The Online Journal of Writer Kate Sykes
I came to Facebook eight years ago on the recommendation of two Harvard friends. The husband, a venture capitalist, explained the merits of social media in terms of professional networking, and then, perhaps realizing who his audience was, fine tuned the pitch: “It’s a great way to let your friends know when you’ll be at the bar.”
His wife told me the story of how Facebook grew out of the Harvard University practice of distributing photos of incoming freshmen to the student body in a publication referred to as ‘the face book.’ She said Facebook was a great way to keep in touch with people but warned me of accepting friend requests from men who trawl the internet for women, collecting pretty faces to boost their Facebook clout.
Blog posts by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, published by Wikipedia, reveal how apt my friend’s early assessments were, as well as how dim and out of focus Zuckerberg’s light-bulb moment may have been:
I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10 pm and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland dormitory facebook is open on my desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendiedous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of some farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.— 2:49 pm
Yea, it’s on. I’m not exactly sure how the farm animals are going to fit into this whole thing (you can’t really ever be sure with farm animals…), but I like the idea of comparing two people together.— 11:10 am
So what? you say. Zuckerberg was young and foolish. Doesn’t everyone say cruel and stupid things like that when they’re drunk?
Yeah, sure they do.
….Wait. Actually, no they don’t, asshole.
But now, thanks to Facebook, if you’re someone who does say cruel stupid things when you’re drunk, you’ll never be able to live that down.
Facebook has changed a lot in the eight years I’ve been a member, but the basic premise remains the same as it was when Zuckerberg birthed it from the pickled depths of his adolescent mind: judge and compare; like or don’t like; follow or un-follow. The binary nature of it is both genius and insidious.
Until Facebook introduced emoticons earlier this year, there was no nuance on the site at all. And why should there be? There’s no nuance in business. Business is a make or break proposition. A product either sells, or it hoses you. You close the deal, or you lose the client. There are no consolation prizes in capitalism.
At its core, and from its inception, Facebook has always been a free market: a hot-or-not, succeed or fail competition in which likes are currency and the stakes are nothing less than the bankruptcy of your own self-worth. Your friends are not your friends; they’re potential buyers.You are not you; you’re a product pushed out to market. Your photos and status updates are nothing more than ad campaigns. Your comments are slugs, bylines. And the data all rolls up to the top, where mega-corporations trade on your triumphs and tragedies to turn a profit for themselves.
Sown and grown from the same scorched earth of neoliberal economics, which maintains that a system of identifying winners and losers is both natural and good, Facebook is uniquely American. Like it or not. Love it or leave it.