Am Bratach No. 244
February 2012


Martin Morrison writes about

As if the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics weren’t enough to lift the gloom, Goldman Sachs have shone yet more light on the path to the sunny uplands of market prosperity by provisionally valueing Facebook at $50 billion prior to it being floated on the stock exchange later this year.

If you’d been depressed lately, unable to make sense of the modern world, wondering if life was ever going to get easier, tormenting yourself over the debts our children and grandchildren will inherit, this will surely have you postponing that trip to the Dignitas Clinic and running naked down the street in unmitigated joy. Or it may not.

I have resisted invitations to become a “friend” of people I already know, one of my sisters, for instance, or confidante to those I don’t. Email has meant “keeping in touch with friends and family” has never been easier. I have also lost touch with people I didn’t like, a luxury Facebook doesn’t allow without risking social repercussions. Best-forgotten youthful exploits used to be just that. Not now. You could be reminded at any moment. There are no clean slates or second acts here. Showing everybody your holiday snaps used to be almost a social faux pas, lest you bore them. Now it is compulsory and people are expected to “like” hundreds of pictures daily. Failure to enthuse promptly on these and a glacier of utter fluff now invites cybersulks and worse.

If people tell me that they only communicate on Facebook, I tell them I only write on Basildon Bond. But this isn’t what really unsettles me. After all, like money, it can be managed with a bit of sense. The red mist descends when I am told, as if this were a self-defining virtue, that joining is “free”. Somebody evidently thinks it’s worth $50 billion.

To put this in perspective, it makes a virtual steamie the biggest corporation on earth. It is worth substantially more than any bank. (Though, aren’t we all these days?) Google, Apple and Microsoft are worth less. What, exactly, can you buy with $50 billion? A middle-sized European nation state, apparently.

Other than its own servers and offices, it has no assets; Mark Zuckermann rents a flat and by all accounts leads a modest lifestyle. One doesn’t really need to subscribe to conspiracy theory to look askance when one teenager corners this amount of wealth from his laptop. Future historians may well identify this as a profound glitch in ancient Western technocracies.

Mark Zuckermann is no Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Calling him an internet pioneer is a bit like calling Harry Ramsden a marine biologist because he supposedly created the fish supper. He invented nothing, built nothing. His software is barely deserving of its patent as all it does is run a series of existing applications in a combination nobody had really seen a need to before.

Chatrooms were amongst the earliest inhabitants of the internet, challenged in bandwidth supremacy only by pornography and gambling. These were followed by impossibly friendly Nigerian eccentrics with millions of pounds they would love to give us if only we send them our bank security details and an administration fee. Profound concerns about human fertility and carnal satisfaction in a world with a spiralling population that seems to think of little else offered a marvelous opportunity to spam us senseless with bargain-priced pharmaceutical “solutions”. Vorsprung durch technik, as they say.

Facebook, of course, is squeaky clean. You can do or say what you like, but in order to cover the widest base, a suffocating social protocol has emerged, one which defines itself only by what isn’t allowed. To avoid offending anybody — the great taboo of the age — people have defaulted to idle gossip and vapid, uncritical positivity that “likes” everything.

Some will here cite the unimpeachable march of “progress” but this could justify pretty well anything. I doubt Darwin would recognise natural selection at play, except perhaps the bit about extinction. I’d always thought that our technological advance was driven by a quest for solutions, not for more problems. We know when we’re liked and when we’re not. We don’t need our every move recorded and affirmed. And those who believe Facebook can facilitate the revolution should ponder why Goldman Sachs “likes” Facebook so much. Tragic irony aside, they once “liked” sub-prime mortgages, too. They messed up our finances in some style. Should we really be trusting them with our social lives?

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