Facebook is certainly a very important and innovative company, based in the area, no less. Except for my mother, who doesn’t own a cell phone and never learned how to program her VCR before it became obsolete, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use it. Still, I have to say, I’m feeling a little over-saturated with news about the company. The book, the movie, the privacy-policy updates and design changes… As an observer who is required to keep an eye on the information stream, I feel overloaded with Facebook, the entity.Back when I used to work for Yahoo!, there came a point when many of us lower-level employees got the distinct impression that the brand was in the midst of a negative reevaluation in the public mind. The evidence presented itself in stages — where once you used to be able to count on big smiles and eager questioning upon stating your place of business, one day you all of a sudden were met with an indifferent nod bordering on a scowl. Eventually, that non-verbal reaction turned into active kvetching: “Hey I can’t log on to my Yahoo! Mail,” you might hear. “My Yahoo! Finance portfolio disappeared! Can you help me?”
Yahoo! of course made a series of well-documented missteps in yielding the original Internet Darling Crown to eBay, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, roughly in that order. Still, I have my own admittedly unempirical theory about the descent. This axiom equates a company’s positive public perception inversely to the frequency with which your average befuddled person hears its name per week. In my mind, the seeds of Yahoo!’s decline were planted when someone decided it was a good idea to affix the company monicker to as many common nouns as syntactically possible: Yahoo! Pets, Yahoo! Autos, Yahoo! Education, Yahoo! Fuzzy Dice… It just didn’t stop. Who could take that much of anything? I mean, doesn’t the phrase, “I’m tired of hearing about…” apply just as much to corporations as it does to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez?
I think this phenomenon — and again I’m pretty much speaking out my bellybutton here — is even more pronounced today, because most people either cannot or do not want to absorb one more required means of keeping in touch. I myself was dragged kicking and screaming by the mouse cord onto Twitter, and that was only out of professional necessity. Sure, I like it now, but boy did I get sick of hearing about it in those antediluvian Internet days of, like, earlier in the year, when I made an educated guess that Twitter must, in fact, be the street name for cocaine.
I know people — mostly older than myself, to be sure — who will actually wince when you mention the latest must-participate application. They just can’t cope. And although I am firmly entrenched as a Facebook user, the near mania over the company somehow triggers that part of me that knows I can’t keep up forever, that will sooner or later yield and stay pat, sticking with VHS tapes over DVD discs, CDs over MP3s, judicious use of a prehensile thumb over a breakthrough telekinesis app…
And far from cultivating within me a sense of long-awaited tranquility, what this spurs, I’m noticing, is something else:
And I’m reminded of a NY Times article on the wave of voter disgust that fueled the Republican takeover this election cycle. The report looked at a focus group that measured the concerns and anxieties of the critical independent-voter demographic.
I totally get that part about the digital data. These are hard times. And the information inundation — from the latest earth-shaking event across the globe to the emotional status of your best friend in third grade, helpfully posted online — seems infinite. While everything else most people value — standard of living, financial security, political stability — seems uncomfortably scarce. It’s almost enough to make you want to turn off your computer and think about it on your own a little…
The focus group that met here in New Jersey on Monday included a bartender, a lawyer and a school bus driver. The dominant theme of the discussion, in which jobs and taxes came up only in passing, seemed to be the larger breakdown of civil society — the disappearance of common courtesy, the relentless stream of data from digital devices, the proliferation of lawsuits and the insidious influence of media on their children.