Saturday, October 02, 2010

Facebook as the new public square ~ By Phil Elmore

Facebook has even been given the Hollywood treatment. "The Social Network," starring Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg, dramatizes the creation of the site, casting the social network's pivotal figures as would-be Internet conquerors so polarizing that some speculate whether the film could harm Facebook's business. The fact that the site is a business is readily forgotten by most of its users, myself included. While Facebook's revenue streams range from overt banner ads to virtual stores to more subtle, insidious pay-to-play addictive online games, most of its denizens pay no money (directly, anyway) to use it. They take it for granted, and as they come to rely on it, it insinuates itself into the fabric of their day-to-day lives. (emphasis my own)
"The Social Network" Official Trailer - In theatres Oct 1 2010

Video provided by SonyPictures

On the day that this Technocracy column was posted by Phil Elmore on, I wrote the following tweet:
Facebook as the new public square So compelling that I am not sure I can blog this one and do it justice. @phil_elmore   2:09 PM Sep 30th
Yes, I still feel the same way. It is still very compelling, and I am still not sure if I can do it justice in a blog, but I decided to try to add my thoughts and commentary anyway.

On the surface, it may not seem like a column that I would normally consider including on Blogging in Our Time 2 Escape. Normally, my genre is in American politics and economics. Phil's column, in this case, didn't really touch on politics, but it did focus on culture. But let's face it, culture has a direct influence on politics and economics, and vice versa.

As Phil says, "Social networking has inarguably expanded the 'public square'." Since Facebook has become a major player in the social networking world, with over 500 million users, it has created a gigantic public square. While tends to cater more toward Rock groups and rocking teens interested in music, in my humble opinion, Facebook has become the virtual public square of the world. Yes, on Facebook, while you can still find out what a long-lost friend had for dinner yesterday, there is much more to it now. For now, just about any political organization, candidate, organizations with a cause, or budding bloggers, can now have their own virtual website, without having to spend the big bucks to have a web presence. Honestly, any individual or organization with a cultural statement to make would be foolish NOT to have a Facebook page.

There is something else that Facebook has done that has gone unnoticed by many in the media. It has created a social network on an international scale. It has become the "public square" of a world without borders. And I think that one of the things we will all be learning is that because of this, cultures of specific geographies will soon begin to intermix. That's right, you heard it here first. And the big news is that the only thing that can possibly stop it from happening would be government intervention. (In other words, you may still not find too many Facebook friends living in North Korea... for now.) Or more bluntly, as Phil had written:

Meanwhile, Glorious Leader Obama, who never met a private citizen or news agency he could not vilify for daring to disagree with him, has set his Orwellian sights on Facebook posters (as well as Skype and Blackberry users) so that he and his thought police can wiretap these services on command.
What Phil was alluding to in his column, and what I am expounding on, is that Facebook is, or will soon be, the new 21st Century battleground of ideas and cultural conflicts. It is also a place for peaceful dissent when you don't like what your government is doing, at least for now. It would seem to be a better way to fight than by spilling blood. Well, okay, a few people have taken their Facebook disputes into the parking lots for actual physical confrontations... But, I digress.  Seriously, for the most part, Facebook is still a great way of sharing ideas and cultures where the worst that can happen is that you may occasionally be "unfriended." And if that is the worst that can happen, I think we may be able to still hope for a more peaceful world in our future. Just sayin'...

UPDATE 10.02.2010
Clayton Morris talks to Ben Mezrich about "The Social Network"

Video provided by TheREALjohnny2k
Social networking has inarguably expanded the "public square." It has made our personal relationships easier – to initiate, to maintain, and to conclude – thanks to the immediacy of online contact regardless of physical distance. It has therefore made our personal lives more volatile. This volatility is neither good nor bad; it is simply a fact of social networking in general and of Facebook in particular.

This is true whether you like it – or whether you, uh, don't click the "like" button.
Facebook as the new public square
By Phil Elmore

Posted: September 30, 2010 ~ 1:00 am Eastern

© 2010

I lost a friend last week. I know, because, Facebook told me so. It might, in fact, be more accurate to say that Facebook made the decision for me – the decision to conclude a friendship over which I was wringing my hands.

A close friend of mine, you see, had become increasingly distant over many months, coping with issues of his own. As I watched him alienate family members while doing his best also to push me away, his personality evolved. The proverbial "they" say that people don't change, but of course they do, and I am no less guilty of this than anyone. In this case, however, a person I had known for several years began offering unsolicited criticism and inflicting an ugly, frequently caustic and ever-more arrogant attitude on the rest of the world – when he was feeling like answering messages at all, which he often wouldn't.

Then, one day, I logged into Facebook and discovered he had "unfriended" me. While I was grappling with whether I should cut ties with someone I regarded as a brother, in order to remove from my life a negative influence, he was clicking a mouse and rendering me a virtual unperson. For a teenage girl, this would be a mortal offense. For me, as an adult and in perspective against the rest of my life, it was merely an irritant. But it was also a sobering declaration. I realized just how important Facebook has become in facilitating both the development and the termination of real-life friendships. In the synchronicity that often accompanies such mundane revelations, I quickly found other friends and family acting out this very phenomenon.

Surfing through my Facebook friends' pages, I discovered a relative embroiled in a furious argument with an even more distant relative. The exchange was pretty ugly, if harmless, and revealed a combative side to both individuals I hadn't realized existed. I vowed to stay out of it.

The same day, I spoke to another friend of mine whose wife, daughter, mother and father are all on Facebook. He'd received a frantic alert in the early morning from his mother, who, through his father, reported that his daughter had been leaving inappropriate comments on the site. It turned out that his dad, new to social networking, had misconstrued comments made by a friend of the daughter's as her own statements (an easy mistake to make, given how Facebook displays "wall posts" made by friends-of-friends in the user's activity stream).

Most of these people have in common the fact that they were all, at least at one time, people I would not have thought would have Facebook accounts. The site's powerful influence on society is thanks to how many people use it, after all. It encourages users to register real names rather than pseudonyms, making it easier to find and connect with your real-life acquaintances (although my friend Sidney Remington, last name withheld, was initially told by Facebook that his name could not possibly be real). Facebook blurs the lines dividing social categories, making virtual strangers "friends" and allowing everyone from your boss to your mother to the members of your high-school graduating class to know what you had for dinner last week (and whether you uploaded a photo of it from your mobile phone).

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1 comment:

  1. The Social Network has it's built in evils... Phil Elmore's column was profound, and made me think a lot about where this is all going. I am just wondering if most of the reason why we LOSE friends on facebook is the overwhelming amount of contacts we get, and then get spread too thin to keep in contact with everyone! So, while we'll work hard to keep in touch with our favorites, our BFFs, we end up losing the rest forever...

    Love ya always! (Let's never be strangers!)