Sometime after finishing Katherine Losse’s The Boy Kings from some years back about the rise of Facebook from her perspective as Mark Zuckerberg’s eventual in-house ghost writer I am still not quite certain of whether she was critical enough of what she witnessed—even according to her own conscience.
Losse could not quite have foreseen how far Mark Zuckerberg and his deputy poached from Google Sheryl Sandberg would take things in their exploitation of the term metaverse to once again try and subsume the whole internet for profit.
Long stretches of The Boy Kings are uneventful—frat-boy antics at what could have been one of the other denizens of start-ups in some other part of the software industry were it not for – that this was Facebook.
But occasionally, and then rather regularly peppered through the rather short book at 200 pages, she does hit it, like when she writes:
“We were using every technical means at our disposal to create a database of all the people in the world.”
“The automated literature of our lives had begun.”
“The televising and digitization of private life was the new colonialism.”
“Facebook’s work environment, like much of Silicon Valley, and even like the Internet itself, was always about power: about maximizing your own power while conceding as little of it to others as you could… the cult of money and power that we belonged to was only getting deeper and bigger.”
“Instead of making a technology of understanding, we seemed to be making the opposite: pure, dehumanizing, objectification.”
“It sounded like [Mark] was arguing for a kind of nouveau totalitarianism, in which the world would become a technical, privately owned network run by young “technical” people…”
“Social media then is the ultimate Internet game, played according to the rules and metrics created by the boys who make the games and write their algorithms.”
Facebook allows us a lot of what had up until now been unthinkable—staying in touch with friends across the world, easy instant messaging and chatting, the ability to peruse and pass along interesting stories both from traditional, alternative media and individual bloggers and other writers.
But what is it costing us? And have they not totally overstepped their mandate—especially for non-Americans who never bought into the so-called American dream, where America is not a country but a business.
Facebook has largely destroyed large swaths of the Internet as individual websites simply cannot now often compete. They play games with emotion on our news feeds, are opaque with how these ever so-vital algorithms work, feed information to the NSA, manipulate politics worldwide, and the list goes on.
More importantly, they have already re-written the rules largely of social interaction. I was already working as a technical writer when Facebook became popular in Canada but has since then seen the total infantilization of our culture—grown men taking selfies and constructing their whole lives in a fake way to please their “public” (of course I am guilty of this too, so are you!).
Indeed, perhaps Losse was just too close to it, sitting there next to Mark and Sheryl Sandberg in the one of perhaps two or three real fiefdoms left, there in Silicon Valley. She is an American and admits to be happy back in the America of no history after returning from the gravitas of Rome.
This is an America of extreme Ivy League competition, of rankings and social order, as the fictional Eduardo Saverin (now AWOL in real life in Singapore) says so tellingly in Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network.
To top it off, Facebook hocks advertising based on ever more sophisticated analysis of its users—every aspect in hyper-sophisticated ways. It is ever more so as John Perry Barlow says: The commercialization of friendship.
I once thought that the only antidote to Facebook is an alternative open source totally transparent social network controlled by users democratically (like Mastodon and the Fediverse) but I remain skeptical. I think social networking in its totality might be somewhat flawed as a free and responsible press/media is actually a professional job with a whole set of ethical and legal practices which are simply not followed when opened up to everyone.
That is how I feel at least.