Monday, June 11, 2012
Does the underwhelming performance of Facebook stock reveal a growing disillusionment with the whole social media thing? Are many people waking up to the fact that a lot of precious time is wasted reading about the minutiae of other people's lives? Are we starting to regret the personal privacy we've ceded to Facebook? This Op-Ed by New York Times columnist Bill Keller from today's paper says "yes" to all that and more. Facebook, in his words, has been a series of "bursting illusions." Here's an excerpt:
WHAT’S the difference, I asked a tech-writer friend, between the billionaire media mogul Mark Zuckerberg and the billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch?
When Rupert invades your privacy, my friend e-mailed back, it’s against the law. When Mark does, it’s the future.
There is truth in that riposte: we deplore the violations exposed in the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s British tabloids, while we surrender our privacy on a far grander scale to Facebook and call it “community.” Our love of Facebook has been a submissive love.
But now, not so much. In recent weeks it seems the world has begun to turn a jaundiced eye on this global megaplatform. While that may not please Facebook’s executives, it is a good thing for the rest of us — and maybe for the future of social media, too.
The recent history of the Facebook phenomenon has been a serial bursting of illusions.
It wasn’t an entirely new thought a year ago when I fretted in this paper that the faux friendships of Facebook and the ephemeral connectedness of Twitter were displacing real rapport, real intimacy. The response at the time — “Luddite!” “Sacrilege!” — suggested that a fair number of people had elevated a very useful tool into an object of mindless worship. But the research keeps reinforcing the argument that social media, while an innovation with a wonderful menu of practical uses, are not a happiness machine. “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” asked the cover of The Atlantic magazine last month. A resounding “yes” — lonely, and narcissistic and actually ill — was the answer.
. . . .
We should be as suspicious of the Facebook-is-over hype as of the original euphoria. Lee Rainie, who studies Internet culture at the Pew Research Center, said that polling does not reflect a significant Facebook backlash so far; the empire is still growing toward a billion users, and more and more people say they use it every day. What has changed is that users say they are more wary of posting private information — especially when contemplating a job hunt, a college application or a budding romance. And many Facebook users — a third, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll — are cutting back the time they spend there.
“The infatuation phase is morphing into a more mature phase,” Rainie told me.
Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society adds that this reckoning is mutual, and natural, as Facebook grows from a plaything born in a college dorm room into a very serious enterprise. “Even Facebook has to lose its own romantic vision of itself,” he said.
After a period of idealizing social media, the public is beginning to recognize that these are enterprises with ambitions and appetites. They are businesses. Public companies have an imperative to grow profits, which Facebook will do by monetizing you and me — serving us up as the targets for precision-guided advertising.
. . . .
Somewhere on his way from Harvard geek to Silicon Valley titan, Mark Zuckerberg adopted an ideology of “radical transparency.” He is getting what must be an uncomfortable dose of that now. This surge of scrutiny ought to make us smarter, more sober consumers. The challenge for Facebook is how to retain the trust of its wised-up users even as he commoditizes us — that is, how to sell us on without creeping us out.
You can read the rest of Mr. Keller's thoughts by clicking here.