Beware of any phrase that uses “social” as an adjective. Social network, like social justice or social change, is code for something pernicious.
Facebook’s stock has lost more than 25 percent of its value since its May 18 initial public offering. It’s hard not to see the company’s Wall Street woes as a metaphor for the product it pushes.
Facebook the site, like FB the stock, thrives more on hype than substance. FB’s price-to-earnings ratio hovers near 60, about four times greater than for the average S&P 500 stock. Facebook’s user-to-spammer ratio is nearly equal, with the anti-spam company Impermium (consider the source) estimating that spammers start as many as 40 percent of Facebook accounts.
Isn’t it all spam?
The stock is a waste of money. The site is a waste of time.
But an everybody-else-is-doing-it-so-why-shouldn’t-we attitude prevails on the stock and the site.
“Facebook friend” is another way of saying “stranger.” We allow people into our personal affairs who we may not even know personally. The site displays America’s shameful aversion to the greatest word in the English language: no. We are afraid to reject entreaties of online attachment, so we put our lives on display to people we wouldn’t let within fifty feet of our medicine cabinets. And to the extent that we do reject social-network solicitors, we do so in the passive-aggressive manner of ignoring, rather than refusing, their friend requests.
Computers have that dehumanizing effect on humans. They encourage people to treat the person at the other end of the computer like a computer.
If nothing else, the social network provides affirmation for why you don’t actually socialize with your reconnected friend from fifth grade. Whoever said “leave the past in the past” never said it to Mark Zuckerberg.
For the people who have yet to land their own reality television program, there is Facebook. There, exhibitionists can overshare and voyeurs can peep. But peoples’ lives grow boring to the people not leading them. So while the exhibitionist impulse of Facebook may never wane, the voyeuristic side of it eventually does.
In pre-Facebook days, an awkward encounter with a long lost acquaintance might result in a painfully-long three-minute tutorial on the stories behind all of the pictures trapped in a wallet. Now, people willingly embrace this treatment -- at least for a time.
This is the Facebook phase. Like cramming a crowd into a phone booth or talking to truckers on a CB radio, this fad fades.
But Facebook, with its ubiquitous presence online and on television, refuses to let America defriend it. The site’s creators, as the events of the last two weeks suggest, have too much to lose.
The smartest people dedicate their lives to making the rest of us dumber. The creation of Facebook might be seen as a manifestation of the insecurity complexes of geeks. It’s not enough that they are so smart. They dedicate their lives to creating devices -- Twitter, iPhones, Nintendos -- aimed at lowering the collective IQ. The geek’s apartness from the bell curve’s ever-leftward-shifting peak becomes even more pronounced.
Smart people have strangely created a world in which to be smart is to be strange.
Mark Zuckerberg’s life conflicts with his creation. He fenced. He studied the classics, apparently quoting The Illiad at will. He learned four foreign languages before matriculating at Harvard. One wonders if he could have achieved all that in the distracting age of Facebook. Or, if the next Mark Zuckerberg will be too busy wasting in front of a screen to create something for the world’s offline inhabitants.
Facebook doesn't equal faces in books -- or faces outside for that matter. The glare of the screen indicating the computer is on also tells us that the person is off. Perhaps the greatest influence of Facebook, and other digital diversions, is the proliferation of fatsos and fools. Our brains and bodies regress as technology advances.
The decline is bad for the bank accounts of Facebook investors -- both in terms of money and time -- but good for their lives. When the curiosity wears off about how much an old flame now weighs, the user -- fitting that the internet and drugs employ the same lingo -- might take a walk or read a Roald Dahl story. FB’s declining investor interest, one hopes, represents Facebook’s declining user interest.
FB’s stock doing its best Greg Louganis impression doesn’t mean that it is the next Pets.com. It just means that Facebook is overrated and life isn’t.