The Opinionsphere The Web and Technology

My Mixed Feelings About Facebook

Vanessa Grigoriadis in New York captures many of my mixed feelings about Facebook. One of the most fascinating yet disturbing aspects of Facebook is the giant web of relationships that is being constructed through it – a web of relationships which is not strictly our own, yet seems particularly personal. Facebook of course wishes to mine this data for profit (or perhaps for the CIA). But more interesting and disturbing is the social graph (almost all-knowing) that is being created of humanity in general – with you placed right in the middle:

This is part of who I am now—somebody who knows that her nursery-school tormentor wasn’t a bully without a heart. It will get logged into my profile, and that profile will become part of the “social graph,” which is a map of every known human relationship in the universe. Filling it in is Facebook’s big vision, a typically modest one for Silicon Valley. It’s too complex for a computer scientist to build. Just as our free calls to GOOG-411 helped Google build its voice-recognition technology, we are creating the graph for Facebook, and I’m not sure that we can take ourselves out once we’ve put ourselves on there. We have changed the nature of the graph by our very presence, which facilitates connections between our disparate groups of friends, who now know each other. “If you leave Facebook, you can remove data objects, like photographs, but it’s a complete impossibility that you can control all of your data,” says Fred Stutzman, a teaching fellow studying social networks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Facebook can’t promise it, and no one can promise it. You can’t remove yourself from the site because the site has, essentially, been shaped by you.”

Grigoriadis captures nicely the paranoia that seems evident in this wariness of Facebook’s possible ulterior motives:

Kubrick dreamed of villains like this: nerds in fleece, controlling the information, calling their cult a family. It was an image, a kind of inchoate anxiety about the future, rather than anything you could put your finger on.

Inchoate anxiety – there’s been a lot of that going around recently. 

On the one hand, I love Facebook for the connections to people from my past – and for the ease with which I can connect to people for my future. I love the control it gives me – and the way it reminds me when it’s someone’s birthday or lets me know that a friend I have lost contact with married his college sweetheart. But next to this love is a vague, unsettled feeling – an unease. What are they planning on doing with this extremely valuable information?