Sometime after finishing Katherine Losse’s The Boy Kings about the rise of Facebook from her perspective as Mark Zuckerberg’s eventual in-house ghost writer I am still not quite certain of whether she was critical enough of what she witnessed — even according to her own conscience.
Long stretches of the book are uneventful – frat-boy antics at what could have been one of the other denizens of start-ups in some other part of the software industry were it not for – that this was Facebook.
But occasionally, and then rather regularly peppered through the rather short book at 200 pages, she does hit it, like when she writes:
Facebook allows us a lot of what had up until now been unthinkable – staying in touch with friends across the world, easy instant messaging and chatting, the ability to peruse and pass along interesting stories both from traditional, alternative media and individual bloggers and other writers.
But what is it costing us? And have they not totally overstepped their mandate – especially for non-Americans who never bought into the so-called American dream – where America is not a country but a business.
Facebook has largely destroyed large swaths of the Internet as individual websites, individual band sites for example, even small and medium size restaurant and company sites, simply cannot now often compete. They play games with emotion on our news feeds, are opaque with how these ever so-vital algorithms work, feed information to the NSA, and the list goes on.
More importantly, they have already re-written the rules largely of social interaction. I was already working as a technical writer when Facebook became popular in Canada but has since then seen the total infantilization of our culture – grown men taking selfies and constructing their whole lives in a fake way to please their “public” (of course I am guilty of this too, so are you!).
Indeed, perhaps Losse was just too close to it, sitting there next to Mark and Sheryl Sandberg in the one of perhaps two or three real fiefdoms left, there in Silicon Valley. She is an American and admits to be happy back in the America of no history after returning from the gravitas of Rome.
This is an America of extreme Ivy League competition, of rankings and social order, as the fictional Eduardo Saverin (now AWOL in real life in Singapore) says so tellingly in Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network. What’s more – it has also become the world of celebrity — that quintessential California export — as Losse admits when she got the job writing for Mark – it was not a job – it was a “role.”
To top it off, Facebook hocks advertising based on ever more sophisticated analysis of its users – every aspect in hyper-sophisticated ways – it is ever more so as John Perry Barlow says: The commercialization of friendship.
It is, in aggregate, one of the worst inventions of humanity, an Aldous Huxley feelie writ large for the third millennium.
Perhaps the only antidote being an open source totally transparent social network controlled by users democratically. The Diaspora project failed at this – another contender – perhaps – the WordPress derived BuddyPress.
I mean – must we all live in a voyeur geek fantasy. Must we? I ask you.
Indeed this is the real life Circle, that other fictionalized account of a Facebook-Google social networking all seeing company by Valley writer Dave Eggars – again with a female protagonist who gets swept up in the fantasy and is eventually trapped by it.
Losse did complain that Eggars basically stole the premise from her earlier real life account while Eggars played dumb. In any case, after reading some of The Circle, not only is The Boy Kings a better book: it is the real deal – and it happened before the fictionalized company The Circle was invented in a more meteoric fashion – truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.