The Viral Me
January 28, 2011 1:27 PM   Subscribe

The Viral Me - GQ article on some of the newer social media stuff coming down the pike by Devin Friedman who asks: What is the endgame of your revolution? And can you promise me it won't suck?
A more general thesis about the basic disappointment of the Internet: It ultimately evolves only where it meets human desire, which itself is geared for life circa 200 b.c. If the Internet ultimately disappoints, it's because it was made for humans. Give us instant connection to everyone and the ability to collaborate in vast seamless networks and we spend 99 percent of those resources telling everyone what kind of oatmeal we ate for breakfast and 1 percent of it building Wikipedia.

Rahul isn't worried about people knowing who he is; he's worried about not enough people knowing who he is. I had this idea when I was in the midst of my ill-fated share-athon the previous month: Maybe the social layer could be a kind of mass experiment in the liberating nature of extreme truth. We'd all be exposed as needy, nostalgic, compassionate self-Googlers. But to people like Rahul, an open society isn't one where people have access to the real you. It is simply providing access to the identity you very carefully construct for human consumption.
posted by marble (21 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought for sure this had been posted, but I can't find it, so thanks for bringing it to the Blue, marble!

Rahul is pretty cool, and rapportive is an awesome sales/networking/lead management tool. I was sad to see their tech team relocate to the US late last year, since Martin Kleppmann has been a generous and insightful contributor to the Cambridge UK tech scene for some time.
posted by honest knave at 2:16 PM on January 28, 2011


Why would the child-entrepreneurs promise anything to anyone but their investors, and even that begrudgingly? These people may have the best jobs in the world. They are thrown money and benefits for theirs ideas and are constantly building neat things quickly embraced by their peers. How many people in the world can claim that? Of course the people organizing and funding the new social media by definition only have monetization as their goal, one way or another.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2011


See also Bread and Circuses: The State of Web App Startups and the significance deficit in modern business.
posted by weston at 2:27 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: Bread & Circuses

While people are sleeping in cardboard boxes, you can’t sell me on "getting together with friends" as a legitimate fucking problem.

It seems as much as a legitimate fucking problem as finding a good movie or TV show to watch.

The fact that people are starving doesn't seem to have negatively affected the entertainment industry.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:44 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


"the basic disappointment of the Internet"

The Internet. Disappoints. Really. The Internet.

If you really feel one tiny and still in beta portion of the Internet is "disappointing", maybe you need to look harder for things to write articles about, rather than whine about it. Because I don't think you should get paid by a publisher like GQ for this sort of quarter-rant. Not even half a rant.

And no, no one will promise you it won't suck, because everyone else know you can safely just ignore it all, or use it for the tiny niche of a person's life it was intended for.

And if other people taking it more seriously than you bums you out, please get over yourself.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:54 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Give us instant connection to everyone and the ability to collaborate in vast seamless networks and we spend 99 percent of those resources telling everyone what kind of oatmeal we ate for breakfast and 1 percent of it building Wikipedia.

uh, no.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fact that people are starving doesn't seem to have negatively affected the entertainment industry.

The argument here is not that some people are making good livings doing relatively trivial work; that's always been the case. It's that it's specifically our brightest, most capable problem solvers and entrepreneurs who are wasting their skills on inanities. (Whether this is true or particularly novel is debatable.)
posted by Iridic at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2011


That was my (and probably most of Metafilter's) first thought as well, Ironmouth.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:05 PM on January 28, 2011


A very intriguing and insightful article. You've already quoted it, but this is right on the money:

"A more general thesis about the basic disappointment of the Internet: It ultimately evolves only where it meets human desire, which itself is geared for life circa 200 b.c. If the Internet ultimately disappoints, it's because it was made for humans. Give us instant connection to everyone and the ability to collaborate in vast seamless networks and we spend 99 percent of those resources telling everyone what kind of oatmeal we ate for breakfast and 1 percent of it building Wikipedia."

