30 March, 2009

Facebook, Democracy & World Peace

So, on Saturday, Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Cox, who claim they are so not cool, but rather, nerdy and useful, were part of a NYT feature on the evolution and valuation of Facebook. One of the most interesting things mentioned in the article was about the recent changes that incited a near-mutiny aboard the good ship Facebook:

“The changes, Facebook executives say, are intended to make the act of sharing — not just information about themselves but what people are doing now — easier, faster and more urgent. Chris Cox, 26, Facebook’s director of products and a confidant of Mr. Zuckerberg, envisions users announcing where they are going to lunch as they leave their computers so friends can see the updates and join them.

“That is the kind of thing that is not meaningful when it is announced 40 minutes later,” he says.”

Which got me thinking about the whole “friending” thing again. Frankly, many of us don’t, really, want to wine, dine or even java with about 793 of our 817 friends. We also do not wish to be stalked by the fifty or so weirdos who friended us on Facebook. Do, say, Antonya Nelson, Cormac McCarthy, or Charles Baxter really want a mob of fledgling writers barging into their private lunch at Rouge in Philadelphia? Which is not to say they ever dined there together or apart. Or that I knew of it. Because I don’t.

The Sultans of Facebook also say that the conflict over the new design stems from the mad idea that we who helped build the site through our participation, imagine that we might have a say in its design. They respond thus:

“It’s not a democracy,” Mr. Cox says of his company’s relationship with users. “We are here to build an Internet medium for communicating and we think we have enough perspective to do that and be caretakers of that vision.”

Which is true. They do. But it is also true that true caretakers of a vision respond to the needs of its component parts. For the most part, Facebook has done a terrific job of enabling us to find our common threads and stitch ourselves cozy virtual social blankets. I have friends on Facebook who disagree strongly, to put it mildly, with my political opinions. I have friends who should be, if we went the usual route of only hanging around kindred spirits, enemies. But having found each other through our common interests or friends, we are still holding on because something probably tells us that the fuss and fury we exhibit about each others POV are really not as important as those other things that made us click “friend request” in the first place.

While they celebrate this fast and furious path to world peace through Facebook, though, Zuckerberg and Cox should keep in mind the fact that the desire for global human connections, which waits like a vast ocean at the end of our clicks and clacks, can find another river. The two and a half million souls who have joined the “Millions Against Facebook’s New Layout and Terms of Service” may not seem like much in the face of one hundred million users. But, as the saying goes, it only takes a small leak to sink a big ship.

And, for our part, those of us who wish to treat Facebook as the democracy it is, no matter what its founders would prefer it to be, should also have the intelligence to use its design – i.e. the reasonably creative privacy settings that can be fine-tuned to fit your fancy – to create a more perfect union.

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.