Sunday, October 19, 2008

Thoughts on facebook

“I don’t want a big house; all I want is a bigger house than my neighbor”

We are in a constant battle to distinguish ourselves from others. We throw our dollars at things that allow us to differentiate ourselves and make us appear special or superior. Trendsetters race ahead of those sporting John Varvatos’ ‘08 collection by wearing his ‘09 collection. Teens want the new iPOD touch because everyone’s got the iPOD classic. One of the key ingredients of cool is uniqueness, so the ‘Sneak Freaks’ want their Nike limited edition Carolina-blue Jordan’s because beyond aesthetics, the word ‘limited’ means that you can’t have them.The word ‘limited’ grants a protective shield against the cool killing kryptonite; commonness.

Sophistication is the enemy of democracy; our whisky drinkers sip Black Label to edge past those drinking Red Label and fewer sip on Blue Label to get away from Black Label drinkers. It only gets more complicated when you throw cigars into the equation. The most desirable of automotive manufacturers have flourished through making cars that allow people to go faster than the next car at the traffic lights. Real estate sells flats for twice the price purely because it’s located in an area where everyone wants to live but most can’t.

Competition goes way beyond the boundaries of what people can or can’t afford, brands have recently exploited our desire to stand apart by flooding the market with greener products that appeal to our sense of morality. Hybrid cars, socially responsible soap bars, handcrafted mugs made by the indigenous people of somewhere poor yet pure, are all being marketed to us by appealing to our desire for moral superiority.

Consumerism has always been driven by rivalry. To steal off Joseph Heath and Andre Potter ‘consumerism, in other words, would appear to be a product of people trying to outdo one another’ .

The Social Economy: ‘That’s so yesterday!’ Tamara Habib

We operate in a vast and complex social economy, our experiences, relationships, and possessions are all cashed in for social tokens. The more in demand and exclusive an experience, possession or relationship, the higher the cash-in value it reaps. So telling a group of people who’ve never been anywhere beyond the borders of their own country about a trip to New York, trades in a higher value than the same story told to a group of socialites who ‘do’ New York for a weekend. Another example could be when we reflect on the fact that six months ago tossing your iPhone on a table held enough social worth to turn a business lunch into a conversation about you and your lovely new gadget. Today its popularization has lessened its value. The people who thrive in this social economy are those who have enough stuff or traits at a given time that other people want but can’t have. It is important to understand that financial power is not necessarily correlated with social power. Each and every group might have varying economic systems; what is desired in a circle of counter culture punk rock rebels is quite contrary to that desired in a group of Lebanese housewives. Yet despite the variations in group currency, each system operates under the same laws, the more in demand and exclusive something is, the higher its cash-in value.

Enter Facebook, the 24-hour competitive trading grounds of the social economy.

Facebook has sent our social economy into overdrive, by providing us with a 24-hour legitimized space that allows us to browse, speculate and trade social value. What was once an experience ‘cashed-in’ around a water-cooler the day back from a trip, is now traded more formally with a much larger group of social traders. Everyone can now see everyone else’s stocks; how many friends people have, political views, who hangs out with who, what clothes people are wearing, the music they listen to, the places they’ve been, what and who they’re doing, and how many comments their pictures gather. This trading ground has severely intensified and sped up the battle to distinguish ourselves from one another, making us work harder, think harder and spend more money in the struggle for superior standing in our respective social economies.

‘Why would I go to New York? Everyone is going there.” -The girl who’s never been to New York

Facebook has led to dramatic depreciation of social experience forcing us to work and spend more for less. News feeds, status updates, picture uploads, all keep us in the loop about where the busiest of us where, are and will be. The problem lies in the erosion of uniqueness. By seeing everyone doing every thing and everybody, going everywhere and being a fan of everyone, exclusivity, one of the key drivers of consumerism and social value, is at best short-lived, harder to attain and results in the depreciating worth of experiences. So a 5 thousand dollar trip to London that used to get you an engrossed audience orbiting around your cubicle now barely musters up enough interest from the pot noodle eating intern desperately seeking a job. This leads us to work harder, try harder and in many cases spend harder in our effort outdo one another.

‘Here, have a dollar in fact no brother man, have two’- Arrested development, Mr Wendel

Like most media, Facebook paints a distorted, romanticized representation of the state of things, leaving many of us to overestimate how much socially richer everyone else is and how much catching up we have to do. Most profiles are representations of idealized versions of ourselves or who we’d like to be. It’s slightly odd that all of a sudden the worlds choice in cinema, quotes and literature have become markedly more sophisticated, citing foreign movies, pensive quotes and musicians none has heard of as their preferences in an effort to distance ourselves from the mainstream mongrels. Our profile pictures are carefully selected to ensure the right image is projected, be it beauty, quirk, rebellion etc. Our albums go through rigorous screening processes and our experiences are well documented and publicized. Bizarrely, everyone seems to be a whole lot more interesting on Facebook; well cultured, better travelled, more popular, better looking, more desirable and all in all, socially prosperous. So the massive influx of post Eid holiday pictures makes those of us that didn’t go anywhere feel inadequate and pressured into making sure we do next time.

