Putting the ass into, or taking it out of, Asperger’s?

The Social Network is very good filmmaking, but it’s ultimately not more interesting than the real-life subject it addresses.

As we transition from the age of narcissism into the age of autism it makes great sense that the reins of power move from the narcissistic and entitled elite (perfectly personified by rich, rowing twins who are, in fact, played by one actor—a feeble antagonist that Andy pointed out was a lot like young Malfoy in Harry Potter, complete with eating clubs evocative of Slitherin) who stand in stagnant and befuddled contrast to the code-cracking Rain Man-like neuro-atypical embodied by Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg (actually, the character portrayed in the movie, which is not at all the same thing) seems every inch the asshole, but really he is not.  He is not hard-hearted so much as socially mind-blind.  He does lash out at a girlfriend, but mostly because he is wounded and cannot metabolize his hurt; he is computer-language gifted but socially retarded—a perfect specimen to helm our ship of fools into the New Age.  If we release judgment, perhaps this movie-Mark Zuckerberg is oddly enlightened:  he has a sort of collective compassion (he knows what the group is ready for and wants) and he practices this compassion without attachment (which to us muggles looks like coldness and not caring).  Perhaps he is an agent of karma, his own and ours as well?

He understands math, code, algorithms and this positions him to ride the beast of the zeitgeist.  The spirit of our time is certainly Facebook, but to imagine that Mark Zuckerberg invented it is to miss the bigger picture.  Someone was going to be there first, and someone was going to make a bundle on it, but the real phenomenon is the group, not the creator of the place where the group meets.

Facebook, at least in the movie version, is all about cool, which hardly anyone in the movie actually is.  Justin Timberlake is great at playing Sean Parker, the founder of Napster; he is a Peck’s Bad Boy of tech, but he is not mind-blind; he reads as old-school narcissistic and debauched, but he is charismatic and humanly flawed.

Mark Zuckerberg is seen as idealizing Sean Parker, but not because he get chicks and knows how to order up fun at a restaurant or club; the boys are simpatico in not being all about the money.  And neurotypicals are most generally into money and other normal signifiers of cool; thus their mutual outlier status, Parker’s chip on his shoulder and Zuckerberg’s apparent Aspergers, allows them to become a sum of more than their parts (and while it seems that Zuckerberg arbitrarily betrays his best friend, it seemed clear to me that without Parker’s savvy, Facebook would not have exploded by getting needed capital at a critical moment).

While Mark Zuckerberg is rich, it seems likely enough that the reason he resists taking his company public and cashing in big-time is that once he lets go the reins he becomes just another nobody in the muggle world.  That he realizes this and cares to hang onto his thread of cool, even if it has him tethered like Ahab to the leviathan, makes him complex and not all that unlike ourselves.

Zuckerberg is an ambassador from the future; he is smart in a way most so-called normals do not get, but he and what he portends is like water receding from the shore before a tsunami.  Mark Zuckerberg is a convenient emblem, but of what?

Normals will likely see him as a morality tale of heartlessness, of a hubristic Icharus heading for some sun-melted fall, some Kane destined to call out for his Rosebud one deathly day; but I sense that it’s a whole new ballgame on planet earth and emotions are no longer the central currency by which humans will progress.  We have feelings, but we are not our feelings.

Like Spock and Hal before him, Zuckerberg is almost completely rational.  He is not truly the source of deceit and betrayal, it is the group that is full of this.

I find Facebook itself to be more or less a non-starter, like a really good phonebook in which you can find most, but not all, of the long lost people you have lost along the way; a reasonable, but not singular, potential place to do reach-outs to those you want to know (but still, you must socially position your inquiry to be accepted as a “friend”).

On Facebook the very meaning of a friend blurs with associate, neighbor, fellow earthling. The main reason the Facebook fad will eventually fade away like a hula hoop is that it rose on being cool, and now people like me are on there.  Facebook is like a cool club that only cool people can get into for fifteen minutes.  But that was fifteen minutes ago, and like all clubs of that ilk, someone inevitably chooses to cash in and then it’s no longer cool.  The moveable feast moves on.