It's so true, but there is a Wikipedia now. And a Quora, and an Askmefi, and so many other sites that are small little pages run off of someone's home computer that really do add to our knowledge of and involvement with the world. Most of the things we do with technology are trivial, but with a couple of billion people connected to the Internet and god knows how many more about to come online through their phones, that long tail of usefulness is pretty huge in an absolute sense. It's going to to take a couple of generations to process everything fully, but it's already clear that our modern information processing and communication technologies are a good thing overall, and we're better having them than not. Even if most of the stuff we communicate is crap.

Other intriguing quotes:

"It felt like I'd finally found what most of us are looking for: a place where people would listen to us and congratulate us on our opinions about everything."

Ouch. I wish he was wrong about this.

And finally, from the department of O RLY? comes this quote from Brian Pokorny:

"And the fact that Steve Jobs, who's sort of the person who defines what's acceptable in technology and behavior, put this here? So this behavior is becoming even more acceptable."

Uh huh. I guess it's time to commit seppuku with a broken shard from a Hackers DVD, because this world has nothing left living for.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:15 PM on January 28, 2011


It seems as much as a legitimate fucking problem as finding a good movie or TV show to watch.

That's a good counterpoint. I certainly don't want a joylessly practical world where we've all got to make sure there's no want or sadness before anybody's allowed to work on or enjoy something recreational. It's possible the author is overstating their case there.

But I also think it's worth considering the sheer volume of talent and capital that seems to be chasing Zynga-like games and shallow-ish social media problems... not just on its own merits, but also on how the story of this kind of path to success shapes the culture and output of our innovation centers.
posted by weston at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


because everyone else know you can safely just ignore it all, or use it for the tiny niche of a person's life it was intended for.

I do not think that that is true anymore. To keep control of the information available about oneself on the internet requires careful, consistent, and considered effort. One that requires a degree of technological sophistication far greater than the average person has, and requires one to be wiling to be a voluntary outcast, just a tad. Inasmuch as it becomes far, far easier to discover information about you than for you to keep track of what is able to be discovered, I do not think you can safely ignore it all, or make sure it is only a tiny niche of your life which you desire to make available which is available. On how many sites now can your facebook friends see what articles you've read, what items you've browed? They started with three, when they introduced the feature.

I remember I mentioned this to a co-worker when I was explaining how it was the final thing that had creeped me out enough for me to stop using the site; he wasn't even aware they'd done it. Many people think my creepiness threshold is far too high, and I accept that I may be an outlier on the spectrum. But I know that what's possible now has already gone well past what I find creepy, and i wonder whether, as we progress, we will move inexorably down until we hit most people's creepiness thresholds, and whether by the time we get there there will be much to be done about it....
posted by Diablevert at 4:30 PM on January 28, 2011


Diablevert: On how many sites now can your facebook friends see what articles you've read, what items you've browed? They started with three, when they introduced the feature.

Sorry, but how does "don't register for Facebook" fail to solve that problem?
posted by paisley henosis at 4:53 PM on January 28, 2011


I imagine the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world would say that society defines what is creepy and what is not, and as the Internet comes to define society, anything done by a majority of people online will seem naturally and Not Creepy. Even posting photos of yourself in your pajamas.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:56 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but how does "don't register for Facebook" fail to solve that problem?

For me it did, certainly. My point was that my co-worker was entirely unaware that they had introduced this feature; if I had to guess I bet he's at least in a plurality, and perhaps a majority, of facebook users. And so now this information is out there and accessible for anyone on his friends list, and he didn't know that it was. Of course, there's probably nothing much to fear from people knowing what articles I chose to peruse at the Washington Post, or Slate, probably, at most a slight awkwardness.

I dunno if I'd feel quite the same way about, say, the items I'd purchased at Victoria's Secret. And truly don't know what they're up to, now, in terms of what sites are participating in this feature. It's not like they tell you every time they add another. So I tend to think that even if I'd looked at that first list of participants and though, "well, I guess that's allright, I don't mind if people see what I've been listening to on Pandora" or whatnot, I doubt I'd then have committed myself to scrupulously checking every two weeks to see if they had added somebody I found objectionable. Frankly, I simply don't think the human brain works that way.

