All Your Relations Are Belong to Us

A discussion over dinner with friends the other day recalled the three-ring circus that was the congressional hearing with Zuckerberg. "What exactly is it that these platforms have a monopoly over? It's sort of unclear. The telecoms back in the day, it was clear they have a monopoly over the communications infrastructure. But what does Facebook have a monopoly over?"

I threw out that they have a monopoly over social relations—seemingly a weak sort of waffling; clearly, nobody has to rely on FB et al. for a social life. But, I said, that's just the point—there's clearly a manufacture of needs going on here, where people have started getting inured to the idea that their social life would tank without these platforms.

I'd said it in that moment mostly to be glib. But I inadvertently found myself thinking back to that throwaway comment today as I was listening to south-future-tech. The guest, Freuler—researcher of information infrastructures at Harvard and all that jazz—

Freuler: ... this system of walled gardens and silos where you're not able to leave Facebook because they're keeping all your contacts hostage. I have over a thousand contacts in there, a number of people of whom I have no other contact from them and I can't leave, I basically put up a message that says I'm no longer on this platform, but I can't erase it, because people still reach out to me through that, and it's implemented through design, its lack of interoperability by design, ...


If someone who studies this stuff for a living is resigned to this seeming inevitability, what chance does the TikTok generation stand? Worse (better?), the host, Paris Marx, related in another episodetwsu-912 min. that he'd quit FB, and then joined back up, because there just seemed to be no other way to be able to keep in touch with everyone that you want to these days. (This of course raises the question of whether such an endeavour could be "natural", or "desirable". Something something Dunbar's number. That's for another zettel.)

Freuler, if for some ungodly reason you find yourself reading this, I hope you'll quit the Birdsite and eventually find your way to the Fediverse—we have interoperability. I don't know how much longer it'll hold out before the VC's find a way to engulf it whole, as they seem to always eventually do, but it's been a hell of a lot of fun hiding out there so far.

Network Effects

What the VC's call "network effects" - the effect where adding a single user has the multiplicative effect of adding "value" to the entire network of already existing users, via the relations that addition user can form with them, is really the enclosure of human relations by technological capitalism in the 21st century.


south-future-tech “The Global South Holds a Better Future of Tech”. “The Global South Holds a Better Future of Tech”. [link] ↩︎ 1 2