Lets get the obligatory statement of interest out of the way: Zadie Smith, as far as I’m concerned, is full of win. Especially when she’s complaining about losing touch with popular culture.
In a typically fluent and well constructed polemic in the New York Review of Books, she damns the world of facebook and social networks with an elegant, fluttery mixture of amusement and bemusement. Well in the second half of the essay at any rate, the first two pages being devoted to a kind of star-struck analysis of Zuckerberg that would no doubt amuse its subject immensely.
I’m not sure I agree with her entirely but she raises a few interesting questions. Smith begins by criticizing social media in general for creating a sort of ‘reduced form’ version of human beings. This is true – but the argument can be boiled down to saying: “Oh things are not so simple child” (best uttered with a world weary sigh). That applies to all of human creation and is the social scientists archetypal truism.
Her more prescient point has to do with the ways in which a ubiquitous technology shapes the user, slowly imposing on all of us a set of social norms and design aesthetics that spring from Zuckerberg, Harvard, the Silicon Valley, Ivy League America (in decreasing order of influence). That and an increasing herd mentality.
She makes an interesting comparison with MySpace (and may as well have mentioned Geocities before WordPress and Google Sites came along) with its distracting, discordant diversity of online presence. Compare that to Facebook’s doctrine of “one color fits all” (and that color is blue). Or Steve Jobs tightly controlled vision of what a mobile smartphone experience should be.
Eventually we hope to practice what we preach and create web presence for this blog that is defined by and for us, and not via a wordpress styesheet. For now, I’m delighted to finally have an incredibly pretentious justification for using Android (with a custom app launcher) instead of iOS.