- Alas, David Levine didn’t live to draw a caricature of Mark Zuckerberg for this article. But this one of Edie Sedgewick, from 1982, seems somehow appropriate.
Charles Peterson, of n+1, is in the current New York Review of Books, talking about the history and future of Facebook, and the internet as we know it. It’s a terrific piece, enfolding class issues, cultural theory, almost-personal anecdotal history and media reportage into a coherent narrative, one in which Peterson establishes continuity between the site’s origins as a tool for flirtation and self-fashioning by the privileged and frivolous, and its current incarnation, as something like a one-stop internet, turning everything into a self-contained sphere of interaction.
What’s really terrific, though, are the names Peterson drops whenever he has to give an example of the stuff people might put on their profile pictures (or did, when they were at whatever Ivy he went to):
The list of “Favorites” was the occasion for particular anxiety and comedic juxtaposition, as Beethoven might share space with contemporary pop groups like OutKast…
…the early Facebook nonetheless appeared as a natural extension of the atmosphere of college, where… whether one names Jane Austen among one’s favorite authors, or removes Charlotte Brontë from the list, can seem enormously important…
It even became something of a norm to greet a friend in the dining hall by declaring, for example, “I see you added Trotsky to your list of favorite authors—but dropped Marx!”
The News Feed, by contrast, made everyone and everything an object of gossip by automatically sending the minutest changes to a wide circle of “friends.” Along with the pleasure of learning that a crush had added Godard to her list of favorite filmmakers, you had to endure image after image of the drunken escapades of people you hadn’t seen in years.
As we have known offline for centuries, and as these students learned on the Web, there are many things, from party photos to Marquis de Sade quotes, that one might comfortably pin over a desk or hang on a wall, but that would best not be made visible to just anyone online.
(I’m not even including the stray examples and analogies making use of opera and Cheever.)
Is Peterson making a point about the kind of exquisitely curated references Facebook encourages us to make, or is this first-time NYRB contributor dropping all this into his Facebook article just to make sure the subscribers know he’s serious cultured folk?