Mark Zuckerberg is a computer genius, his Facebook enterprise a phenomenon. Both founder and company are emerging as shapers of the century, alongside Bill Gates of Microsoft and the late Steve Jobs of Apple.
The first word that comes to mind is Ugh!
A BBC television documentary about Facebook, aired last night, confirmed all my worst fears and prejudices. Zuckerberg is a creepy, charmless, humour-free, one-dimensional nerd. Facebook is nothing but an internet wheeze designed to turn the entire population of the planet into zombies, or, if you prefer a more specific description, a pathetically vulnerable targeted mass audience for advertisers. There is nothing to admire about either Zuckerberg or Facebook, except the numbers.
Zuckerberg, still aged 27, is on paper a multi-billionaire. He apparently turned down a billion dollar offer for his company from Google, and later rejected a $15 billion bid from Microsoft. Facebook may itself go public next year. Some analysts believe that estimates of a stock market valuation of $100 billion will prove conservative. Facebook has attracted hundreds of millions of subscribers, and corporate hucksters and publicists can’t wait to reach out to them. Zuckerberg calls this process “trying to make the world a more open place.”
And here am I starting to wish the world would become a more closed place. Not for the first time, I seem to be bucking the zeitgeist.
Sadly, many of my acquaintances (though thankfully few of my friends) are going along with it. They participate in Facebook in its most basic and ostensibly harmless form by swapping pictures and fatuous little anecdotes. “Had a great dinner at Luigi’s last night,” they tell their no doubt enthralled readers, “but John left his credit card at home and I had to pay. Ha, ha!” Another intrepid writer reports, “Off to in-laws now, hope the traffic’s not too bad.”
Why do the peddlers of such drivel feel such a compulsion to distribute it? Because they are bored, I suppose, or because they feel important by assuming a kind of celebrity. Why don’t they read a book? They could do so on the same terminal. Or write one, if they feel the rest of us are gasping to know more about them.
One Facebook afficionado on last night’s television programme proudly boasted of having made over 2000 friends. Others claimed hundreds.
I don’t have 2000 friends. I can’t even get the figure up to dozens. Even the ones I have are more acquaintances than intimates. But I’m perfectly happy with my modest tally. I see them often. The rest I speak or write to regularly, and without any help from Mr. Zuckerberg.
The finest moment last night came as one Elliott Schrage, Facebook’s public relations executive, was rendered speechless when asked by an interviewer if he thought that the company, by selling its user base to advertisers, was getting dangerously close to invading their privacy. After mumbling and spluttering for what seemed an eternity, Schrage went sheepishly silent, before asking for a respite. “Let’s pause,” he finally pleaded, overcome by strain and embarrassment.
Now, if Facebook’s appointed spokesman hasn’t yet worked out an answer to a question that goes to the very heart of the company’s commercial business prospects, then exactly what kind of company is it?
A bunch of bumbling amateurs, I’d say, about to be hijacked by some powerful and ruthless professionals.
The amateurs will retire from the scene with mind-numbing bank balances. God help the rest of us.