I wish I could be one of those people who is always like “I never check Facebook” but if I have a Facebook profile I will check it, at minimum, 80 times per day. Back in olden times, before it was cool to be online and when Facebook cruelly used to tell people if you had been online recently, I lived in a constant state of embarrassment because I had always been online recently. This was in the pre-smartphone epoch, so being online all the time meant you were in your dorm room on your laptop and not doing LSD with a visiting prog rock band and a group of avant-garde circus clowns. Anyway, I deleted my Facebook profile a few months ago and I have not missed it.
This does not mean, however, that I do not still think about Facebook all the time and about how it is the likely downfall of society. It’s really amazing that there exists a virtual platform that not only proffers the soul-sucking personal propaganda of everyone you ever knew and/or didn’t want to know, but also the propaganda of the government, Mark Zuckerberg, and your local Denny’s — and people love it. Also, beyond all the surface crap, we must not forget that Facebook is a powerful political manipulator, and was instrumental in delivering Trump to the White House, as Sue Halpern mapped out in the New York Review of Books this month: “The Trump campaign used Facebook’s vast reach, relatively low cost, and rapid turnaround to test tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of different campaign ads,” she writes. And, well, those ads worked, so thank you, Facebook, for Donald Trump (There were reports that Zuckerberg was dismayed by the impact Facebook had on the election, but Facebook also sold data to an analytical firm working for Trump and owned by the Trump-boosting Mercer family for Trump’s mammoth database of information on voters’ personalities. So either Zuckerberg is very stupid, or his platform is very manipulative, or the American public is very stupid, or, I guess, all three).
I’m not quite sure why people don’t openly hate on Mark Zuckerberg more. He is really lame and sucks? And yet, every story about Mark Zuckerberg is the same. “Blah blah blah wears a hoodie blah blah blah Harvard blah blah made Facebook to meet girls Winkelvii.” Even with all this uncritical press, Zuckerberg still manages to come off like a huge, albeit very rich, loser in his public dealings. His most recent note on his own Facebook profile, posted over the weekend and addressed to no one in the under-socialized way of interacting that his website encourages, is written with the cadence of a Sociology 101 student at the University of Illinois. He wrote, of his “personal challenge” to visit every state he “hasn’t spent time in before to learn about people’s hopes and challenges”: “My biggest takeaway so far is that our relationships shape us more than we think — how we consider opportunities, how we process information, and how we form habits. There is a lot of discussion about inequality, but one under-looked dimension of inequality is in the makeup of our social networks.” Wow, thank you Mark for those searing insights.
Mark Zuckerberg is really lame and sucks?
One could view the contents of his note cynically: Zuckerberg dumbing himself down for an audience he neither understands nor respects as he gears up for a political career. Or perhaps Zuckerberg really is this socially inept. Either way, his branding tour in attempt to become king of America (he has repeatedly denied future plans to run for office) should be feared, precisely because Zuckerberg’s lofty aspirations sidestep any major political takeaways beyond “our relationships shape us” (just asking: does he think a pregnant woman is shaped by her relationship with her fertilized egg? Would be good to know). The fact that Zuckerberg is just now embarking on a cross-country tour to speak with normals about their hopes and challenges is a portrait of a man enabled by privilege and the gaseous confidence that he is entitled to some sort of civic power.
In a story last month for the New York Times magazine, Farhad Manjoo reported that Zuckerberg’s ambitions went far beyond Facebook, to “some global superstructure to advance humanity:” “We’re getting to a point where the biggest opportunities I think in the world ... problems like preventing pandemics from spreading or ending terrorism, all these things, they require a level of coordination and connection that I don’t think can only be solved by the current systems that we have,” Zuckerberg said.
Manjoo writes: “this is not an especially controversial idea; Zuckerberg is arguing for a kind of digital-era version of the global institution-building that the Western world engaged in after World War II. But because he is a chief executive and not an elected president, there is something frightening about his project. He is positioning Facebook — and, considering that he commands absolute voting control of the company, he is positioning himself — as a critical enabler of the next generation of human society.”
Zuckerberg won’t get anywhere without a credulous press.
This is… a lot. First of all, what are the “current systems” we have? The government? Is Zuckerberg suggesting that Facebook could become a de facto governing system, a place where you can get subsidies for your farm while playing FarmVille? Second of all, the idea of Facebook as a “critical enabler of the next generation of human society” is… what? The ambiguous language here is interesting — the word enable, of the psychotherapeutic double meaning. On the one hand, perhaps Facebook could be crucial in making possible the next generation of humankind (connecting sperms with eggs? Idk). On the other, Facebook is in many ways a human enabler — encouraging the worst kind of social behaviors and rewarding people for doing very little.
Like Trump, Zuckerberg won’t get anywhere without a credulous press, which is already enraptured by his boring face and big bank account. The Vanity Fair writer Nick Bilton, clearly vying for a spot in Zuckerberg’s cabinet, wrote of the CEO in January: “If he does want the job, Zuckerberg definitely has the personality for it. When Facebook went public in 2012, I co-authored a profile of the young C.E.O. During the reporting, I heard from several friends about his penchant for playing world-conquering board and video games. Early childhood pals told me that one of Zuckerberg’s favorite video games as a boy was Civilization, the game in which you have to ‘build an empire to stand the test of time.’ Others have told me that, to this day, Zuckerberg loves to play Risk, a strategy board game where you have to essentially take over the world.” Astounding proof of Zuckerberg’s political readiness for office from a seasoned journalist.
Zuckerberg, like most Silicon Valley CEOs, is as establishment as the establishment gets. It might seem novel to apply the Valley dictum of disruption to government bureaucracy, but Trump essentially disrupted the Democratic hold on America and that has not gotten us very far. In many ways, even dear, sad old Donald is a less of a threat to the future of our nation than a fawned-over, emotionless prodigy who wants power with a low overhead.
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