The Worrisome Frivolity Of Facebook
“I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.”
–Betty White, “Saturday Night Live”
“Knowledge is power,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon. There’s little doubt Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg grasped this when he created his vision for social networking eight years ago this month. Whether you consider Facebook a miracle or a monster, there is no doubt it has changed the way people relate to each other. It also made Zuckerberg one of the youngest billionaires in history.
This year, Facebook is expected to garner its billionth user. It already has more than 845 million users, or roughly one-seventh of the world’s population.
With billions of dollars in earnings, Facebook has in the works a much-anticipated initial public stock offering. The success of that IPO will do much to determine if social networking and the accumulation of what was once deemed personal information translate into raw wealth.
Regardless of how well Facebook’s IPO does, there is one truth about it and other social networks: The members who sign up are giving away their privacy and anonymity.
I find it irritating to watch people obsessing over Facebook. I am in my mid-50s, and I have no desire to share my life with so-called friends who can pass any of my information on to anyone. My wife and I have three children in their 20s who, like many of their generation, are avid Facebook users.
It has been my observation while shopping, walking in the park or driving that multitudes are either reading Facebook posts or updating their statuses. The numbers back me up. Facebook reports that it has 415 million mobile users.
Whether on the laptop at home or on the street with a smartphone, it appears that the principal reason so many people spend so much time on Facebook is to learn and spread gossip.
Evidence that many of my generation are upset over social networking was demonstrated this month when a North Carolina father, Tommy Jordan, responded to his daughter’s disrespectful Facebook rant by shooting her laptop and putting the video on YouTube. Jordan’s video went viral, receiving more than 2 million views in the first couple of days.
Jordan’s daughter had written a long Facebook post in which she complained about her chores. She didn’t suspect her dad would find her online tirade, but he did. He was especially upset by his daughter’s use of profanity in her post.
“This is for my daughter, Hannah, and more importantly, all of her friends on Facebook who thought her little rebellious post was cute,” Jordan said before riddling her computer with bullets.
I don’t endorse shooting computers. It is too much like Elvis Presley shooting TVs. I do understand that many older people are angry that our kids seem to give their lives over to their “friends” who number in the hundreds or sometimes thousands on Facebook.
I also realize that Facebook isn’t just for young people. Social Media Today reported in April 2010 an estimated 41.6 percent of the U.S. population had a Facebook account.
A friend told me at a Christmas party that he has more than 2,000 “friends” on Facebook. I still can’t comprehend that number. I am not sure I have been introduced to 2,000 people in my lifetime.
A wise, old uncle once told me: “If I have three people who are real friends, I am a lucky man.”
The New Economy
On Feb. 1, Facebook filed its S1 document with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company filed for a $5 billion IPO, one of the biggest in tech history and the largest Internet offering ever. It is estimated that when the IPO plays out, Facebook will be worth between $40 and $200 billion. While there are a multitude of users, no one can accurately predict what this company will be worth after the silicon settles.
While Facebook earned over $1 billion last year, it may pay out those profits in bonuses to its employees and avoid any Federal taxation. I don’t begrudge Facebook legally avoiding taxes, but there is a macroeconomic point most people ignore. As of February 2011, Facebook employed about 2,000 people. The hottest stock to hit Wall Street has an unparalleled ratio of customers to employees. America needs jobs, yet Facebook and the entire social network create little stimulus for the economy.
Then there is the question of productivity. Many companies block Facebook from employee workstations. Those that don’t have to contend with workers wasting time checking new postings on their Facebook page.
On the subject of privacy, I had lunch the other day with a young man whom I coached in football more than a decade ago. He went on to win many football awards and earned two degrees by the age of 21. His MBA thesis criticized Facebook and commented on the lackluster way in which people give away their privacy.
He told me, “Since early civilization, people have strived to protect their privacy. In a few short years, such concerns have been thrown to the wind.”
How exactly is it that Facebook and other social media sites hurt a member’s privacy? I found an explanation from A Nice Guy’s View on Life, written June 23, 2010:
Here’s where the problem is. Facebook is a company which is trying to make money. Your profile (the collection of all your information) on their website belongs to them. They can market that information to anyone and do whatever they want with it. If you put any pictures on there, then they own those photos too. On top of that, every “application” or service that isn’t written by Facebook) knows everything [emphasis in the original] about you and the people you are friends with… which means that if you’ve decided not to install an application that collects e-mail addresses, but your friend does — then that application knows your e-mail address. Wonderful!
All of this makes me think Facebook is less a wonderful enterprise and more like a useful instrument for big business and Big Brother. That should give you pause before you either join Facebook or update your information on it.
Yours in good times and bad,
Editor, Myers’ Energy & Gold Report