why Facebook isn’t radical enough

We watched The Social Network the other day. Anything involving Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher and Justin Timberlake was bound to be awesome. But I left the cinema feeling sad and bitter.

It had a little to do with feeling yucky about the people represented. But mostly I was just really really disappointed with the way the film represents the motivation for the genesis of Facebook: a desire to leverage the status of being at Harvard in order to pull chicks.

I have a very fond affection for computer geeks. I miss daily working with programmers and being able to hang out with the IT department. Like Alison, I got a kick out seeing the technology of my life on screen.

Furthermore, I love the radical hacker ethic that went hand in hand with the development of the internet; an ethic that seeks open access, freedom of information, decentralisation grounded in a radical democratic ideal and mistrust of authority, love of beauty, and judgement based on merit rather than status.

I’ve been thinking lately about how that same ethic could intersect with academic anthropological research.

Facebook is not part of this radical hacker ethic.

Over at St Eutychus, Nathan has posted a review of the film and makes this comment:

I hear a lot of Christians bagging out Facebook because it “doesn’t promote real relationships” or it has replaced time with real people or because it promotes superficial relationships over deep ones.

My problem with Facebook is exactly that it reproduces all the status of real relationships. It was created out of a desire to reproduce exclusivity and what Lupe Fiasco might call ‘the cool’. It has none of the imagination or ethical commitment of a hacker ethic.

And the problem is, we all think it’s cool too.


    1. That’s a good question Toby. I’m not really sure.

      My gut reaction is that it would be more like the blogosphere – where people are followed if they’ve got something worthwhile to contribute. I’m not sure reproducing real world social interations is necessarily a bad thing — I am just often tempted to think that all ICT innovations embody the radical hacker ethic when Facebook is clearly one instance where it doesn’t. I’m disinclined to suggest that to be radical we ought to do away with our real identities in favour of anonymity. I’ve been thinking some more about this as I’ve sat in a course this week on Digital Anthropology. I’m wondering about the potential of the Internet to encourage us to have more rather than less integrity as our real world identities take root online. I feel another blog-post coming on…

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