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Blogs > Office Jotter

Facebook is like living with your mother, says John Dvorak
Roger Whitehead By: Roger Whitehead, Director, Office Futures
Published: 16th January 2011
Copyright Office Futures © 2011

PCMag.com: Why I Don’t Use Facebook

John Dvorak doesn’t think much of Facebook and reckons it presents users with a similar dead-end to that AOL placed its customers in a decade or more ago.

Facebook is like living with your mother. She cooks cleans, and does your laundry. But she also snoops through your stuff.

As he also says:

Facebook is a simple system for the masses that do not really care about technology and do not want to learn anything new except something easy like Facebook.

Like the Internet itself and the Web on top of that, Facebook is both an information channel and a substrate for other application programs. The Web is the largest channel/substrate on the Internet and Facebook is the biggest channel/substrate on the Web. (And Zynga is the biggest channel/substrate on Facebook.) You can envisage the triangle, I expect.

Dvorak is asking, in effect, where on that triangle people should be active. The higher they go, the more they pay in a manner of ways. People going high:

  • Lose the freedom easily to communicate with people or programs in other or lower realms (i.e. channels/substrates). This is the walled garden that AOL had and Facebook has.
  • Lose control, such as they have, over how their personal details are managed. There is little privacy on the Internet or the Web anyway unless people use encryption, which Facebook does not offer. Facebook is also the channel/substrate that is the most cavalier with those details. It offers them to application programs within it with little or no granularity. One either agrees to make everything available or you can’t play.
  • Ultimately, as in the case of Zynga, have to pay money to continue to be active in the uppermost realms. Zynga’s not alone in encouraging or enforcing that, neither is Facebook, but no other channel/substrate is as dominant at their respective levels. That makes them a fair target for attention.

It seems to me that Dvorak feels that people should be protected from themselves and go lower down the triangle. His article there strays from the usefully descriptive into the forlornly prescriptive. Since, in his own words, “Facebook is a simple system for the masses”, that’s never likely to happen. The masses don’t want to know (but do demand the right to whinge when things turn out as forecast).

Supertext

Dvorak has been a commentator on the computer industry for nearly 25 years. You don’t have to agree with his remarks to recognise that what he says comes from a deep and prolonged immersion in the industry.

That realisation seems beyond the reach of many of the respondents to his article, as does the ability to debate ideas without resorting to invective and ad hominem attacks. Even the first post is insulting — “Perhaps you need to get out more…”, it ends. As Cicero said, “O tempora! O mores!

When I last looked at the article, there were nearly 200 comments to it. That’s impressive for an investment of just 530 hastily-written words, some of them clearly tongue-in-cheek. Dvorak’s publisher will be pleased—lots of viewings of the in-page adverts. (That’s a cost I and many other don’t pay because we use the brilliant Adblock Plus add-in.)

It might not at first seem relevant but Laura Miller’s recent Guardian article on the Internet in literature has interesting things to say about how people deal with one another over it.

[It] is a farrago of rumours, mirages and false identities… There is no reliable boundary between what is true and what people want to be true or say to be true.

Ms Miller is a Salon co-founder and writer. She’ll be well aware of Facebook, and AOL.

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