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With Friends Like These 

click to enlarge Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.” But hang on. Why on God’s Earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of super-geeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?

And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn’t it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable with such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace while chained to my desk? A friend of mine recently told me that he had spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk. What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations.

Facebook appeals to a kind of vanity and self-importance in us, too. If I put up a flattering picture of myself with a list of my favorite things, I can construct an artificial representation of who I am in order to get sex or approval. (“I like Facebook,” said another friend. “I got laid out of it.”) It also encourages a disturbing competitiveness around friendship: It seems that with friends today, quality counts for nothing and quantity is king. The more friends you have, the better you are. You are “popular,” in the sense of being much loved in high school. Witness the cover line on Dennis Publishing’s new Facebook magazine: “How To Double Your Friends List.”

It seems, though, that I am very much alone in my hostility. At the time of writing Facebook claims 59 million active users, including 7 million in the UK, Facebook’s third-biggest customer after the US and Canada. That’s 59 million suckers, all of whom have volunteered their ID card information and consumer preferences to an American business they know nothing about. Right now, two million new people join each week. At the present rate of growth, Facebook will have more than 200 million active users by this time next year. And I would predict that, if anything, its rate of growth will accelerate over the coming months. As its spokesman, Chris Hughes, says, “It’s embedded itself to an extent where it’s hard to get rid of.”

All of the above would have been enough to make me reject Facebook forever. But there are more reasons to hate it. Many more.

The PayPal Mafia
Facebook is a well-funded project, and the people behind the funding, a group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, have a clearly thought-out ideology that they are hoping to spread around the world. Facebook is one manifestation of this ideology. Like PayPal before it, it is a social experiment, an expression of a particular kind of neoconservative libertarianism. On Facebook, you can be free to be who you want to be, as long as you don’t mind being bombarded by ads for the world’s biggest brands. As with PayPal, national boundaries are a thing of the past.

Although the project was initially conceived by media cover star Mark Zuckerberg, the real face behind Facebook is the 40-year-old Silicon Valley venture capitalist and futurist philosopher Peter Thiel. There are only three board members on Facebook, and they are Thiel, Zuckerberg, and a third investor called Jim Breyer from a venture capital firm called Accel Partners (more on him later). Thiel invested $500,000 in Facebook when Harvard students Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskowitz went to meet him in San Francisco in June 2004, soon after they had launched the site. Thiel now reportedly owns 7 percent of Facebook, which, at Facebook’s current valuation of $15 billion, would be worth more than $1 billion. There is much debate on who, exactly, the original co-founders of Facebook were, but, whoever they were, Zuckerberg is the only one left on the board, although Hughes and Moskowitz still work for the company.

Thiel is widely regarded in Silicon Valley and in the US venture capital scene as a libertarian genius. He is the co-founder and CEO of the virtual banking system PayPal, which he sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion, taking $55 million for himself. He also runs a $4.5 billion hedge fund called Clarium Capital Management and a venture capital fund called Founders Fund. Bloomberg Markets magazine recently called him “one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the country.” He has made money by betting on rising oil prices and by correctly predicting that the dollar would weaken. He and his absurdly wealthy Silicon Valley friends have recently been labeled “The PayPal Mafia” by Fortune magazine, whose reporter also observed that Thiel has a uniformed butler and a $500,000 McLaren supercar. Thiel is also a chess master and intensely competitive. He has been known to sweep the chessmen off the table in a fury when losing. And he does not apologize for this hyper-competitiveness, saying, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

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