Zadie Smith vs Facebook

Poster from the film, The Social Network

Poster from the film, The Social Network

The New York Review of Books has published a scathing review by novelist Zadie Smith on the film, The Social Network.

Smith damns the bio-pic of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg not for its portrayl of the boy genius but as “a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore”.

Smith’s review slams social networking:

“When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility.” She imply the domination of Facebook is almost totalitarian, writing “One nation under a format”.

There have of course been as many responses. Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic Monthly was the most notable. He acknowledges that much of Facebook is “maudlin, ugly, or otherwise silly… but we’ve been expressing ourselves in ways like that forever. Consider even good pop music.”

Far from homogenisation and Smith’s “one format”, Madrigal believes “We live in the time of the hyperniche. All this liking and information spreading has led us to build more paths that are all less taken.”

But ultimately he perceives Smith’s celebrity status as distorting her view and creating new relationships with her readers and fans. She “trailed her beauty and brilliance with her, and experienced Facebook with their full weight pressing on her fingers and behind her eyes.”

And ultimately for Madrigal Facebook is empowered by choosing friends and what he shares. “You get to choose the people you listen and talk to. You have control over your data. You get to define who you are, no matter what your Facebook profile says.”

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