That's what I mean about the difficulty of keeping up with this stuff --- things creep. It's very difficult to get a handle on the full scope of what's available out there about you. So the solution becomes --- as Zadie Smth decried in the NY Review of Book and these Y Combinator guys advocate --- having your every utterance become a fragment of a marketing statement, another point of contact with Brand You, and simply staying on message all the time. I don't want to do that, and so I've taken the mildly drastic step of not participating in a lot of this stuff. And frankly, people do think that's a little weird, in 2011. That's a social cost I'll pay cheerfully, no need to worry about me. But I think there's costs to going the other way, too, and that most people don't know they're paying them. Ignorance is not the same as consent.
posted by Diablevert at 5:21 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


and so I've taken the mildly drastic step of not participating in a lot of this stuff. And frankly, people do think that's a little weird, in 2011. That's a social cost I'll pay cheerfully

The real problem with this stuff, and why it's creepy (to me anyway) is not that you can choose to pay the social cost of not being on Facebook (or wherever), but rather that you can never even really truly opt out, because you can't control what *other* people share about you online. So fine, you don't have a Facebook account, but you still end up on Facebook, because someone takes a picture at a party, and tags Diablevert, and then boom, because that person's profile is public, there you are on the Googles. And how can you keep track, or even know, who else might be sharing info about you at any given time?

This, to me, is the real problem with this drive to share everything--it's not just me making a choice to share my info or not, but all the people I might ever know *being encouraged* to share absolutely everything, all the time, about them and everyone they know.

And no, most people don't keep up with this. I'm teaching the senior seminar this semester, the topic is Cyberethics. I told them this week about the newest Facebook privacy invasion, "Social Ads." Not one of the supposedly tech-savvy generation had heard of it, and they all pretty uniformly thought it was totally creepy.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:28 PM on January 28, 2011


Jiggity and I are joined by another entrepreneur, a guy named Rahul, a slender 27-year-old Englishman of Indian extraction who's 50 percent hair and 50 percent brain. He jumps right in on the question of whether I'll ever start to enjoy social media. "The average male loves to be the clown," Rahul says. "He loves to be the center of attention and to tell jokes. What if he could do that at scale? With all your friends all the time? With more friends than you could previously have done? And have the affirmation of more and more people? That's powerful."

Powerful?

Needing affirmation all the time is powerful?

Needing to be the center of attention all the time is powerful?

Seems weak and narcissistic to me. Truly powerful people chart their lives according to their own inner compasses. Not by how many people click on a "Like" button.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:40 PM on January 28, 2011


"Seems weak and narcissistic to me. Truly powerful people chart their lives according to their own inner compasses. Not by how many people click on a "Like" button."

In this sense they mean it's a powerfully attractive proposition for many people, rather than that the people are powerful. Hence 'average male' rather than 'self-actualised ubermann'.
posted by jaduncan at 1:55 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have never been disappointed by the Internet.
posted by johnny novak at 2:32 AM on January 29, 2011


Having finally read the article in the OP this morning, I found it fascinating as a follow-up to this thread about how FB makes people miserable by exposing them to happy self-promoters. Somebody in that thread commented that making people miserable was a good strategy for an ad platform, and that stuck in my mind as I read this article.
posted by immlass at 10:55 AM on January 29, 2011


It's that it's specifically our brightest, most capable problem solvers and entrepreneurs who are wasting their skills on inanities.

...

I also think it's worth considering the sheer volume of talent and capital that seems to be chasing Zynga-like games and shallow-ish social media problems...


Ever heard of this thing called the finance industry?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:35 PM on January 29, 2011


I remember the Internet in the 1980s. It's much better today.
posted by meehawl at 2:40 PM on January 29, 2011


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