Ray Kurzweil, world-recognized hardcore nerd, wrote a book of extreme nerdy acumen a few years back, entitled The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. In it, he spends many hundreds of pages in technical writer-like prose presenting charts, graphs and diagrams that support his main “thesis,” which is that the world is rapidly progressing towards a point at which there is established a universal network between communication devices (such as cell phones and computers) and people. Basically, the idea is that we will all be networked at all times, and in so doing mankind will experience a synergistic effect and become almost totally unlike how we perceive ourselves today, in 2008. Think “Matrix,” except with the benefit going to mankind, instead of computer overlords.
There are two things this theory has going for it, which is the backing of an extremely smart, extremely nerdy man, and a really cool name. You can almost picture it on the marquis of your local mega-chain theater location.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a student on any college campus that doesn’t have an account on at least one, if not several, of the “major league” social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and the like. Young professionals are mostly on the former as well, and older-ish professionals so resented being left out that they hopped on LinkedIn in pouty retaliation. It is now more common to make sure you have a person’s full name when leaving a party, instead of their number, so that you can find them on Facebook, friend them (it’s a verb now, by the way), and henceforth know absolutely everything there is to know about them.
It seems cynical and perhaps a bit purposefully counter-culture to look at Facebook as regression instead of progression, but hear me out. Social networking used to be a fine science. It took finesse to portray yourself as a likable-enough person for other people to give you their phone number, or establish enough of a rapport to even begin to broach topics such as what kind of music they like, what their favorite books are, and other such topics of common conversation. With Facebook, all of that is done for you already. The only thing separating you from knowing somebody as though you’ve known them for years is their approval of your friend request, and Facebook could conceivably regain some semblance of legitimacy as a portrayal of any given individual’s real-life social network if this process meant anything whatsoever. However, with many people having over 1,000 Facebook “friends,” I can hardly imagine anybody seriously suggesting that to be the case.
You don’t have to remember your “best friend’s” birthday, because Facebook will do it for you. Facebook reduces the concept of caring about somebody enough to remember that sort of information to simply being socially obligated to say something to them when it reminds you what day it is. You don’t have to waste your time selectively inviting close friends to a get-together, because that would take much too much time: Better to blanket invite dozens of people through Facebook. The reason why so many fewer people show up after being invited through Facebook is because they can see that they were just invited to increase the probability of any given person out of the dozens invited actually showing up. The whole thing becomes naked facework, a social act for the sake of being social.
So, in a way, Kurzweil’s Singularity is what made me de-register from every social networking site I was a member of (which was pretty much just Facebook). It wasn’t privacy concerns, because anybody who actually believes they have privacy on the internet doesn’t know a whole lot about the internet, and it wasn’t as a result of any sort of social reasons. I’m a very anti-social person by nature, so I feel like if I’m going to be guilt-tripped by life into being social, I should at least feel like I’ve earned whatever acquaintances or friends I might gain as a result, and not that they’ve been basically given to me as a result of properly filling out a form.