Early in 2009, I offered the world some tech advice that I have regretted pretty much ever since: I told everyone to join Facebook.
Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I didn’t just tell people. I harangued. I mocked. Writing in Slate, I all but reached through the screen, grabbed Facebook skeptics by the lapels and scolded them for being pompous, mirthless Luddites. “There is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook,” I wrote shortly after the then-five-year-old company announced growing to 150 million users worldwide. “The site has crossed a threshold — it is now so widely trafficked that it’s fast becoming a routine aid to social interaction, like email and antiperspirant.”
I wasn’t just wrong about Facebook; I had the matter exactly backward. Had we all decided to leave Facebook then or at any time since, the internet and perhaps the world might now be a better place. The question of how much better and in what way is a matter of considerable debate. It might be decades before we have any sense of an answer to whether, on balance, Facebook in particular and social networks more generally have improved or ruined society.
Yet whatever the outcome of that larger debate, my 2009 exhortation for people to go all in on Facebook still makes me cringe. My argument suffers from the same flaws I regularly climb up on my mainstream-media soapbox to denounce in tech bros: a failure to seriously consider the implications of an invention as it becomes entrenched in society; a deep trust in networks, in the idea that allowing people to more freely associate would redound mainly to the good of society; and too much affection for the culture of Silicon Valley and the idea that the people who created a certain thing must have some clue about what to do with it.
I should have known better. [Continue reading…]