OK, Zadie Smith. We all get it. You’re gorgeous and preternaturally talented, you already, at 35, have a literary career that is the envy of anyone who’s even contemplated picking up a pen (or tapping a keyboard) and you’ve been teaching at Harvard for years, years when most of us (OK fine, me) were mostly spending our free time talking shit with our friends over our beverage of choice.
But you know what you suck at? The Internet.
I came across your piece for the NYTRB last Friday on Twitter, but got bored about halfway through and abandoned it, at least until I came across two prompts to give it another shot. So I soldiered though, and...huh?
Zadie, don’t you know about the Internet? It’s huge. It’s really not just Facebook -- Facebook is just a jumping off point. Facebook long ago ceased being a place where you can find actual honest opinions and interesting dialogue. Oh sure, they’re trying desperately to make it safe for us all to fly our freak flags, what with the Groups and all, but I just don’t think we’ll be so easily misled.
Zadie, when you quit Facebook, you threw the proverbial baby out with bathwater. You ask, “Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”?” But to ask that assumes that people are only communicating online via Facebook.
Zadie, haven’t you ever watched To Catch a Predator? Don’t you think the guys they’re apprehending by the dozen post the same “falsely jolly, fake-friendly, self-promoting, slickly disingenuous” Facebook status updates as everyone else? Fine, that’s a really dark example - you could just as easily point to people participating in forums for recovering alcoholics or sufferers of incontinence or hell, even people doing online dating - but the point is that people still do plenty of things online and off that they don’t necessarily want to advertise to 400 acquaintances and Great Aunt Dorothy.
To assume that just because we’re putting on a happy face on Facebook we’re not indulging in our passions, urges and fantasies (twisted and morally reprehensible though they may be) is just silly. Seriously, what else is the Internet good for if not giving people the immediate ability to explore any interest they could ever possibly have, and to connect with others who share that interest, or at least to read their thoughts about it? Facebook is one place to do that, but it’s by no means the only place.
The pack mentality is alive and well on Facebook, it’s true, but it’s also alive and well in real life, and until that evolves, it seems crazily naive to assume that a web utility will be responsible for its perpetuation. If anything, Facebook is the phone book of our generation - it has just enough information to make it possible to contact us, but in the end it says very little about who we really are. It might stick around a while because it is useful, but I promise, it's not going to keep people from being who they are.
Let me know if you need help finding some other places where you can really be yourself online, Zadie. They’re out there.