‘I went to the Justin Timberlake concert’- The guy that went to the concert but wasn’t there

Perhaps one of the clearest indication of facebooks dramatic impact on the social economy and how hard it’s got us working, is our tendency to trade in real life experience for garnering proof of them. Compare today’s concerts to those 20 years ago; back then, Michael Jackson popped up on stage and 6,000 people fainted due to an emotional rush of adrenalin. Today, Justin Timberlake anthemically poses for 6,000 people watching him through 1.2 inch phone cameras. Facebook has made us so consumed with the social economy that saying we were at the Justin Timberlake concert is more important than actually being there. What’s even more tragic is that the next day as you rush to the Facebook trading grounds to upload the video of the concert you paid 200AED to prove you attended, Tom, Dick, Harry and their cousin Spiky have uploaded their own versions bringing the value of everyone’s video down to zilch. Justin is, however, planning a concert in Amsterdam…

“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Facebook homepage

Facebook helps us connect with friends, colleagues, family members and in many cases strangers. The benefits of it have proven fruitful to any and all of us, one report stated that ‘if you’re not on a social networking site, you’re not on the internet’. However, above and beyond all its wonders, it is important to understand the sociological, cultural and economical implications of Facebook and other social networks. Facebook brings people together, but in doing so, it is perhaps one of the most dramatic catalysts of social rivalry and in turn consumerism bestowed upon us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:30 PM  
Blogger Moey said...

I think of facebook as an abusive nose diving tool.

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

interestin way to put it..but isnt facebook just the online translation or figurative portrait of what the capitalist economy has been creating for the past century..a shallow society of individuals whose status seem to be proportionally growing with the sad increase of their consumerist addiction.
i wouldnt view facebook as being a cause or a tool thats fueling what seems an actual crisis. I rather see it as one of the many signs insinuating the failing structure. More of a reality snapshot sayin "Look what economy wonder it is failing".

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic observation sir. It's clearly something which you could fall on either side of the fence on.

Whilst social networking media has killed the original human version of serendipity you may argue it's been replaced by an evolved version which is obvious next step in a digital world.

There is essentially a huge information overload which whilst making everything available does in fact devalue it. What is now meant to become valid and newsworthy considering everything exposes everything as being false?

I just like stalking girls on facebook....maybe if everyone just used it for that purpose we'd still all be able to get credit.


11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've made me hate facebook, life, traveling and myself.

Thank you


9:31 PM  
Blogger Nic said...

anonymous 3,you run faster when someone is running right next to you...with or without that person, ur still competitive, u just run faster.

Anton...i suppose BBH said it best when they mention that when the world zigs, he zags.

Lodji, I know where u can get urself a gun with no questions asked.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the true tragedy behind this epiphinal revelation is that it gravely implies the end of economic freedom as we know it , the loss of the individual who is unconciously absorbed in creating false mind-made images of self and the emergence of commercially arbitrated relationships with the fellow human being , which makes me wonder how civilization can ever survive on this narrow way people interact

what was initially an attempt by almost every Facebook user to differentiate himself/herself from everyone else, has onlyproved to fail and show that collective mind patterns cannot be broken and everyone is pethatically identical...

i worry about the impact of facebook on the collective human psyche....
anonymous from Mars

4:43 PM  
Blogger ali 79 said...

this was a good one

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm you must be on a different FaceBook or have a much different group of friends. I've found it a wonderful way to keep touch with folks while not taking up a lot of my otherwise busy day. My FB friends and business collegues are wonderful, supportive people that give of their time and love. I'm honored to be a friend to them all.

3:01 AM  
Blogger Nic said...

Governor Palin?

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing!
Nice work!

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happened upon your blog and feel I have met a kindred spirit - love the writing and the tone as much as the message. I 100% agree with your posting. I also see a new market and broader / deeper kind of emotional bandwidth happening on FB as well. A collaborative, communities of practice / focus finding one another there and bypassing the home pages and friend links altogether, choosing instead to join in a community first and decide later whether to strike up a conversation that may lead to some form of relationship. I've done this for years in other forums, and love that the FB platform can host communities with as much emotional bandwidth (depth) as each community wants, communicate with the broader FB "public", and still have all that social surfing and friend collecting, crafting that cool feeling of being cool.

Thanks for your thought leadership! Trina

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

love the insight of this blog.

I met a woman recently who avidly claimed she would never join facebook, as she didnt see the need to participate in a parade of egos and social voyeurism. It threw me back a little because pretty much everyone i know is on it, including my mum (who barely used to be able to switch on a computer and now uploads and tags photos left right and centre).

Sure, I have a friend who posts pictures literally minutes after the social event is done, or one who even uses his blackberry to upload pics "live."

We boost our egos with a peacockesque display of where we've been, who we're friends with and feel good when we realise that one of our "friends" has less friends than us.

Needless to say, a few months after we met that same woman succumbed and signed on to facebook, and you know what? the only way to get through to her is to send her a msg on FB.

You hate to love it.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from the general reason i post pics is to share with friends (easier than email) and to share my life with those who dont live in the same country, having a profile on facebook asserts me of my existence.

My worst fear is that i'll die and no-one will remember me. And sparing the people the hassle of remembering only the good characteristics of my personality (as is the general tendency) and to forget the bad, i've efficiently compiled them onto my profile, so you can see how popular i was, how fun i was, and lastly how intellectual i was.

ah, the wonders of social networking ;)

12:44 PM  
Blogger Nic said...

hey guys, sorry guys i've been away, technically still am.

Really interesting thoughts, Trina on emotional bandwidth:I could definetly see the dynamics behind bonds being made behind a stimulus...harry potter, obama, a sports team, i dunno if facebook is that metaphorical cafe where people come to talk about subjects first then meet, not unlike flickr, where people who live pictures of ponys sit at the same table, or harry potter fans sit at the harry potter table and chat. Facebook is the table you sit at where u already know people, well at least in the way it's designed.

Anyonymouses, damn can't u guys at least use a number?

It's odd, an aquitance of mine passed away recently, his page has become somewhat of a tribute to his life, beautiful messages posted by good friends, his pictures, a celebration of his life...his friends forever...his friends.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

facebook is the most recent progression in a society that is completely nihilistic.

5:14 AM  
Anonymous paul smith said...

made me hate facebook

5:23 PM  

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