Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anti-social Algorithm

Yesterday i saw a movie called  The Social Network preceded by all the razzmatazz that movies are presented with nowadays. You drive to a mall, eat at the food court and post-meal plunge into a movie which is often an escape route to another world. The mall with its escalator starts the process as you are transported to a surreal world of upper-end shopping and a palm tree paradise where you can  eat all kinds of food for a price.
 The movie begins with a young woman and geeky young man in a crowded pub, having a post-modern conversation. The young man wants to be part of an exclusive social group and the young woman wants out. Post split up, she retires to her room while he sprints back through the long corridors to  blog bitchily about her and simultaneously create a site where sets of twin  pictures of all  women candidates at Harvard  are uploaded for a comparative vote  by Harvard males on female hotness quotient. The site is so popular that  the entire  university's computer system crashes. An investigation is held and the young man is suspended for six months. The young woman,  hurt and humiliated, gathers herself  up with dignity and moves on.
  Young man, Mark Zuckerberg is sought out  by three upwardly mobile Harvard males with  an exclusive network  idea for  fellow students. Zuckerberg goes one better  He ties up with  friend Eduardo as business partner and  Sean Parker of  the 90s Napster  fame provides cutting edge inputs. Facebook is born in the year 2004. The rest, as we all know, is history.

 Facebook feeds into the social demands of  the very privileged young  and gives them an outlet through which  to construct  their virtual identity. It moves very quickly from  exclusive social networking to  a slow unfolding of the narcissism and  exhibitionism that is a major  preoccupation with people who occupy Ivy league colleges slated as being among the best places in the world. This Peter Pan world where you never need to grow up is now international and intercontinental.
 Facebook has iconic status in our  modern cosmopolitan  consumerist society which willingly engorges on everything that is offered, advertised or flaunted.  Yet, what is so different about this whole new world?  The change is  possibly in the external details. We have moved from the streets and alleys to the virtual page. The life lived outside of the electronic page  however hasn't changed. Greed  abides and so does the lust for power and control. Women are objects of desire and occasional arm candy and essential eye candy. Men with exceptional  good looks, athletic or intellectual potential, don't really require to acquire much else, let alone a humanistic education. They engage with very little outside of their own self-image and decadent lifestyles. Such are the new  Cyber lords who have replaced  earlier feudal lords.Otherwise this is a  dog eat dog world where someone has to be top dog .The trick is to be cool, stay cool , market the coolness  at the highest premium  and hit the jackpot with a new brand.
Friendship is en passant. Friends and relationships are set adrift whenever  expedient. Codes and rules arent written.  Players settle things among themselves principally in hard cash. Money Power runs this game and  fame reassuringly frames itself around successful lingerie brands and  facebook frivolities. Losers throw themselves down bridges and winners take to revenge, alcohol, wild music, sex and dope. This is the new global world where Dorian Grays take to Stocks and Shares and pop goes community and collective welfare.
 The world  has shrunk and so also has the  human imagination. Once our mythical heroes battled dragons, supplied fire and water, ploughed and tilled land  on behalf of the entire  human civilization. This is so not happening here!   Human potential  has diminished and the human imagination  is now self serving, meretricious, cynical and facile.
This is the sad part. Exposure to technology driven knowledge highways is still an empowering and enabling source for large sections of the world.  For the founders and users of facebook these insignificant details belong to a world which  exists way beyond the fringes of their virtual world. Hopefully, this is an ill conceived and incorrect assumption. A different note is struck by Erica, the young woman who breaks up with Mark. She is a facebook user but wont accept his request to be her electronic friend.   We need to believe that more dissenting voices such as hers do exist,  even if they remain outside of  facebook


  1. This is spot on and very well said. The old Chinese curse has come true. We do live in interesting times. There is something dreadfully wrong with the new social order and I thought I was just batty. I just can't get that keyed up by what someone else is watching on the idiot box or eating or thinking every minute of the day. I have not seen the movie but have read the book and didn’t think much of the misogynistic portrayals. It is the classical tussle between Apollonian reason and Dionysian destructiveness and pretty much echoes Ruth Benedict’s theory on patterns of culture. And soon this will transmogrify into a newer societal class and be far more appalling and damaging. Stay tuned to the wall…

  2. My view of the world is different because I think niche cultures are very significant in terms of survival strategies, and meaningful bonds of love and friendship do exist. I think Novels and Films often play on the worst case scenario, and the mitigating factors in the narrative are always the desire to be different from the crowd.I think your essay is excellent sociology, and Promethean focusses on that!Welcome to Sociology and the generalising principle.....

  3. i agree with the argument but also feel that facebook provides a space for you to connect to people outside your temporal zone.moreover there is an audience on facebook willing to read what you write i.e poems,short stories,e.t.c.the dalit poet meena kandasamy uses facebook to showcase her talent to a wider audience.also ,because your friends list contains people you know,however vaguely,there is opportunity for social interaction.but yes,it is trivial and self serving at times.

  4. Facebook has always been a topic for debate between me and my friends. I do not support it.However signed up for it just for the sake of a few of my closest friends living so far away and who are available only on facebook !
    Even then I find the conversations ( if you can call it by that word !) are one-liners, comments on photos and on random things. I agree with you, Human potential has shrunk. We are all so tied to these gadgets.
    I was shocked when I realised few months back that I had to " teach " my six year old daughter & her friends " hop-scotch " ! Games that we played as children...already faded ?
    Wonder what else would fade out with this era ?