Zadie Smith on Generation Facebook


When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned…

Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?…

It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.

Zadie Smith reviews the Social Network. If you like this, check out one of her book readings.

UPDATE: More on this from Anjali and Lillian.

6 thoughts on “Zadie Smith on Generation Facebook

  1. This excerpt is full of the pronoun trouble that I often observe among London and New York intellectuals. Lots of “we” and “our” and not a whole lot of sense about who those people might be.
    I wonder what her friends are writing about if there are no bodies, no feelings, no desires. Mine write about their struggles with diagnosing chronic conditions, how they are doing with chemo, how their toddlers are progressing (or not) in toilet training, how they got stung by a dozen bees while camping, and on and on, just among more corporal topics. The whole feed is feelings, from the small to the large, births and deaths to how the hell did the cellphone get underneath those magazines anyway.
    What are her friends like, that they’re not doing this?


  2. It all depends on the alternative for comparison, doesn’t it? If Facebook is replacing interactions in my real life, I am being reduced to my “denuded, networked self,” and it is a horrible thing where I hide from real life behind a computer screen.
    If Facebook is supplementing, by allowing me to interact with a broader set of people that I was able to pre-Facebook, and allowing some extra tacked-on interactions in between our regular face-to-face heart-to-hearts with close friends, then it’s pure additive splendor.
    The reality is always somewhere in the middle, but my default reaction to the genre of “New technology X is destroying society” is basically, BU**SH**, at there is little here to sway me from the default.


  3. I don’t know who’s doing this spamming, but it’s a royal pain the ass to keep deleting it and finding new ways to keep them out.
    I recently discovered a faux-apt 11d blog. I’m not going to say where the website is, but it’s aimed at people who mistype my url. It’s full of google ads for erotic services and online check paying. Assholes.


  4. I love Facebook. It lets me chat with Doug and get all the news from Tbilisi. It’s faceless, but so is the telephone. And it’s cheaper.


  5. That’s how you know you’ve arrived — when your traffic is big enough to attract a misspelled URL site. Ugh, ugh, ugh.


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