the city and the social network

Well, I admit, I'm not on Facebook, so what do I know about anything anyway? Nor have I even seen The Social Network yet, I feel compelled to disclose (but I will, since I loved Jesse Eisenberg in The Squid and the Whale). But just the plot summary—about all the backstabbing, jealousy, and antisocial vindictiveness that surrounded the creation of Facebook—confirms my intuitive sense that this is an interface with which I prefer not to interface. I know it has many adherents who swear by it but to me there's just something kinda creepy about it. This whole will-you-friend-me thing—and its corollary, the oh-my-god-this-person-wants-to-friend-me-what-do-I-do thing—it's so not how human relationships work. And the idea that people are using this sophomorically synthetic medium as their means of staying in touch with or reconnecting with people they actually know in the real world, it just bothers me, it seems subtly corrosive to human values. FB seems to have replaced e-mail for some people, and I find it a poor substitute.

I'm guessing Paul Goodman would have found social networking software somewhat creepy too, too inorganic for his tastes. His whole attitude toward life was based on face-to-face (or some would say skin-to-skin) human encounters. From his early childhood the city streets were his home, and as a married-with-kids grownup he still prowled the streets, addicted to their energy of spontaneity, serendipity, possibility. The power of people in small groups, in communities, were the heart of his philosophy. Social networks—the real kind, not the virtual simulacrum—can practice mutual aid, take political action, serve the needs of the time and place. I know the virtual can do some of this too but I'm not quite ready to call it equivalent.

Not to mention the not-innocuous fact that online "social networks" are centrally organized, part of the system of aggregating masses, surveilling the intimate details of their habits, and delivering them to advertisers. No doubt the insidiously coercive role these technologies play in the advancing police state would not have been lost on Goodman.

So if you want to be my friend, you don't have to ask me, just go ahead and act like one. And we'll treat each other like people, not personnel.

P.S.: I haven't read this Malcolm Gladwell piece yet but it seems relevant. What do you think, folks? Let's hear the voice of the social network!