Thus Facebook will be forced to cash in and cash out by the pressures of a world that cannot possibly understand its creator—because the world is its creator.  Zuckerberg is rather like Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo—a visionary ahead of the curve of his time, inspiring myth but living in actual social isolation.

We humans are wired for empathy, language and collective knowledge transmission (but not all of us humans, and the uptick in those who are not thus wired is intriguing, particularly if these outliers might see ahead of the curve).  As humans we’ve gone past instinct (i.e. being born knowing how to hunt or spin a web) and have advanced, as a species, by being teachers of the storehouse of our group’s collective knowledge.  Not everyone knows everything, but between us, the group has developed ways to store and transmit knowledge so that it is not lost to the group.

The fact that the brightest of our group are working to connect us all seems consistent with a centralized nexus of meeting that starts with mindless goofing around (much like language starts with meaningless babbling) but may platform into meaningful groups, sub-cultures and knowledge bases.   This is how we humans have built up a knowledge base that is far more vast than any one brain can hold.  But now that the wisdom has moved to “the cloud” of the intangible worldwide web that holds its info in triplicate and quadruplicate across multiple servers, the cat of exclusivity is out of the individual bag.

What used to be locked in the library stacks of elite universities is becoming open to the world, the real Berlin Wall in all this was the admissions officer at the elite university and the wall is crumbling faster than the machine of marketing can brand, monetize and exploit the fading signifiers of what used to be cool by virtue of being exclusive.  Our culture is like Gatsby floating dead in the pool of his mansion, and Tom and Daisy are worse, not better, off.

Mark Zuckerberg, in leaving Harvard in order to change the world, traces a meta-message about the growing irrelevance of Harvard and that sort of elitism altogether.  After all, as the head of Harvard quips to this year’s Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, they look like they’re showing up in his office to sell him a Brooks Brothers franchise.

Sure, Harvard will still matter for a few years, but in the sweep of change, we’re all living in Rome with no idea that the lead wasn’t such a great kitchen idea.  Those who think that Mark Zuckerberg is an outlier are unable to see the hordes of Zuckerbergs materializing all around us.  This is beyond a good or a bad thing, it is what it is.

Collective intelligence, I intuit, will prove rational.  It is emotional and ego-driven competition that has brought the world to the brink of destruction; perhaps it will be algorithmic intelligence that will calculate how best for humans to survive.

Mark Zuckerberg himself is not the Buddha of the collective, he is a Hollywood movie:  an errand boy sent by grocery clerks.  It’s the zeitgeist that calls the shots.  We like to think that we decide what to do and how to live our lives, but it seems equally plausible that some sort of larger spirit shapes and determines much of our overall experiences.  Like The Matrix, we are lead to believe we are in control, but who are we kidding?  If we were as autonomous as we imagine, our massive amounts of insecurity, depression, anxiety and cruelty would drop just a tinge, don’t you think?

No, the spirit of the time is more in charge than we might realize, but we have the personal option to try and love the world and align with where our group is going.  Like surfing, even if the waves are potentially destructive, if we go with the flow, we may have an interesting ride.

Many stories are written about Mark Zuckerberg because he is the youngest billionaire.  Money is a signifier that catches the attention of the dense, old school purveyors of exclusivity.  After all, if everyone can join the exclusive club, then it’s not special anymore… but how often the so-called exclusive things are really over-rated, how much the value rests on the perception of scarcity.

The last thing the rich and powerful want is for every ordinary person to feel secure and good about themselves.  Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to care much about his money; it’s not his drug.  Again, I think this is cool and cutting edge in an unconscious sort of way:  if a billionaire lives at a lifestyle level that is within reach of many merely normally successful people, could this possibly erode the absurd notion that it’s cool to live in a mansion or drive a ridiculously overpriced car.  I mean really, what’s so cool about that?

