Sunday, November 21, 2010
i-Less in Gotham
"Mark Zuckerberg, born 1984," photo courtesy The New Yorker
After a recent series of interviews with Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, Jose Antonio Vargas wrote: "Eventually, the company [Facebook] hopes that users will read articles, visit restaurants, and watch movies based on what their Facebook friends have recommended, not, say, based on a page that Google’s algorithm sends them to. Zuckerberg imagines Facebook as, eventually, a layer underneath almost every electronic device. You’ll turn on your TV, and you’ll see that fourteen of your Facebook friends are watching 'Entourage,' and that your parents taped '60 Minutes' for you. You’ll buy a brand-new phone, and you’ll just enter your credentials. All your friends—and perhaps directions to all the places you and they have visited recently—will be right there." ("Letter from Palo Alto," The New Yorker).
In Manhattan during my work day I watch other humans. Here's what I see. In public most of them seem mesmerized by small screens that they hold in their hands. They stare at these screens with unblinking attentiveness -- in the street, on the subway, in buses, on elevators, in restaurants, waiting on checkout lines, idling in cars, on benches, walking, hunched over in entryways, climbing stairs, peeing in urinals, windowshopping, pushing strollers, talking with friends, eating sandwiches... At every possible moment.
Occasionally my fellow humans move their thumbs. Sometimes they raise their screens to their ears & talk or listen (Aha! It's a phone!). You can tell by the wires going from their screens into their ears that they're listening to music or a podcast. If it's music, they sometimes close their eyes & bop to the beat. I like that. Occasionally, someone stops in mid stride & punches frantically with index & 2nd finger at his or her screen, then -- without looking up -- walks on.
A stranger to our culture would certainly conclude that something very important is happening here. I don't necessarily disagree. But why, if I'm witnessing something significant, does no one else even seem to notice? And why -- poor, sad isolato that I am -- do I not feel inclined to join in? Why do I not desire my own magic screen to keep me company all the way home?