Movie time already?

Production cycles must be getting short these days. Just how long did it take for Facebook the website to become Facebook the David Fincher movie? Not too long, though happily longer than it takes to compose a status update. As I watch Justin Timberlake valiantly hotting up the very website famous for its streaming banalities, I have to wonder just what is the deal. I remember in 2007 taking bets on just how long it would take for Facebook to go the way of Friendster and other dot com busts before it. So what’s kept it around?

The only theory I can surmise goes back to Durkheim, the sociologist who noted some hundred years ago that religion is society worshiping itself. Now, love Facebook or hate it—which many of us do in equal measure—we are inclined to grant it supernatural powers. In the anthropological sense, words like “magic” and “supernatural” and “myth” are not negative words to describe what is false or unscientific; they point to instances where the physical properties of what happened don’t matter nearly as much as the social and moral truth at stake. There is a secular transubstantiation happening here, where the wine that Facebook created is equal parts sacred (risk taking entrepreneur has the multimillion dollar idea) and equal part dark arts (said to kill privacy, promote thoughtless verbal diarrhea, and reduce friendship to a mere click).

I am not here to exonerate the “mere” technology. It’s not “only” a networking tool, but there are good reasons it captivates. I think (though I’m sure there are gaggles of graduate students studying it now, and we’ve known for a long time how Facebook and MySpace have very different demographics) one reason for its staying power must be because it speaks to the things the upper middle classes worry about. Upward mobility now means physical mobility, and friendships are made and let languish in the inevitable cycle of moves in and out of graduate school, jobs, and layoffs. It is a rare yuppie that is actually “from” somewhere, without reciting a litany of years spent in this or that city. All of which grows rather painful over time. The inevitability of having to start again, or, conversely, staying put while watching your network of support get plucked off in a steady series of career changes, is a perennial insecurity as sure as death and taxes. As Zygmunt Bauman says, we want the freedom to roam and the security of staying put, and this is what vexes modern relationships. Like Zuckerberg, we too chase our fortunes, pick up sticks when we have to, and lose friendships when it requires more effort than we can muster to maintain them regardless of how much they were once valued. And what does Zuckerberg offer as a solution? A list of people who are always there, regardless of where they really are, who don’t require much effort to be kept up with and ask little in return. The best and worst of both worlds, giving us a disquieting view of the way our social relationships panned out long before they were crystallized into a clickable list of online friends.

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~ by dnafus on October 12, 2010.

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