(8 of 10)
Zuckerberg will defend privacy to the death and he relies on a fair amount of it himself but there's still a level on which, for him and for a lot of other people driving the Web's evolution, it's a technical, economic and aesthetic inconvenience. Exchanging information at less than full power is just inefficient. ("People are very sensitive about privacy, and I think they're right to be," Zuckerberg says. "But we still just come to work every day and make the decisions that we think are best for the product.") As a result, technology has nudged us to the point where we're hemorrhaging data. Look at the flap over Google Maps Street View or the TSA scanners or WikiLeaks. Zuckerberg doesn't register on any particular political seismometer hours after meeting the director of the FBI, he had to be reminded of Mueller's name but he does remark about WikiLeaks that "technology usually wins with these things." And he's right: the Internet was built to move information around, not keep it in one place, and it tends to do what it was built to do.
But what makes life complicated in the postmodern technocratic aquarium we're collectively building is that there actually are good reasons to want to hide things. Just because you present a different face to your co-workers and your family doesn't mean you're leading a double life. That's just normal social functioning, psychology as usual. Identity isn't a simple thing; it's complex and dynamic and fluid. It needs to flex a little, the way a skyscraper does in a high wind, and your Facebook profile isn't built to flex.
For all of Zuckerberg's EQ, Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You're friends with your spouse, and you're friends with your plumber.
When it comes to privacy, it's entirely possible that Zuckerberg will turn out not to be wrong, just prescient. Social norms change. People hated Facebook's News Feed when it was introduced in 2006. They thought it was creepy and intrusive. Zuckerberg stood his ground, and now Facebook is unimaginable without it. He moved the chains, and we went with him, setting up our defense that much farther toward the end zone. "The world is changing," Cox says. "When caller ID came out, people went psycho. You know, because, Oh my God, now people are going to know I'm calling them! This is terrible! I'm going to end up being tracked, and Big Brother and Orwell and all that! The reality is now you won't pick up a call unless you know who's calling you."
But there is another danger, which is that instead of feeling forced to share, we won't be able to stop ourselves from sharing that we will willingly, compulsively violate our own privacy. Relationships on Facebook have a seductive, addictive quality that can erode and even replace real-world relationships. Friendships multiply with gratifying speed, and the emotional stakes stay soothingly low; where there isn't much privacy, there can't be much intimacy either. It's like an emotional Ponzi scheme, where you keep putting energy in and getting it back tenfold, even though the dividends start to feel a little fake.
An article published earlier this year in European Psychiatry presented the case of a woman who lost her job to a Facebook addiction, and the authors suggested that it could become an actual diagnosable ailment. (The woman in question couldn't even make it through an examination without checking Facebook on her phone.) Facebook is supposed to build empathy, but since 2000, Americans have scored higher and higher on psychological tests designed to detect narcissism, and psychologists have suggested a link to social networking. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of its members have seen a rise in the number of divorce cases involving social networking; 66% cite Facebook as the primary source for online divorce evidence. Openness and connectedness are all well and good, but someone should give two cheers at least for being closed and disconnected too.
For all its industrial efficiency and scalability, its transhemispheric reach and its grand civil integrity, Facebook is still a painfully blunt instrument for doing the delicate work of transmitting human relationships. It's an excellent utility for sending and receiving data, but we are not data, and relationships cannot be reduced to the exchange of information or making binary decisions between liking and not liking, friending and unfriending. It's as if Zuckerberg read E.M. Forster's famous rallying cry in Howards End, "Only connect," and took it literally: only connect, do nothing else. (There's no chance that this actually happened. I asked Zuckerberg if he'd read Forster and got the spider stare. He'd never heard of him.)
Next Only Connect