Part movie review, part psychoanalysis, part critique of social media, Zadie Smith starts with a review of “The Social Network” and ends up trying to capture the meaning of social networking. I tend to view these types of articles as “old people scared of something new”. And Smith adds on a healthy helping of perceived class superiority, for example, when she can’t help but pity the poor, uneducated masses who write on the facebook walls of the dead.
I’ve noticed—and been ashamed of noticing—that when a teenager is murdered, at least in Britain, her Facebook wall will often fill with messages that seem to not quite comprehend the gravity of what has occurred. You know the type of thing: Sorry babes! Missin’ you!!! Hopin’ u iz with the Angles. I remember the jokes we used to have LOL! PEACE XXXXX
When I read something like that, I have a little argument with myself: “It’s only poor education. They feel the same way as anyone would, they just don’t have the language to express it.” But another part of me has a darker, more frightening thought. Do they genuinely believe, because the girl’s wall is still up, that she is still, in some sense, alive? What’s the difference, after all, if all your contact was virtual?4
Put aside your fears Ms. Smith, the uneducated masses need not trouble you. People mourn the dead in lots of different ways. Some people even think the dead are with us, but I’m fairly certain that the unwashed masses can still see and comprehend the difference between a facebook page and a live person. Side note: A couple months ago, facebook recommended that I “friend” an old friend who I knew was dead. Apparently, a fairly common problem. Curious, I wandered over to his site to find that on the anniversary of his death, and intermittently throughout the year, another friend of his, who I didn’t know, would post on his wall. Generally simple things like, “Miss you still” or “Thought I’d just sit here for a while.” Personally, I thought it was touching. And Mrs. Smith would presumably approve the correct usage of mourning vocabulary.
Anyway, despite the obvious flaws, I think the whole piece is worth a read, especially the concept of “software lock-in”. Really interesting concept on how individual choices early on can bind the rest of us down the road. The example that brings it home: the reason for facebook’s blue/white color scheme. Apparently, the main reason is that its founder is red/green color blind. So blue it is for all the rest of us.