Could it be that the “value” of homes have dropped not just because the economy is bad, but also because there has been a sea change in what “value” means?  Privacy is eroding and this alarms some, but perhaps this foreshadows a world in which young people will like to live in communities, maybe the apparent artificiality of “connecting” on Facebook will be a harbinger of people with like interests finding each other and setting up communities that reflect how people want to live and with whom.

Maybe this will breed more exclusivity, but even then it may be no longer about who landed on Plymouth Rock but about who likes to write code, who knows how to read code… maybe “code” is the new language that the front-runners in our age of autism already “speak.”

And even if I am destined to be a sad Neanderthal, dying out in the wake of the intellectually superior Homo sapiens, at least I can strive to enjoy my brief days in the sunset of a setting culture.  But if they turn out to be smart enough to offer up a better way, and certainly there must be a better way than a culture hobbled by the sorts of problems our world faces, then aren’t these alien smarties fit to lead?  And if they flame out, then it will turn out that they were not the fittest after all.

Andy and both my kids agree on one thing:  they believe that Facebook makes the world a worse place.  I’m not sure about that, I think the world is what it is and Facebook doesn’t move the needle, it is the needle—it mirrors where we are at, it doesn’t place us there.

The argument that Facebook makes things worse is that it is a forum for cruelty.  I rather think that it outs the cruelty that has always been there:  World War One and the advent of killing at an unprecedented, mechanized and fully monetized level was much more cruel than any app that rates who is hotter than another.

The challenge to humanity is not whether to log on to Facebook or not, the challenge is to raise our own consciousness to the point where we might actually understand not just where Mark Zuckerberg is coming from, but where we are all going… together.

Facebook is a mirror, if you see an ass in that mirror then it’s important to look more deeply and see the beauty below the noise, the fear, the desire, the judgment, the impermanence.

The Social Network is like a Hitchcock film in that it deliberately evokes tension and anxiety, it gives away its icy feelings and it hinges on the notion of exclusivity and the fear of being left out of the group, which at an animal cellular level, means death… like a wolf forced out of the pack, like an old Inuit set adrift on an ice flow.

The metanoia waiting to happen regarding Facebook is, actually, the opposite of exclusion and exclusivity, it is the realization that we all matter, but also that no one matters all that much.  Like ants, we are the social network and if we’re to live in harmony with our environment we need to stop attacking each other, hurting our Self, like a body gripped by disease.

In my view, the universe is like a vast game and if you align with what the universe wants you court luck.  Zuckerberg is “lucky” in that he played all night in the zeitgeist casino and he won.  If he thinks this is purely skill, he is Icharus; but if he continues to work for the universe and guesses correctly, he will continue to “win.”

The fact that Mark Zuckerberg gave a hundred million dollars for helping distressed public schools in New Jersey may be a PR ploy, but the fact that he chose to benefit kids and education makes me hope that this is in keeping with what the universe wants.

While Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t always “nice” to the people around him, it’s hard for me to think that someone like Mark Zuckerberg having some power is really going to be much worse than the robber barons and Wall Street cheaters that precede him.  If it’s more of the same, then it’s hardly interesting in the long run; but just in case it marks a shift, perhaps the real implication of the “social network” is the realization that we all potentially have a role to play when it comes to the emerging world.

As a non-joiner myself, I can’t help but wonder if Zuckerberg is, consciously or not, working on the realization that you can’t not be part of the group.  Perhaps Facebook will achieve seven billion members—then what?  It would be so universal as to become utterly meaningless, like asserting that you breathe—central to life, but not much of a signifier of individuality.  I think that would prove its ultimate and already implicit point.

The big reveal in the end may be that the web was never more or less than a mirror and a metaphor for the truth that we are, and always were, all connected even before the web allowed this to be a massively realized epiphany.  The Dali Lama, the Buddha, Jesus, Lao-Tze and other visionaries of the immaterial world have long known this.

Perhaps the true social network will be like the arrival of spirituality without religion—a time when we stop being dicks to each other not because we are taught to do this, but because we realize that this truly is enlightened Self-interest.  Maybe that is when kids will no longer hate themselves and their peers, when kids will stop cutting their own skin and jumping off bridges.

