Suzanne Fields

Every generation seeks a hero or an anti-hero, a trend or counter-trend, a fashion or non-fashion to define itself in both politics and the culture, pop and otherwise. Recall Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock in the movie "The Graduate," lolling about in his parents' swimming pool, fins and all, with no place to go. Quintessential '60s.

Fast forward to 2010. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, trying to connect with his girlfriend in the new movie "The Social Network," as she tells him with fatigue and exasperation, "dating you is like dating StairMaster." Swoosh. The devil as a dork.

Inside our speeded-up Internet, cyberspace, tweeting networks, technological change accelerates perceptions about who we are, where we're going and how we're getting there. Mark Zuckerberg may not like his portrayal in the movie because it's "lightly fictional," but his persona captures the Zeitgeist of the Geek with all of the Asbergy remoteness that allows one unlikeable genius to touch the nerve of a generation.

This guy with only one "friend" created a network of a half-billion friends, which, if it were a country, would be the third largest on the globe. Facebook, of course, is not a country, but that doesn't relieve its users of fretting about a Big Techy Brother making private information public.

Zuckerberg didn't help matters when he said that privacy was a changing "social norm." In reaction to criticism, he changed certain privacy settings to make them more secure. Still, it's difficult to understand why so many people choose to reveal so much information about themselves to so many people they hardly know, if they know them at all.

This is not "the culture of narcissism" so much as the culture of the superficial. In it, you see the social and psychological shifts that move from intimacy to interface, from touching moments to the touch of a keyboard, from eye-to-eye contact to virtual reality. People now boast of how many "friends" they have, as if quantity is quality.

While Facebook can be a harmless process for people to find out about people they once knew or would like to know, it cultivates a way of thinking and "connecting" that is veneer deep and that can be less than benign in the attitudes it fosters. More and more politicians use Facebook to be "in touch," and the phrase itself betrays a surface assumption. Ideas spread swiftly without substance. Offered as facts without verification. These network connections encourage daily bulletins to lots of people, suggesting a significance they don't have and a value they don't merit.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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