Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Facebook Problem

More thoughts on instrumentality...

Randomly blog hopping I came across this blog in which the blogger talks about why we should all cultivate a diverse set of interests because it helps us meet lots of, what she calls, "interesting and important" people. The post contains quite a few choice quotes. Sample this (attributed to some marketing guru I think):"if your goal is to develop long-term relationships with interesting people, to focus on those whose “stock prices” are low but long-term potential high." So okay, I am now a stock ticker. After a while she herself says, "Because it involves changing oneself, rather than leveraging other people in your social circle or communities." Yes, you heard it right, "leveraging other people" and then in the next line in blithe ignorance of any sort of irony she drops the name of Tolstoy!

This is sadly nothing unexpected and out of ordinary. You see this kind of thinking and approach to the world everywhere though it is probably at its most evident and egregious on social networking sites like orkut or facebook. People create their profiles and put all sorts of fancy names just to garner a kind of cultural cachet. So David Lynch becomes "David Lynch", a signifier which denotes that he or she likes offbeat films, a tag which then helps him or her in self-advertising - or building "relationships" with "interesting" people as the blog euphemestically puts it. This way the person himself agrees in his own commodification and instrumentalization - it is as if to mean that my identity is there only in relation to other people. There is no place for authenticity here.

I personally find social interactions extremely stressful and painful but I won't deny that interacting with other people is very important for one's own intellectual and emotional growth as a person and isolation can often lead to smugness, incoherence and cause a different sort of pain, among other things. (I mean interaction with real people, not the people who talk through their books or artworks, in that sense I do just fine). I had written about some of these aspects here, briefly touching on the idea about how people like to form relationships based on "comaptibility" and "type" while at the same time completely discounting the idea that relationships can mean opening up one's intellectual horizons and willingness to see the world through a perspective which is not one's own which is in direct contrast to the kind of relationship based on facebook profiles or any other sort of instrumentalized identity. This rather epistemological and ethical idea of relationship and social interaction has been replaced with a completely shallow and materialistic idea, which I find rather sad and even a cause of despair.

9 comments:

Shefaly said...

If you had read the post that you link to, you would have realised that the sentence you cite is not mine but Ben Casnocha's. He is not a marketing guru but a 20 year old entrepreneur and student, who is very widely read (it would have helped if you clicked on the link to read his background too).

I think citing Tolstoy is valid mainly because I am not in favour of doing things to others (i.e. leveraging others as many do) but focusing on improving oneself.

Criticism is all good. But in criticism, especially in criticism, it is important to be fair.

You left a comment on my blog on a post. You have not read the preceding posts in that series hence your question. Perhaps in the spirit of fair discussion you would like o read the posts first before asking the question. I shall only say this much - your question was actually answered in that series. But of course, reading the links is clearly not required for you before you criticise them.

To each his own.

All the best, Shefaly

Alok said...

It doesn't really matter who he is, I found the metaphor ridiculous and it sounded like another vulgar marketing jargon. let me look at your earlier posts. I do remember reading them but not coming across what I mentioned in my comment.

Anonymous said...

Alok, the problem isnt with the world or facebook, its with you, sort it out within yourself, the world is much richer than you make it to be with your tunnel vision which only sees despair and superficiality, everything is a signifier, so is your blog to depict your flamboyant and shameless intellectualism, what you see outside of you is merely your own projection, you are looking to find some sort of an objective solution to the world, which is impossible, since it exists in isolated fragments, to find a complete ethical standard which applies to everyone at every level is futile, and to complain about it on a blog is downright stupid, so really move on..best wishes.

Alok said...

flamboyant and shameless intellectualism? I don't know, does this blog really make you think it was written by an "intellectual"? I am only trying to read, learn about these things and think, that's all. I don't want any objective solution to all problems, not really. I am only trying to critically question the solutions presented to me.

peter said...

Hey, you run a great blog here. My only complaint is you don't post more!

As for your astute observation on instrumental reason and its corrosive effects on how people view themselves and one another, I am in complete agreement. .. or I was, until I read this: "the problem isnt with the world or facebook, its with you."

Now I know who to blame!

And in regard to "your tunnel vision which only sees despair and superficiality, everything is a signifier..."

Really? If everything is a signifier, surely that means you are not seeing superficiality, dear Alok -- rather, you are seeing multiplicities, manifold layers of meaning and connotation, rich networks of interconnection, blah blah blah.

Anyway, keep up the great postings! I think your range and depth of thought & sensibility is one of the best things on the Web.

P.S. I am now inspired to write/collate/edit a business book entitled something like "make a better class of friends by leveraging your personal brand the count tolstoi way!

cheers!

Alok said...

thanks peter. more blogging? I already average around one every day and that makes me feel rather jobless already... :)

And that's a wonderful title, but I have a feeling that there must be some book with a title like that already. Never underestimate these self-help writers and business gurus.

praymont said...

Dear Anonymous,

Alok's against tunnel vision -- I took that to be his point. Specifically, look at how this means-end, instrumental form of reason (okay in its place)is being clamped down uniformly across the whole, diverse spectrum of our lives, to the point where even friendship is conceived in its terms.

Also, one can advance an ethical critique of something without laying claim to a 'complete ethical standard' (whatever that is). Otherwise, there'd be no plausible ethical critique, which would pull the mat out from under your own moralizing (e.g., calling someone's efforts 'shameless' and admonishing him to 'sort it out within' himself).

"Flamboyant and shameless intellectualism"? Alok's putting forth some ideas and replying to anyone who stops by to carry the conversation further. What on earth could be 'shameless' about that?

I like this blog a lot and wouldn't know what movies to rent next without it.

As for a new self-help title, how about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Russian Novelists?

angelin said...

Keeping track of all the invites in your Facebook account can be Facebook problem that developers of the website must look into. Both the application invites as well as the standard invites should be well maintained by the website as we all know that the generations of Facebook nowadays are growing.
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Alok said...

Paul: thanks for the support :)

I just wanted to add one more thing in reply to the anonymous comment. I don't claim to understand all of what I read. I am not an expert on Musil, Proust, Kierkegaard or Heidegger or any other names you see mentioned on the blog. I may even be wrong about what I understood reading them. But that's what learning is about. I won't accept that all this is relevant only for "intellectuals" and philosophers and trying to think about these things is just pointless and self-serving or "shameless" intellectualizing. Intellectual has already become a term of abuse in our culture. I used to feel hesitant about blogging these things thinking both about real "experts" (who would think I am stupid) and normal people, who would take me to me a show-off intellectual, but I have learned to resist this and I think we all should.