If a jacket burns and there is no Facebook group, does anyone see it?

Posted by in Academix, Personal Travails

facebook.gifThe following post was originally (as in five minutes ago) posted on one of my graduate class’s blog, called Entertainment Studies. It’s about Facebook and burning jackets.

I get it already – Facebook is great because it connects us to old friends that we might not otherwise have been connected with, it’s more subtle and informal than email or telephones, it’s a way to promote events (the film series I curate, Cinema Politica, has several Facebook groups). Many of these great qualities I have decided to miss out on, and as our dear professor suggested to me in class, that’s my problem.

I guess I spend an already inordinate amount of time on my computer, and I’d rather not have another reason to be “wired in.” But aside from the personal implications of Facebook, which seem to be decent (although I’m fine with old highschool friends never tracking me down, given the traumatizing memories I have of that epoch), I’ve been wondering what are the political implications? And is there a Facebook Garfield group?

The latter question will have to go unanswered for the moment, but as for political implications, Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler, has taken a crack at what is behind the social network everyone hates to love. On Monday The Guardian published his article, “With friends like these…” and the stones he turns reveal some pretty icky muck. It may not be any great revelations to Facebook users that there is a big nasty profit-hungry machine behind the enterprise, but what might surprise some is the connections the architects and financiers have to the ultra-Conservative elite in America, as well as to the CIA.

Hodgkinson can seem old fashioned at times in the article, as when he talks about “going to the pub” and “reading books,” but it made we wonder why such suggestions seem antiquated and cheesy. Is it because we’ve moved past the idea of communication without wires and gadgets? Or is it because it sounds like things our parents or grandparents did? I was reminded of Hodgkinson’s words yesterday when I did go to the pub before the talk by W. J. T. Mitchell at Concordia. I sat down at a table with some friends who were already there. There were three of them and they were all dutifully reading text messages or sending text on their cell phones. As I pondered this image of modern communication, I smelled something burning.

“Your jacket is on fire.” The waitress said to me, and calmly lifted my faux fur-trimmed hood off the table behind me, where it had accidentally slumped into a candle. I padded out the small fire and looked inquisitively at the man sitting at the table where a jacket had just been burning, wondering of course, why he had done nothing. As he slowly lifted his head from his Blackberry, where he had been typing with a plastic pencil, we exchanged a look that communicated the absurdity of the moment: here we were, in Hodgkinson’s pub, everyone still attached to their communication devices, and not even a jacket on fire could draw us together in the “real world”.

Below is a link to Hodgkinson’s article, it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the political economy of communication. The people behind Facebook and their connections to the neoconservative movement – including thevanguard.org, were pretty startling discoveries for me. But then again, Facebook is a bit like Wal-Mart: a large, sprawling corporate entity that serves to make life easier for its patrons who for the most part aren’t concerned with what happens behind the scenes. I guess I have the same relationship with Apple.

Here is the article link.