Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Zadie Smith takes on Facebook

Author Zadie Smith questioned the impact of Facebook on our society in a recent New York Books Review piece. She aptly points out that the service was designed "by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations." An explanation for the shallow, straightforward and consumer-centric lists, declaration of status and "show me" onus of photos. This perpetuates an attitude of what Smith calls reduced personhood. She sees it infiltrating the web...and all pop media.

I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery: this idea of personhood is certainly changing, perhaps has already changed.

So why is Facebook so popular? Smith briefly points out, it's due to the advertisers. "To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos," she says. The idea recalls Marshall McLuhan's theory - asserting that reality itself, not just the message, is morphing to fit the medium. Leaving us with the question - are we merely what we say we are? Or as Smith suggests, is the depth of human individuality more complex than status updates can project?

1 comment:

lindurek said...

I don't think facebook is any shallower than any other means of broadcasting ones personality. It's just a technologically enabled method. In the past you could boast, sing, wear certain types of clothing to symbolize your status, etc (and you can still today). The difference is that facebook is closer to real time - in the past when you didn't see your friends all the time, you weren't constantly dealing with their projected vanity. Perhaps Ms. Smith should log off facebook, and see her friends and discover that they too, in real life, can be as vain as their projected status updates.