Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Value of Facebook

It was curious to hear President Obama cite Facebook as an example of a new and innovative company.  Sure, money is being made and money is being spent on the services that the social networking site offers, but to describe the business as "innovative" seems like a stretch...a big one.  I did a little bit of digging around to find that Facebook makes it's money off of advertising, as well as an estimated 100 million on "virtual gifts" that people like to gift their friends with.  Frankly, if a "friend" of mine were so foolish as to spend money on a virtual cupcake as a token of their affection for me, I'd be annoyed.  That is what snail mail is for, so that you can offer a person something they might actually use and enjoy.  To be fair, FB did not invent the world of virtual merchandise, they merely capitalize on it.  I suppose innovation today refers to anyone who is able to make money, lots of money, in this increasingly polarized economy.  While Obama claimed to want to offer increased praise for science fairs as we do for athletes, it is curious that the man who developed the drill that eventually helped to free the Chilean miners, received diminutive praise, despite the truly innovative and amazing feet that was accomplished.  Facebook, regardless of what it has the potential to be, is a vastly effective marketing tool.  The site itself is cumbersome and it is not inconceivable that a better product could and will be created.  It is noteworthy how the majority of FB business lies outside the U.S., since people within the U.S. have been deluded into believing in the intrinsic American character of businesses that might have originated here, but do not necessarily have provenance in America.  It is of greater importance that the media has caught wind of social networking sites and their function as tools for democratic protest, as we are witnessing in Egypt.  It is of paramount interest that Goldman Sachs has chosen to invest in Facebook...what is Goldman Sachs' commitment to free and fair elections and a transparent and accountable government?  It's a good question.  While Facebook has great potential, just as the internet itself has offered tremendous potential, the lucrative quality of the business and the way it makes it's money are not keys to it's innovative quality.  In a world that is plagued by disease, hunger, war, poverty, and an energy crisis to boot,  pointing to Facebook as an indicator of innovation seems a callow gesture of paying homage to a business that is innovative only insofar as it is capitalistic; and like so many other huge money making ventures, it could not have been realized without the true innovation that came before it, which, like Facebook required the collusion of many people, but instead of it being commandeered by one person, it was offered up to the public at large, free of charge.  Facebook is free and it always will be, says the slogan, however this is a dubious claim.  Why wouldn't one charge at least a nominal fee, given how FB has cornered a market and people are attached to the product? Beside the money, though, Facebook and it's story, as depicted in The Social Network, offers up a world of not so human interaction, where the participants are likely to behave the way they would in any public forum, where, in order to fit in and be accepted, posts ooze with positivity (or something like it)...and at least a little egotism, of course.  How else could a bunch of people be convinced that it is a good idea to offer up pictures and anecdotes of their intimate lives?  Read the fine print, these memories are property of Facebook.  How truly innovative to dismantle the right to privacy, but Facebook is not the first to do this, either.  It just makes it seem fashionable instead of sinister.  That goes for the user, too.  Fail to step out of line and use the marketing site for things that might not be lucrative to investors and...who knows, you might not have access to the social networking site where it is best to just tell your Facebook friends about your latest hike, dinner outing, or concert...not that pesky rally for free and fair elections...where's the money in that?  Then again, the joke is on all those who fail to recognize the intrinsic value of civil society, which was built upon through struggles and efforts that can not be commodified because they are far too valuable.  In this brave new world of Facebook, let us not forget what is really valuable in life, that is, actual friends, not just virtual ones, and the sharing of earnest and concerted reflection, as opposed to the shallow act of listing the fun facts about ones' day.