It is an open question whether, in a hundred years or so, our civilization will be ruled by the descendants of Facebook or Google—whether we will become, after a protracted and painful transformation, the Republic of Zucktopia or the People’s Democratic Polity of YouTubistan. I suppose there is a slim chance we may become either the United Amazonian Federation of Prime States or—and this an even more distant possibility—the Lightly Moderated Realm of Wikistein. But my money’s on one of the big two.
In all likelihood it will be Facebook that wins. There is such a cheerfully ruthless streak to Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild, a deeply and uncomfortably relentless desire to consume, categorize, and collate everything and everybody everywhere, forever. Now Facebook has taken one step closer to its grand vision of a shining newsfeed on a hill, announcing its plans to build a self-contained Facebook community, a kind of latter-day Celebration, Florida but for rich tech people in Menlo Park.
The new project will contain “several office buildings, hundreds of homes, retail, a grocery store, and parks and plazas.” A pharmacy is also planned. The project is called “Willow Campus,” because every corporate endeavor these days has to be a campus.
I am sick of Facebook and I want it to go away.
Facebook Itself Is Bad Enough
Years ago, when it first dropped, Facebook was unique and interesting. It was never particularly useful, and never really accomplished anything of any real value. But it was neat, on Monday and Tuesday mornings, to log on and see pictures of your drunken antics from the weekend, and it was fun to throw up a sarcastic status update or two, share an anecdote with a few dozen people, wish your friends happy birthday. It was entertaining. Harmless.
Very quickly it became much more than that, a nexus of both unbridled narcissism and unrestrained vitriol. You started to see it at parties and gatherings—the knowledge, in everyone’s eyes, that every photograph would be posted in a few hours, the desire to build your life and your behavior to fit an exhausted and pointless digital narrative, a culture of reflexive inward focus: a generation of young women lost to the duck face.
The fights were even worse: freed from the relative privacy of e-mail discussion, people figured out the advantages of publicly berating their friends and countrymen over the slightest of differences. The political and cultural brawls, the vicious nastiness, conduct unencumbered by anything so twentieth century as face-to-face contact: men and women discovered that Internet meanness incurred virtually none of the (immediate) costs of real-world meanness. So lots of people got really mean.
Add to all of this the ceaseless format revisions that have resulted in a bizarre Plinko-style cascade of relentless noise and moving imagery, and you have a recipe for angry, epileptic vanity, a sort of Two Minutes Hate with selfies. Facebook is, by and large, an awful platform, its few genuine advantages overshadowed by its critical deficiencies. And it has swallowed up nearly a third of the world’s population.
If Facebook disappeared tomorrow, we would all be better off. But it won’t and so we will not.
The Future of Facebook Is Worse
I am not just sick of Facebook; I am sick of Zuckerberg, who at this point has effectively become Facebook personified, inasmuch as there is not a single facet of his life that is not carefully planned and curated for display on news feeds and USA Today squibs.
I am sick of him now and I am also sick of him years from now when he will probably be the president of the United States. I do not want Zuckerberg as my president; I do not want him to be even so much as the super in my apartment building. But president he will probably be, and you can see him gearing up for it already, like a spaceship slingshotting itself around the moon’s gravity as part of a deep-space endeavor.
It is difficult to imagine the seat once held by George Washington being held by a fellow once portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. The improbability of it has not deterred Zuck, who has been clumsily gallivanting around the country in a painful mashup of jes’-folks aw-shuckery and thoughtful Young American policy meditation.
While traveling in Iowa recently, Zuckerberg stumbled across a pork tenderloin sandwich—a dish the middle third of the country eats regularly—and declared: “Iowa is my kind of place!” Nobody has ever said any such thing about Iowa, even Iowans themselves. I do not want a president who says things like “Iowa is my kind of place!” I would take a fourth term of Trump over such a fate.
Visiting Alaska, Zuckerberg was inspired by the state’s “social safety net programs,” so much so that he wrote an essay so transparently anodyne that you could almost see through it into Facebook’s C++. “When you think about the way [Alaska] support[s] subsistence fishing as a safety net program,” Zuckerberg writes, “it has some interesting properties.” This kind of pre-packaged, vacuum-sealed boilerplate drivel makes me want to shoot myself. I have no interest in handing over the office of Abraham Lincoln to a man who both inflicted Facebook upon the country and who sincerely writes things like “There’s a lot more to [Alaska] that maybe I’ll post about later.”
Nor does it help that Zuckerberg “comes with his own deep state, and enough blackmail for half the country.” What could go wrong?
We’re All In Facebook City, USA Now
Facebook is bad enough. Zuckerberg 2024 is worse. Perhaps most dismal of all is the prospect of Facebook City, USA: the website itself brought to brick-and-mortar reality, like a Star Trek holodeck fantasy but in real life and with Sheryl Sandberg as your implicit mayor.
It is doubtful that Facebook’s real-life cityscape will stay confined to Menlo Park. Surely we can expect it to spread. Maybe a satellite campus somewhere in Marin County, a high-tech housing complex in downtown Los Angeles, a half-dozen dorms at Berkeley sometime in the next decade. It seems far-fetched, but then, so did the idea that in just a little over a decade Facebook would grow to ensnare nearly one out of every three human beings on Planet Earth.
Myspace and Friendster at least had the dignity to die when it was clear that their time had come. Over a decade after its founding, on the other hand, Facebook continues on—grating, pointless, divisive, and now the two-billion-member-strong personal SuperPAC of an aspiring presidential candidate.
Remember when we used to jokingly say “Tag me!” when getting our photos taken? Remember how sweet and innocent that was?