Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The politics of Facebook

I am on Facebook and so are you (if yes, have you found me there yet?). But have you wondered what kind of politics the people behind Facebook pursue?

I chanced upon this piece by Tom Hodgkinson in The Guardian, With Friends Like These. A thought-provoking piece that gives you the big picture of a social networking site like Facebook, which already has 59 million users, with 2 million new ones joining each week.

The article basically investigates the thoughts and philosophy of Peter Thiel, one of the early investors in Facebook, a co-founder of PayPal, that created a borderless economy. Peter is also one of the backers of Room 9 Entertainment, the film company behind the movie, Thank You for Smoking. Peter, together with Larry Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and former president of Harvard University, has now supported Big Think, a new Web 2.0-style site that bills itself as a conduit between global thought leaders and the public for sharing ideas on topics ranging from alternative energy to subprime mortgages, launched in beta on Monday. If you read the piece on Facebook, you'd know why Big Think has been spawned.

Facebook's most recent round of funding was led by a company called Greylock Venture Capital, who put in the sum of $27.5m. The article also claims that one of Greylock's senior partners is Howard Cox, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. But what is In-Q-Tel?

Well, believe it or not (and check out their website), this is the venture-capital wing of the CIA. After 9/11, the US intelligence community became so excited by the possibilities of new technology and the innovations being made in the private sector, that in 1999 they set up their own venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, which "identifies and partners with companies developing cutting-edge technologies to help deliver these solutions to the Central Intelligence Agency and the broader US Intelligence Community (IC) to further their missions".

Big secret, huh?

Anyway, here's the intro to the piece:

I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as "a social utility that connects you with the people around you". But hang on. Why on God's earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?

And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn't it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk? A friend of mine recently told me that he had spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk. What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations.

Though one needs to be cautious about Tom's arguments (is he reading too much in a social networking site?), there are ample things in there to stir our thoughts. If you read the entire piece, the next time you would want to throw sheep on someone, you'd think again. I bet.


Suzan Abrams said...

I would say there is room in the world for every good thing. :-)
How are you, Zaf?
A wonderful read, this.

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks Suzan. I'm quite busy with work, journalism and lots of good reading, so much so that blogging is often the last thing I have time to turn to.

Suzan Abrams said...

Yes, and me too, Zaf. I have closed my comments box because I found that the blogging world in general took up too much time, now that I myself have started reading and writing seriously again. I started to write again after Singapore. At the moment, I'm struggling to maintain my own posts. But I am excited for you.
till next time

Dolek & Rubi said...

Hey Zaf, This is a good piece. Nice to hear from you. I'll think twice next time before throwing sheep, but no hesitations when I'm giving the guys a naughty "french maid". HAHAHAHA! Catch up with ya soon, aite.

bibliobibuli said...

me, i like facebook because it makes communicating with friends and publicizing events that bit easier. i am sad for those who think it is a substitute for real world friendships.