Sunday, July 29, 2012

Facebook is No Trifle

In a Wall Street Journal article “Why Our Innovators Traffic in Trifles”, Nicholas Carr claims that Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are examples of “innovation’s turn toward the trifling”. The evidence, he says, is that such technologies are merely “altering internal states, transforming the invisible self or its bodily container.” Truly big inventions, according to Carr, are directed “outward” and pertain to “changing the shape of the physical world” or of “society”.

While it is true that Facebook is about information and ideas, and steam engines—which Carr puts in the second category—are about machinery, it does not follow however that the former are inherently less valuable than the latter. Contrary to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which Carr invokes, man cannot fulfill even his “primitive physiological requirements” without “self-actualization”. Imitating Boromir, One Does Not Simply Reshape the Physical World. Knowledge is a necessary precondition to action; and Facebook is essentially a tool to disseminate and obtain knowledge.

Historically, it has been inventions such as phonetic language, paper, and Guttenberg press that have served man’s “desire for self-expression and self-promotion”—a desire that Carr finds to be “small” and presumably not noble enough when being fulfilled by Facebook. Yet he could not honestly label the ancestral “complex systems of communication” as trifling, and rationalizes by characterizing those as being “outward” directed, by which he means "selfless". And selfless is exactly what their inventors and users were not. It does not make any difference whether you declare “what’s on your mind” on a remote retina display or a papyrus. Both are acts of “self-expression and self-promotion”. The same goes for the steam engine: there is nothing selfless about creating a powerful machine that reduces your physical labor.

Carr’s harmless-sounding call to “enlarge our aspirations” is a deceptive cover for his call to murder the self—the only entity with the capacity to aspire. Our ancestors had to selfishly choose to lift themselves from the caves. And that makes them big, not “small”.

A steam engine or Facebook can both serve the self. Either technology can be more valuable to a man than the other. The body and mind are integrated; there is no dichotomy between “tools of survival and tools of the self.”


  1. good BloG!!
    see mine :-