if everyone you knew sent you an email once a week. It would be a full time job just responding.
What are the positives of Facebook that I find make it worth persisting with:
1. Passive socialising is easy and lest you stay in contact with more of the people you would like to but don’t have time normally. I’m pretty anti-social and this makes me more social than I have ever been.
2. Messaging in Facebook is spam free. Unlike email you can only receive messages from your friends and if someone sends you something you don’t like you can ban them and you never receive something from them again. As far as direct communication goes its ideal.
Also, Zadie hasn’t put Facebook into the historical context (in fact all Zadie’s research seems to be based on seeing the film), which was the birth of the idea of the “social” online. If you know anything about Computing Science or Computing Scientists you’ll immediately realise that the word “social” is as new to the field as it is to proponents (that was a joke: ha ha). If the modeling of human relations is clumbys, its only because its new to Comp. Sci. and will only get more detailed and accurate. Its not society, its just a tool!
Zadie admits that she was addicted to Facebook for awhile. This is not because Facebook is some new game. Its simply reveling something that was already there in people. I can say this because its ONLY about people. All the content is about people made by people for people to consume. Facebook is actually pretty minimal in that it doesn’t add much to what people put up on it, and they can put up everything the digital-verse has to offer. Once the first networked computer game was on the market it quickly became obvious that interaction with people will always be more interesting than with computer opponents. The internet became amazingly popular because its all content made by real, every day humans. YouTube showed us that reality TV is more interesting than the mediated TV Exec. idea of what is interesting. Human-to-Human interaction is the most adictive thing online (and offline) and thats why Facebook is addictive, it actually has very little to do with Facebook.
But there is something deeper in Zadie’s article, which is jokingly thrown around but never actually takes seriously, the smell of generation hatred (or fear) which has also wafted by when I have read about the introduction of Radio, Movies, TV (MTV) etc. Which is just conservative at its heart and scared of change.