Social networking: Neural prosthesis or harbinger of the End of Days?

I spend my day mining the interweb. It’s what I do for a living — I’m looking for interesting nuggets of information about the machines that provide the information. It’s very meta — a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter.

In my travels today, I came across a column by my favorite science fiction writer, Corey Doctorow in Information Week. In the column, Doctorow weighed the merits of the ubiquitous social networking sites — MySpace, Friendster, Facebook — as a way to maintain real-world relationships:

Keeping track of our social relationships is a serious piece of work that runs a heavy cognitive load. It’s natural to seek out some neural prosthesis for assistance in this chore… Chances are you’re out-of-touch with more friends than you’re in-touch with: Old summer-camp chums, high-school mates, ex-spouses and their families, former co-workers, college roomies, dot-com veterans… Getting all those people back into your life is a full-time job and then some.

You’d think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It’s not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?”

Definitely creepy indeed. But I see the true ills of social networking being much more banal than creepy people. It’s just a massive waste of time. Fascinating, if you’re an amatuer interweb anthropologist; lucrative if you’re a Web 2.0 data farmer; but primarily a big, fat zero on the betterment of humanity scale.  

For example, 99% of the people who want to be my friend on MySpace are spambots, insultingly thinly disguised as attractive women who are interested in me. I’m not predicting Skynet is iminent, that our lives are going to be ruled by intelligent machines that turn on us. I’m saying our lives are going to be ruled by really dumb machines. How much time am I spending deleting naked lady spam on MySpace? Not much. But enough to make me worried.

 How many people watched this video today? Like 400?

I’m just saying, watch this, and tell me we’re not doomed.


About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
This entry was posted in Mad Max, Techno-culture and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Social networking: Neural prosthesis or harbinger of the End of Days?

  1. Only 400 people watched her? Huh! She’s got so much to offer.

    She’s ambidextrous (see the end of the video when she is aptly working the microphone and cellphone simultaneously). And her voice is so unique.

    She’s clearly mensa material. Let’s just say what we are all thinking. She’s just plain hot!

  2. r~ says:

    So, so, scarry.

  3. Bpaul says:

    I… I just couldn’t finish watching. Horrifying.

  4. Alex says:

    Yes, she’s scary, though she’s also a cherry pick — there are tons of inspiring videos out there that don’t imply the impending arrival of Ragnarok.

    I for, one, have to carefully disagree with your hypothesis here. Much of social networking is a waste of time — but not all of it. Drawing our real world friendships in digital lines or tracking the skein of our virtual connections holds the promise both to more easily keep each other updated on our lives (via the almighty newsfeed) and to discover new people who share our interests and passions. Like, say, fly fishing. If we can instantly share our most recent idea, media discovery or life event without having to send out an email blast or (gasp) letter or postcard, so much the better.

    Are we at risk of wasting massive amounts of time? Absolutely. Are the spammers doing whatever they can to extend their (lucrative) practice into new forms of media? Of course. But there’s it’s not just anthropologists like dana boyd (check Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace out — outstanding — and she’s no amateur) who are finding this phenomenon to be of value.

    Even if the technology isn’t codified as such, in the form of Facebook, your blogroll stands starkly as a definitive social network and statement of interests, political and environmental alignments.

    And…tag, you’re it.


  5. Pete says:

    Best viewed with the sound muted. She’s probably about five years away from being spit out of the bottom of the porn industry.

  6. Stone says:

    Interesting read but as for the video I kept waiting with anticipation for some skin or poo slinging. Thanks for wasting my time.

  7. Leona says:

    Hmm. I don’t know if I agree or not. I feel lately like the most compelling aspect of the current glut of social networking sites is waiting for the bubble to burst and finding out what will happen when it does. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Doctorow is one of the brains behind, which is similar to a social networking site in that it is the focus of a kind of community & is basically a window on the interesting and interestingly inane.

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