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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Facebook + social networks « Previous | |Next »
January 4, 2011

Social network sites such as Facebook rely almost entirely on users posting personal information that is then shared with a network of “friends” through newsfeed stories. They have adopted new techniques to facilitate unpaid content production and publishing for users--the processes of content production and publication are simplified at the level of the user interface, which comprises the ’symbolic handles’ such as buttons, text box, scrolling devices, etc. Our cultural discourse is shifting from printed pages to networked screens.

Wall Street---ie., Goldman Sachs--- reckons Facebook, the social networking site, is hot. The company is valued at $50 billion, making Facebook now worth more than companies like eBay, Yahoo and Time Warner. Facebook is now flush with cash.

Web 2.0 has come of age --- we now inhabit digital networks of the networked information economy. These Web 2.0 spaces--Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and MySpace-- are increasingly being commercialised by Facebook + Google. In fact the open-source movement has been incorporated into a capitalist digital economy.

Establishing a new – and free – Facebook account lays the ground work for the growth of one’s social network. In exchange for this service, Facebook reserves the right to use information provided about users – who they are friends with, what their preferences are, what they read or consult – in order to share such information with third parties. YouTube likewise relies on freely and voluntarily produced videos to attract people and sell audiences to the advertising industry, among other marketing techniques, such as promoting partners’ videos.

The economic model of ‘Web 2.0′ is based on promoting the desire to share and exchange things, an attempt to make profits from the voluntary collaboration of its users and its potential for compiling data and making them available to the public.

However, the corporate colonization arguments do not provide an entirely adequate model for understanding Web 2.0., since commercial Web 2.0 spaces such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are important sites of cultural exchange and discussion. They have become more than a nerd's world, as the virtual has become the everyday.

In Generation Why? in the New York Review of Books Zadie Smith says:

Or maybe the whole Internet will simply become like Facebook: falsely jolly, fake-friendly, self-promoting, slickly disingenuous. For all these reasons I quit Facebook about two months after I’d joined it. As with all seriously addictive things, giving up proved to be immeasurably harder than starting. I kept changing my mind: Facebook remains the greatest distraction from work I’ve ever had, and I loved it for that. I think a lot of people love it for that.

Web 2.0 is like a black hole. We are "locked in" the software which shapes our conduct.

Smith, who is reviewing David Fincher's film The Social Network argues that:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

Smith yearns for a world of a private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery with a rich interior. So we should struggle against Facebook's denuded networked selves.

Surely our profile on Facebook is a public mask--one that is socially constructed by the technocultural dynamics present through the software platform and the user generated content of human actors. We are developing complex digital identities (remixing?), and we are more than subjects online.

We can argue this without embracing Smith's person as mystery position.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:33 PM | | Comments (4)


the power dynamics in commercial Web 2.0 (Facebook) are both repressive and productive.

These days ‘free’ is just another word for service economies.

The accounting angle is interesting. Facebook is valued at $50 billion for providing a free service. Weird concept.

An increasing amount of productive activity is taking place online without any money changing hands. For example, I used to spend hundreds of dollars a month on recorded music; now I spend nothing. But I enjoy a richer and more varied menu of new music than I ever did before. The difference is that it's all free. In conventional accounting terms there is less economic activity taking place, therefore lower GDP, but I am better off in any rational sense of the word and the main losers are the people who used to perform the tasks of manufacture and distribution. These are now redundant. Of course one could argue that the artists are also losers but this seems a fallacy to me, because they don't have to make their music available for free if they don't want to (I'm talking about legitimate sites, not Bit Torrent file-sharing).

The same applies to advice about all kinds of things, ranging from legal opinions to product reviews. Again, all free, so there is no recorded economic activity, but the producers of the advice are still investing their labour and I'm getting a tangible benefit. The online community invests labour in these activities because of a shared belief that the collective resources they are creating justify it. But it's outside all conventional notions of accounting for economic activity and eventually people like the ABS are going to have to come to grips with the definitional problem.

Although all of this has at least the potential to help create a truly inter-connected global culture I would say that most of it represents the Blue Pill dream world as featured in the Matrix Trilogy.

What is thus called "life" seems to be as good as its gets, and has ever been in any other time and place.

While beneath the socially fabricated veneer the machines are rapidly finishing off what is left of living-breathing-feeling humankind, and the biosphere too.

Dutton from Arts and Letters of course was very much committed to the Blue Pill simulacra. As are all of the anglo-saxon "realists".