There’re already too many “The Way We Live Now” think-pieces associated with technology and the Internet Age, touting apps that allow us to broadcast our more unique bowel movements and raise money for Goonies 2, to instantaneously speculate about minutiae and global events with equal rigor. Everywhere, the culture is saturated like butcher paper with grandiose verbiage heralding the next new era in Tech, dripping with profit and optimism. With 1.2 billion Users, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is the leviathan of the Information Superhighway. Marshall McLuhan claimed over 40 years ago that we were moving towards a “global village”- well, with the help of Mr. Zuckerberg, we blew past the village and created a web-based megalopolis. But we lose when we worship at the altar of Zuck.
Facebook, Inc. is just that- an incorporated Silicon Valley firm, with Zuck and Co. acting upon shareholder interests. When tasked with ascribing the platform a purpose, like any ubiquitous cloud-based intangible technology, the company’s PR department figures that the ubiquity of the brand trumps the need to risk any potentially divisive philosophy. Facebook continues the trend of ergonomic multi-platform tech entities by offering up a broad and amorphous Mission, probably thought over a game of ping pong or glow-in-the-dark mini-golf at the office’s Recreation Zone. Here’s Facebook’s most recent Mission Statement:
Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.
It’s a big open sky of communication, the same azure hue as Facebook’s background color. Zuck said himself, “The question isn’t, ‘What do we want to know about people?’, It’s, ‘What do people want to tell about themselves?”. In a cascade of selfies, infinite terabytes of uploaded pictures and updates and Likes, we document our lives. A tidal wave crashing through darkened bedrooms lit by LCD screens, Facebook rips apart intimacy from the inside out, inverting conversations into pixel-drawn hypertext superimposed on a programmatic structure of tables and one-click buttons. Our corporeal bodies, beating hearts and misguided impulses, our doubts and fuck-ups, uncooperative hair and skin sensations, are erased at the altar of straight lines and HTML code. Like a mall, Facebook surrounds us with mirrors and clean surfaces, perfectly lined rows of friends, family, acquaintances, that one person you met when you were drunk at a party and never saw again. It twists our drive towards rationality into a collection of digital content. The most apt metaphor for this onslaught of self-rationalization is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill- it flowed relentlessly, mucking up natural beauty, injecting millions of gallons of man-made sludge daily into the world at a speed heretofore impossible without technology, a force too great to plug up. And we experienced it all through the media.
We cast our updates off into the ether like model sailboats, watching as our comments float through the proper channels, rooting for our missives. In creating a marketable “personal brand”, we are complicit in what is certainly a dark point in late capitalism- turning both our public and private lives into pure commodity. To harken back to McLuhan, “the medium is the message”- so on Facebook, a social marketplace, we are both consumed and consumer. Through willfully touting ourselves as a collection of preferences and connections, we cede our right to a real, fluctuating self-hood.
It is more and more difficult for us to imagine the real, History, the depth of time, or three-dimensional space, just as before it was difficult, from our real world perspective, to imagine a virtual universe or the fourth dimension.
– Jean Baudrillard
It is this writer’s belief that the most significant and damaging aspect of the Facebook platform is the News Feed, which “updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.” Since the dawn of time, human beings have been social creatures and there has been a proverbial “grapevine” of communication through which news (read: gossip et al) would spread. With the News Feed, Zuck and Co. have eliminated the need for real connectedness by replacing it with automatic, ever-shifting array of posts and updates from the farthest reaches of our social circles, bereft of any work on our part to actually risk potential discomfort by interacting with one another. In yet another part of our lives, we’ve ceded control to automation, algorithms, and the screen.
With the News Feed, we are engaged in a level of ambient awareness that has been proven to have deleterious psychological effects on our mood while also contributing to our general habit of social consumption rather than participation. Friends become morsels, their status updates, pokes and Likes akin to Nestle Dibs. It’s either an extension of the truth of existentialism, as if we’ve all finally settled on the fact that we’ll never truly know anyone else, or it’s a temporary illusion that we’re forced to live through until the system collapses and from the rubble, we realize what we’ve lost.