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he news last week was all about Facebook's dodgy IPO. Investors are filing suit against Facebook about withholding "negative" assessment on its business prospects. This IPO not only "Zucked up" Silicon Valley's supposed tech bubble, but it has created the suspicion that Facebook willfully exploited the innocence of the small investor. But something even dodgier than a potential stock market fraud is going on. The social network is taking something much more important than money from its nearly one billion members. By sabotaging what it really means to be human, Facebook is stealing the innocence of our inner lives. It may even be Zucking us up as a species.
Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells us there's a "shift" from an analog world in which our identities are generated from within, to a digital world in which our sense of self is intimately tied to our social media presence. But this shift to a Facebook world of incessant "friending," Professor Turkle correctly warns us, is a "seductive fantasy" which is weakening us both as individuals and as a society. The problem, she explains, is that a "capacity for solitude is what nurtures great relationships." But in today's always-on social media world, our solitude has been replaced by incessant online updates, which both weaken our sense of self and our ability to create genuine friendships. I call this shift from the private to the public self "digital narcissism." Behind the communitarian veil of social media, we have fallen in love with ourselves. But this is a super sad love story. Because the more we self-broadcast, the emptier we become; and the emptier we become, the more we need to self-broadcast.
Facebook isn't alone, of course, in offering this seductive fantasy of a radically transparent digital society in which our self esteem is determined by our updates, tweets and check-ins. And yet with its almost billion members and nearly $100 billion public market valuation, Facebook is shaping the digital narcissism of early 21st century culture more than any other social media company. Most of all, Facebook is destroying our privacy as discrete individuals. And it's not just our kids who are revealing everything about themselves to their thousands of "friends" on Facebook. As Aisha Sultan and Jon Miller note in a chilling piece, "Facebook parenting" -- our obsession with posting data about our kids - is "destroying our children's privacy." Sultan, a parenting columnist at the St Louis Post-Dispatch, and Miller, a researcher at the University of Michigan, whose article was based on interviews with 4,000 children, argue that we've created what they call a sense of "normality" about a world where "what's private is public." Kids are growing up, they explain, assuming that it's perfectly normal to reveal everything about ourselves online. "And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?" Sultan and Miller conclude with the eeriest of questions. What it means, of course, is that we are creating a world in which our sense of identity, of who we actually are, is defined by what others think of us. Social media's ubiquity means that we are losing that most precious of human things -- our sense of self . Our devices are always on; our "Timeline" (Facebook's product which greedily attempts to capture our entire life narrative) is there for everyone to see; we are living in public on a radically transparent global network that, by 2020, will be fed by 50 billion intelligent devices carried by the majority of people on the planet.