Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Social Notworking

In the current issue of Publishers Weekly, Andrei Codrescu, poet, NPR commentator, editor of Exquisite Corpse, learned gadfly and now Luddite, urges his readers, in the style of a biblical jeremiad, to “Leave cyberspace. Go back to Ohio!” (“Promote This! Forget Facebook,” PW, 1/31/11). “Oh, but woe is unto us!” he exclaims. “The social networks aren’t selling books! They are giving away stupid prose for free!” Being friendly is not the way to sell books, Codrescu argues. “Not only do you not sell books by being friendly, you won’t sell any because everyone in your ‘social network’ thinks they know you. Why buy your books, since you’ll tell them everything they want to know for free.” For Codrescu, Facebook is not even a good place for writers to search for material. “Even if a novelist, let’s say, mined a social network for stories, he’d find nothing but lies and fake grins. There would be no smells and no skin.” Codrescu’s point about the one-dimensional view of human personality perpetuated in the pages of Facebook and other social networks is something that is also discussed by Zadie Smith in her recent essay/review in The New York Review of Books of the film The Social Network and of Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget (“Generation Why,” NYRB, 11/25/10). Smith, who foreswore Facebook after just two months of status updates, writes, “When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Sensibility.” Bravo Andrei and Zadie! Let’s have a Fahrenheit 451 moment in which all the iPads and Kindles are burned, in which hedge funders short Facebook and in which friends parse each others’ essence through the complex characters in the novels they browse in their local independent bookstores.

[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]

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