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  • In the end, we couldn't use technology to produce love. Because love, unlike technology and its uses, requires commitment to one, instead of broadcast and consumption of many bits of distant digital content. Love doesn't scale.
    ~ Katherine Losse, The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, p. 90

    In The Boy Kings (a recent book that Alex alerted us to), Kate Losse describes working at Facebook in its (and her) youth, starting when it was still campus-bound and ending before it completely monetized user's content, desires and relationships. She managed to maintain her idealism and sense of mission despite haughty engineers who were more interested in new features than new faces, and despite the impositions of middle managers. She was able to maintain her perspective because she spent most of her Facebook career in customer support, so understood what users liked, didn't like, and wanted.

    The techno-obsessed engineers assumed they knew what people wanted, which was basically whatever their code-addled brains decided to cook up. They drank Mark Zuckerberg's Kool-Aid of putting everyone in constant touch in as many new ways as possible, assuming that alone would promote togetherness. As most of us understand, it hasn't. Losse put it this way:

    In some ways, Facebook's early years had all the makings of a bright, shimmering tale: an odd assortment of smart and dedicated people thrown together to try and figure out the parameters of a new platform, a better way for people to communicate. I wanted what I assumed everyone wanted: to bring people closer, to share important information faster, and to make everyone feel less alone... (p. 139)

    Now, two years in, I wasn't sure what was really happening with the burgeoning social media craze and its associated new forms of instant, distant interaction. What I was seeing was that social websites were playing on the biggest open and unsolved wound in our society: the need to be known, the need to be loved. (p. 139)

    Eventually she came to realize that, for the engineers, cool technology was an end in itself, and for the company, the social media "platform" was an end in itself (reprising Alex's quote):

    As Facebook and the social Internet grew even bigger, I wondered whether what we were building was fixing our loneliness, or just becoming another addiction, like the social games that would soon begin to be pumped out by Zynga and others, that dull or distract us from deeper feeling. I was not sure if we were enabling love or its illusion. (p. 140)

    Many Facebook users simply use it to to share photos, links and status updates. Many are content to have their profiles and relationships scooped up by apps and marketers. I noticed one woman who had added 199 apps to her page. For the company this is all good. But what of value do these activities enable users to create, learn or accomplish? Sure, there are all sorts of causes that Facebook helps people connect to and support. I guess that's a good thing. But there are plenty of other ways to do that on the Web, and in many cases Facebook just comes along for the ride.

    One can see in the pages of Cowbird and in authors' inboxes the intensity of "the need to be known, the need to be loved." And most authors seem to crave recognition and approval. There are vast differences, however, between trying to find it on Facebook and on Cowbird.

    Here our stories are our status updates, but most are much more than that. Not unlike Facebook users (or kids at a playground), we are shouting out "look at me now, see what I did!" But we are also building up bodies of work and trying to improve our craft. In contrast, Facebook walls seem more like ephemeral repositories for the detritus of daily events that rarely seem to evolve.

    Here we become not just friends but embedded in a community. As we widen our circle we discover unexpected depths in one another and sporadically meld minds.

    Here we invite people to look into our souls, confident that they are not more interested in looking into our underthings.

    Here neither Cowbird nor "partners" are mining our profiles and stories to sell us stuff.

    Love doesn't scale, and walls are what we construct to keep people away, not to connect with them.


    @image: Facebook, via lemondrop.com
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