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ISN’T 20PC ENOUGH? One out of five Internet pages is now at or through Facebook
ONE gets inured to new data on information technology development. I hadn't been staggered as much by new Facebook data since George Heilmeier came into my Pentagon office to show his "post-war computer interconnect", in 1976, looking for funding for something that plainly had a much larger model -- an Internet itself.
When I gasped and said the implication was that we could do it all with computers, he smugly said: "That's the next funding request." Advanced Research Project Agency (Arpa) was indeed where the Internet started. Heilmeier was head of Arpa and I was the minister's gatekeeper on funding requests.
Well, consider this. One out of five Internet pages is now at or through Facebook, more than Twitter and all the other major social networks combined times two, according to Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic.
I must go through hundreds of pages a day -- email, newspapers, blogs, data search -- and maybe twice a day at FB. So I'm way out, outer, outest. I set up an account only because all three anak in the United States were there with pictures.
But the price is, I have to view friends' cats' breakfasts, their morning prayer, their 178 pictures of their travels abroad, their latest and daily photo-op with higher government officials than themselves, their simply extraordinary triumphs, which modesty used to suggest we let others trumpet. But I can't afford to miss the gems, obscure articles on something vital to me on (for example) FB itself: my twin grandchildren's first pictures a few days ago.
Now let's give the devil its due. FB conceptually did what the big browsers did, and what Google did. Except instead of using information as its organising device and database, it used people. And what's most important to each of us -- ourselves, our friends, our activities? Not England's "Pilgrimage of Grace" 500 years ago that I recently rehashed at Wikipedia. People, friends.
Secondly, FB is a "natural monopoly", as Madrigal cited Paul Kedrosky in the article, and thus more stable. It didn't capture its audience the way industrialist John D. Rockefeller assembled the largest monopoly in history: You join or you drown. (I have to chuckle at the frequent toasts given by people I know very well to their ancestor's cowardice in giving in to Rockefeller, with the result that they were all, 1,000-plus of them at this point, very rich, from their share of "the Standard" -- Standard Oil, which the Supreme Court broke up, and became Mobil, Exxon, Chevron, etc). But everyone joins FB by attraction. And "the more users you have, the more users you'll get", Nick Thompson wrote in The New Yorker.
OK, so where's the beef? Am I a Luddite, or like my father, unwilling to let me, alone on a university campus, have access to TV when I was a boy, lest I not read, learn? He gave me nothing more important. By the way, he was the president, so all my buddies could joke that I might live in the biggest house, but I couldn't spend the afternoon watching cartoons! (By the way, I also alone had no allowance, but had a horse, so I could make it up delivering newspapers. I kid you not!)
Anything that makes information access easier is, of course, a plus. My gripe is that anything that makes it easy and fashionable to spend your life trivialising our attempt to fulfil ourselves needs some limits. The problem is that FB spreads the trivialisation.
It also invades privacy in a way I've been harping on here. True, FB has instituted many safeguards on invasion of our private data. But most people like to "share", we accept invitations to friendship, and then we have their dog's birthday party. But the human tendency is to continue, not break off, so we end up with tonnes of useless information, and our "friends" want ours back. We forget that what is important to us is less important to others not directly affected.
Hasn't everyone really yawned at the offer of the three-hundredth picture of their epochal trip to Tibet? Now, if 20 per cent of the entire Internet is FB, I guess many just lean back and let it flow.
OK, there are usually counter-trends to bad flows. It looked like classical music was ending up in the dustbins. Audiences may dwindle in America and no longer can I assume a younger peer knows or even cares about the mind-bending change in the musical mind that Beethoven's late quartets heralded.
But I once drove through Seoul with a Korean diplomat and argued which Schubert quartet was on his radio, and I was humiliated that he was right. A Thai colleague knows infinitely more about opera than I. The Asians to the rescue! Classical music is now one of the fashions in China. Let's hope something comes along that puts a boundary on FB. Isn't 20 per cent enough?