Feeds

Why Zadie Smith is wrong about Facebook and autism

Stick to the library

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
New Facebook phone app allows you to stalk your mates
Nearby Friends feature goes live in a few weeks
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.