Dave Winer has been ruminating on the idea of ‘Facebook’ viewed not so much as “Zuckerberg’s monster” or a toxic global corporation (the way most of its critics and the media portray it) but as an astonishing global collection of human users. He’s been thinking along these lines for a while, but the way he puts it now is particularly striking. “When I was 14”, he writes,
I went to high school in the Bronx and lived in Queens. It was a 1.5 hour trip each way. I had a few choices but they all magically took the same amount of time. One of the routes was to take the Q16 bus to Main Street, then the 7 train to Grand Central, and switch to the 4 train uptown. The Bedford Park Blvd station is two blocks from the school. One day on the train, I remember this really clearly, I was watching all the houses and apartment buildings we passed, first in Queens, then in the Bronx. Inside every window, I guessed, was a family, like my own, possibly. With their dramas and struggles, stories, victories, history, abuse, happiness, fear. I tried to imagine how each of them might live and realized in an overwhelming way that I could never begin to understand who they were. NYC, even then, was an ethnically and economically diverse place. Of course as we traveled through the city, the people on the train changed too. Very few of them were Bronx Science students. There were all kinds of people. Who knew what any of them were thinking. The point is this. The world is huge. To keep our sanity we have to simplify it, and to do that we have to ignore differences. The stories we tell ourselves little connection to reality. And so any general statement about a community as huge and diverse as Facebook is certain to miss the mark, widely. And most of what we read only focuses on the company, not the users. To have that appear as journalism is just wrong because journalism has a higher calling, to find out what’s real, what’s true, and then say that.
Watching the way my own extended family uses Facebook, that strikes a chord.