Facebook, my friend, you are entering a world of pain.

I quite enjoy impromptu battle with people getting furious over Facebook’s redesign on one side, and then there is the “hey, keep it cool man, like, change happens, y’know?” brigade who have set themselves up as the default voice of reason. I side more with the former than the latter, since there’s a difference between acceptance and acquiescence. The posture of the latter holds that we pay nothing for these online services, and basically falls in with the pre-digital mindset of “you’ll take what you’re given”, or “any colour as long as it’s #3B5998“. It is the position of the Dude, who just accepts what happens. By default, I am put in the position of Walter by those who are, like, way more chilled out about it all. Facebook abides, man.

 I told that Kraut a fuckin’ thousand times, I don’t roll on shabbos.

Well, fine. I am he. But think about what exactly the dissatisfaction that people feel with these changes. It’s not simply a manifestation of chutzpah (as someone following in the footsteps of a convert to Judaism, I’m assuming I can say that now) for us to point out that all is not well.
The Dude: Walter…
Donny: They already posted it.
Walter Sobchak: Well they can *fucking unpost it*! 

You know what, they can change Facebook, because we are what it runs on. It is of course not the case that we have paid for a service with cash, but do we think they are providing a service to us for free? Of course not, they get our time, they get our attention, and they get the revenue from every advertiser wanting to hit exactly the target-market that we represent.

This is the new logic of open source being brought to bear on ever more realms, and we need to expand our conceptual vocabulary accordingly. We no longer pay for services with money, but with our attention, with our time. That is as valuable as money, if not moreso, because in the murky world of Facebook’s revenue stream via ads, they can tell marketers that there is billions to be made in the upcoming world. In capital terms, Facebook is not worth anywhere near the numbers thrown about (such as $100bn), what is behind such fantasy figures is the concept of there being a social ecosystem which this website represents. Those billions that don’t come in via direct advertising are to be found right behind our eyeballs. Too right we can complain.

Finally, of course Facebook is going to listen and make more changes, because though Bebo and Myspace etc. are dead in the water, they died because they deserved to. They were no kind of a challenge. The situation we are in now is that Facebook is in the position of AOL, a stupid monopoly of closing off information. Creating a wall to keep information out equally keeps it in, and every information technology has proved that to be a foolhardy strategy in the long term (even the guilds only kept the print press out of Paris for 20 years). The prize of openness and market-share is Google’s to grab.

If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

That’s the popular wisdom of today at least. But hey! Let’s not assume we are surrounded by idiots and instead try to find the dust off the scrapings off the husk off a seed of truth there somewhere.

In this there is first the point that our memories aren’t the best, and so we outsource to various technologies. Previously these would have included journals, diaries, letters, then Polaroids, Super-8, up to the blogs and various other media of networked communication. That’s the basic ‘storage’ problem.

There is also something else, however, which is a bit more numinous, and it is that nebulous idea that fetishists of technology (be they committed, or opportunistic such as those in technology marketing/p.r. [I refuse to give public relations a seal of approval via capitalization]), in terms of a supposed innately human need to connect. Remove the hyperbole, and there is simply the structural resilience of connecting things to other things that brings the storage of my first point to a quite different level.

We are inhabitants of a social rather than a merely physical reality. So if you have a thought or an idea, this is wonderful, but it has no social reality, and it has no reality that can be accessed by anyone other by yourself via your own memories – and that’s assuming you remember. So, by embedding this idea or thought in a formal structure (and this is a purposefully inclusive notion, so that it can include writing, painting, photography, programming) it becomes a part of social reality.

In network terms, a node is a node is a node if left to itself. What makes it become more than this is if it is connected. So, by communicating in this manner, an escape velocity is attained such that we can escape the circular logic of  solipsism. The argument for open-source and the commons holds for all thought and creativity. I may have had the occasional idea in the past that I scribbled down in a notebook…but if people can’t read it, why bother write it?