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Zombies and Friends
December 8, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
All humanity has been affected. There is no refuge, seemingly no escape as tiny pockets of individuals attempt to resist, holding at bay the knowledge that it’s futile.
It first struck as a pandemic, unlike anything the human immune system had experienced before. It quickly immobilizes its victims, reconstituting their brains then bringing them back to life in a different form. Brain dead, but still out and about.
No, I’m not talking about “The Walking Dead,” the new AMC series about life after a zombie outbreak. It’s been called the best new show on television and I watched it for the first time on Sunday.
I’m talking about the profile of Mark Zuckerberg and the phenomenon he created — Facebook — that aired the same night on “60 Minutes.” (OK, the brain-dead metaphor might have been a stretch.)
While I’m still not up to speed on “The Walking Dead,” it’s hard not to get sucked into its tale of a handful of survivors trying to negotiate things after the end of life as we know it. With movie-quality production values, and weekly ethical and moral dilemmas in the script, it’s like the recent movie hit “Zombieland,” only not funny.
Sunday’s show included sort of a PowerPoint on what zombies are, exactly. That was very helpful for those of us who didn’t know, exactly — especially since zombies have been enjoying such a renaissance lately, in literary novels, films and the like.
There probably aren’t any actual zombies among the half-billion “Friends” on Facebook, who, if they were all lumped together, would make up the third largest nation in the world. Not many even qualify as brain dead, technically speaking.
But for those of us addicted, awaiting the creation of a new FFA —Facebook Friends Anonymous — to save us, this new form of life continues to baffle. What is it? Will someone please tell us?
Facebook founder Zuckerberg didn’t offer much help. In these early days of Academy Awards predictions, with the Facebook-inspired “The Social Network” in the hunt, his appearance with Leslie Stahl was the opposite of usual Oscar buzz.
My guess is he’s not rooting for it to win.
The cherubic-cheeked Zuckerberg, who speaks in the same post-adolescent, not-quite-grown-up-yet cadences of the young Bill Gates, seemed to be staging more of a preemptive strike against Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliant but less-than-flattering portrait of him in the Aaron Sorkin-scripted film.
Zuckerbeg displayed a neener-neener-neener demeanor toward the entire film project. Such dismissive attitudes must come with the territory for overnight billionaires poised to conquer the digital world like a cyber-Napoleons.
Zuckerberg’s passions are still cyber in nature. “Hacking” is not a pejorative in Facebook’s new headquarters, but a term of praise connoting creating something brand new. He used “60 Minutes” to unveil the facelift of Facebook, reconfiguring your Profile so your Friends can better know the “real” you.
This is a good thing? some of us wonder. Yes! Zuckerberg would answer. He’s not buying the movie version suggesting Facebook was the unintended result of his not having a clue about what friends are, actually —much less, how to make one.
What makes Facebook worth all those billions of dollars, Stahl explained, is the way it’s rewriting the book on advertising and marketing.
Advertising, as we knew even before “Mad Men,” is a brilliant form of alchemy that transforms psychology into sales. In other words, mind control.
On Facebook in contrast, at least for the time being, advertisers have largely been replaced by your Friends. Ask them what kind of new camera to buy. They’ll tell you. You can trust them.
Ker-ching for Mr. Zuckerberg.
As opposed to a paranoid Orwellian nightmare about a dorky Big Brother ruling our lives, the scary part of all this is that it’s voluntary. You don’t do it if you don’t want to. No one’s making you.
Of course, anyone in media or marketing today knows that you ignore Facebook at your own peril. Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes” concluded with Andy Rooney, in his usual sad-sack curmudgeon mode, reminiscing about legends he’s worked with at CBS — Murrow, Cronkite, Rather and the rest.
The juxtaposition with the Facebook story was prophetic. That was then. This is now. Get over it. Rather than by design, Zuckerberg and his earliest collaborators stumbled into their meteoric success accidentally by tapping into some fundamental truths of human nature: People are self-centered. People are nosy. People are lonely.
Ker-ching for Mr. Zuckerberg.
It all makes living with zombies seem downright simple.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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