Feeds

Why Zadie Smith is wrong about Facebook and autism

Stick to the library

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Top three mobile application threats

Andrew's Mailbag Isn't it time for a War on Stupid Generalisations? These usually need a Czar, and I'd gladly volunteer.

Novelist Zadie Smith has written about the movie The Social Network and wonders if Mark Zuckerberg's apparent extreme autism doesn't manifest itself in both the reductive view of humanity that Facebook (and Web 2.0) software demands. That's fine. It's when she steers into observations about autism - largely borrowed, because she's not an original thinker - from Jaron Lanier's You Are Not A Gadget - that the trouble starts.

George Jansen writes:

There seem to be three axes being ground here - apart from the fact that Mark Zuckerberg cares little for what Zadie Smith cares for.

1. That information underrrepresents reality. Right, we call it abstraction, as I recall. Further, that "life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation." Haven't heard that, before, have we?

The awful daring of a moment's surrender
    Which an age of prudence can never retract
    By this, and this only, we have existed
    Which is not to be found in our obituaries
    Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
    Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
     In our empty rooms

- T.S.Eliot

The Zuckerberg comic cover. Image: Bluewater

2. That we put out a blander and dumber version of ourselves for Facebook. Yes, we also do this on our resumes. Also perhaps at book clubs, cocktail parties, and airport lounges. If we wished to stay Eliotic, we could remember "to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet".

3. Zadie Smith writes: "But the pack mentality is precisely what Open Graph, a Facebook innovation of 2008, is designed to encourage. Open Graph allows you to see everything your friends are reading, watching, eating, so that you might read and watch and eat as they do. "

Does the New York Review of Books carry a best-seller list? The late great National Lampoon once memorably gave its version as The New York Review of Us.

Does it matter that Mark Zuckerberg won't move his eyebrows or can't distinguish red from green? Does it matter that he can burn some serious money for PR. (Well, I'm not sure high tech money is feeding healthy trends in the US schools, but apart from that.)

I think Zadie Smith is guilty of making a crude generalisation. Her argument that Zuckerberg's limited outlook influences his software design may be worth making for the specific case of Facebook. To me that's a legitimate exercise. It may not make for the best criticism, and all criticism has to stand or fall on its merits. That's not the problem.

Where she falls down is the generalisation. All software is written by autistic people - are all software writers autistic?

That's unsupportable.

In addition, the implication is deeply offensive - that only Zadie Smith (or someone like her) can understand human nature, and all other attempts to represent human nature can be dismissed regardless of their merits. This is the sweeping generalisation. Smith thinks she's found a sort of fantastic lightsabre with which to behead nerds, whenever they pop up in an inconvenient context.

Sociologically, that's cheating. And I think she doesn't even realise she's doing it. ®

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.