The social network doesn’t cause the ills of the world, but it can be the messenger, a wing-footed Hermes traversing many dualities:  rich/poor, ingroup/outgroup, nice/mean, booksmart/streetsmart, typical/atypical, etc.

So, my ultimate message for the few readers who have stayed with this long rambling post:  you and I are very much in this together.  Our connection is not happening on Facebook, but it is happening in the social network.  Thus the network is not exclusive to Facebook, but the concept of total inclusivity encompasses us, even as we contemplate how we think and feel about it.

And just in case I’m correct in intuiting that it’s all about consciousness, perhaps it serves us to awaken to, and employ, the greater truth which is that our minds are already wired together.  That truly awakened human beings don’t need no stinkin’ Facebook, but in a good way—in a very good way.  Thus I don’t ask you to friend me, tweet me, follow me or rate me; I ask you to join me in using your exquisitely beautiful and brilliant spirit to mentally friend, like and love all our collective children (including 26 year-old Mark Zuckerberg, the rich and the poor, the people Mark hurt and those he helped and the 500 million souls who have likely still not found what they’re looking for on Facebook).

Namaste, Bruce

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24 Responses to “Putting the ass into, or taking it out of, Asperger’s?”

  1. helen slater Says:

    Yes! As usual your insights are brilliant!

  2. Randy Says:

    Bruce,

    I believe you are right about what is happening. Can we truly be connected if the age of emotion is passing? Perhaps it will lead us to true non-attachment rather than merely detachment. Though I am loathe to admit it, the passing of this age frightens me a bit. While I’m still not great at it, I am better at dealing with emotions than I am at massive information management or “connecting” in a non-emotional way. At this moment I’m feeling like that Innuit on the ice floe watching my society paddle away from me. I will try to have more Faith and get better at surfing.

    Randy

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And those of us old-schoolers on the melting ice floe can at least connect in our own, perhaps out of vogue, manner (even if some would judge “this” blog connecting that we do)—while at the same time striving to support each other to learn and grow (and love our collective children) in the midst of whatever comes.

      Namaste either way

  3. Beth K Says:

    Randy,
    My take on the passing of the age of emotion is that people will stop being mindlessly ruled by their emotions (especially greed and fear). I don’t think the post is advocating interacting in an entirely non-emotional way. (Bruce, feel free to correct me — this is just my interpretation.)
    Change is unsettling for me, too, even though I recognize the need for it.
    Beth

  4. Kelly Says:

    I, honestly, never put so much thought into Facebook. It’s fun and allows me to feel closer to far-flung friends who I can’t afford to call or visit.

    However, your thoughts about the site as a litmus for our society are very interesting and I’ll be thinking about both Facebook and the larger social network a little differently today.

    Thanks for that.

  5. Beth K Says:

    Randy,
    My take on the passing of the age of emotion is that we will stop being mindlessly ruled by our emotions. I don’t interpret the post as suggesting that people will interact in an entirely non-emotional way. (This is just my interpretation.)
    More inclusiveness and consciousness sound good to me. However, I also find change unsettling, even when I recognize it as necessary.
    Beth

    • Randy Says:

      Thanks, Beth. I hope you are correct. More inclusiveness and consciousness would be the best things for the planet. If we can come to understand our interdependence I believe this will occur, because we will know that hurting one thing hurts all things and helping one thing helps all things.

      Randy

      • privilegeofparenting Says:

        I’m with you, Randy, and with beth on this—the real shift in consciousness is the realization that we’re all included… that no one can be excluded from the truly big picture.

        All Good Wishes for us all

      • Beth K Says:

        “Hurting one thing hurts all things and helping one thing helps all things.” Well put, and important to remember in our daily interactions.
        It will be good if people in positions of power (over the military, for example) come to understand this.

