Is Google Facebook Making Us Stupid?

We all know that Facebook is everywhere. And most of us know that the company has been challenged on its privacy policies and it use of personal information. But sometimes I have a slightly broader concern with the popularity of the social networking giant: I think it may be dumbing down the web–and the web user.

Here is what I mean: we are entering the downhill slope of the 2.0 revolution–the changes in the structure and functionality of the web exemplified by YouTube, Wikipedia, and yes, Facebook. The 2.0 idea–namely, that users create and organize content through huge, interwoven social networks–is being seriously challenged by the unchecked growth of Facebook. Facebook wants to be the web, in the same way that Google is virtually synonymous with being online. Facebook, in other words, wants people to say, “Where’s that restaurant again? I’ll Facebook it. ” Or perhaps more ridiculously, “I’m Facebooking my article right now.” (see my recent post on the new Microsoft/Facebook partnership).

The trouble with this is that Facebook is crowding out other innovative 2.0 companies as it gobbles up more and more user experiences. Why keep a blog any more? All of your friends and family members (in other words, the people who actually read your blog) are on Facebook already. Just post a note there. Why upload your photos to Flickr, the photo sharing site whose features far exceed those offered by Facebook, when your photos have a much better chance of being seen at Facebook?

Part of the idea of web 2.0 was that users can create a highly customizable web experience with absolutely no coding experience. This experience went something like this: go to WordPress, start a blog, add a blogroll, embed your video from YouTube, publish your podcast, syndicate your feed, and alert your friends and family. Now, the idea of web 2.0 is this: Facebook.

The dominance of Facebook–and the limited user experience that results–is somewhat akin to the Apple experience. A life-long Windows user, I’ve switched to a Macbook Pro. I really like the computer, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I still can’t figure out why the Windows clones cannot be a sleek or as well-designed as the Mac. But I have noticed that the online conversations about Macs are less about innovation (how to hack the code to make it do what you want) and more about advocacy (“Who needs to be able to cut a file? Not Mac users! Everything is better in a Mac!”) . Windows, for all of its failures, has given rise to really smart, really useful software and modifications. Windows Media Player not working for you? Try one of the dozens of free alternatives available on the web. Don’t like the version of iMovie that came bundled with your Macbook Pro? Good luck.

So, it may be that Facebook needs the equivalent of the blue screen of death. Enough users have to get fed up with its privacy violations and its interface to begin hacking its code and offering better alternatives. I personally would like to see four or five major social networks, all contending for customers. Maybe we start by quitting Facebook in favor of new startups like Diaspora. Who’s with me?

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About RR

Assistant Professor of English Education at Grand Valley State University.
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3 Responses to Is Google Facebook Making Us Stupid?

  1. Veedubs says:

    I’m personally on Facebook anymore in large part because “all my friends are there”. And some who aren’t. I have people who punched me in the face back in high school Facebook-friending me, and I’ve never spoken to them since they requested internet-friendship (as of this morning, I count 1040 Facebook-friends). I’m amused by their goings-on day-to-day, and even post up some irrelevant things there, myself. There’s a whole different mode of socialization available on sites like Facebook, but that’s not the thing.

    I recently began pulling pictures from Facebook and uploading them to Picasa, instead, because they can be made private, sorted more easily, and are of better quality (the space restrictions are crummy, though). I’m more a fan of Orkut and the ability to use Add-ons than Facebook’s clunky plugins (though Scrabble is my poison), and wish some work would be done with it.

    The blog/note thing angers me a bit, too. I thought to start blogging more to keep up with writing, and I think that people’re more open on their blogs, but they post notes and status updates, instead. And Facebook’s formatting for notes is terrible.

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  3. Kendall says:

    I didn’t have a facebook for a few years after it became popular to avoid this very thing happening to me. After getting one it has quickly become the first thing I do when I get on my computer. I think I will try to break the habit this summer, use email and maybe even “Snail mail” (gasp!) to keep in touch.

    Also I think that Facebook chat (as well as texting) are greatly impacting the quality of writing in younger generations. In my time teacher assisting I saw many kids abbreviate things in ways that seem to be common in texting or IMing.

    On top of that I had the opportunity to look through some literacy tests done at a school middle school in MI. The writing was atrocious. The majority of these 8th grade students were testing at the level of a 4th grader (according to the test’s scoring requirements), and largely in part to the abbreviations they used. This often lead to misspellings as well. As a frequent text message user I have made it a point to use proper grammar and spelling as often as possible due to these tests. I am curious to hear your thoughts on this RR. Let me know what you think when you get a chance, I hope your summer is going well.

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