  6. Jenn Says:

    Your post is right on the mark, and I appreciate the comments as well. My husband and oldest son signed on while my younger son and I have resisted. My son has resisted because meanness can follow you 24 hours a day. Home used to be a refuge, but now, with texting, emails, facebook–
    I do admit that I struggle a bit with change, but facebook seemed different to me, more than just new technology. Maybe because my first personal experience with it was horrifying. I was at a costume party (70’s funk) at the private home of very long term close friends’. As a working mother of two on a rare night out, let’s just say I let loose–plus I was looking hot in my coochie bell bottoms, skin tight polyester one armed hot pink top, big Farrah Faucet wig, etc. Imagine to my horror that the next day I was told that I was featured on another party-goer’s facebook wall. I was pissed, not only that I was not asked for permission, but the photographer wasn’t even dressed up in a costume! I was in a private home. My only solace is that I was in costume and hopefully not easily recognized. So, facebook to me now means collecting all cameras, phones, etc at the front door.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Jenn, interesting story that would seem to illustrate the end of privacy as we’ve known it. The whole new world is challenging the very notion of a private self, which then challenges the notion of a discrete personal identity vs. the massive or group identity (and those who might seek to exploit it, be it via fascism or capitalism). It is further ironic that you “costume” identity was shared beyond the privacy of the supposedly private party… but still, does this expose you or only further underscore the feeling of alienation and not truly being known?

      Here’s to at least striving for a more authentic regard for all of our fellow each others (while recognizing that for better or worse, we truly are all in this quagmire together).

  7. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Terrific post, as usual, Bruce.

    I have avoided Facebook so far. I’m not sure if I am with you or with Andy and the boys about whether Facebook makes the world a worse place. I do think that, in some ways, it circumvents the natural ebb and flow of relationships. Was I really meant to be in touch with the girl who was mean to me in sixth grade? Or the guy I did a Spanish project with in college?

    Of course, I realize that, by blogging, I am engaging in an “unnatural” or, at least, new-ish form of relationship-building so what do I really know about how relationships are actually meant to flow?

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hey Kristen, Maybe this whole messy soup is like a huge, sometimes mean, science and language experiment in which we are simultaneously the subjects and the objects of observation. Ultimately your question about how relationships are meant to flow, and even what they actually are, may be the subject of inquiry in our living laboratory.

      In a sense our relationships are simply what they are and it is our ebbing and flowing consciousness, or levels of consciousness, that seem to be the variable in the experiment.

      We’re trying to smash atoms in the dark, so I’m just hoping that we can do it with love and good cheer.

  8. Erica@PinesLakeRedhead Says:

    As I read your post, I had images of various sci-fi scenarios going through my mind. Situations in which we become more connected through technology yet at the same time less connected personally. And the ultimate scary thought of losing our humanity.

    I’m not really a Facebook fan myself. I use it to keep track of my husband’s extended family. It’s the only thing I’ve found that works for that purpose.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      It may turn out that “science” itself is a sort of “fiction” (the Newtonian idea that you can objectively observe, shape and manipulate things and people when the quantum truth hints at radical and complete interdependence between all things). Thus science and technology might be better understood as “natural” and “organic” in that they are extensions of ourselves much the way an ant colony or a bee hive could be considered “technology” (after all, every “man made” object starts with nature-made components).

      Wherever it all goes, I wish you Namaste Erica

  9. BigLittleWolf Says:

    So much to ponder and reread, Bruce. As always. Turning the usual viewpoint on its head, or at the very least, semi inside out, for a new view, or a clearer one that requires a different space in our thoughts and senses.

  10. rob Says:

    Great, Bruce! I agree that fb is a reflection of where we are, similar to television, and the telephone, and telegraph, and on and on back through history. It doesn’t seem like today’s kids take it nearly as seriously as it was portrayed in the movie, they use it as another tool to communicate. And along with exposing the meanness and cruelty that already exists, it also exposes the practioners of that cruelty, and those who will stand up to it and those who won’t might be in the same proportion as other times in history.

    BTW, hilarious, yes when you and I are tapped into something the kids created, it is destined to lose its cool status!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Good points—outing the mean ones (but then we’re all the mean one, depending on the day, or maybe the moment).

      I guess we might conclude, like many ads purveying potentially dangerous things: Here’s to our sensible use of our childrens’ toys.

      Still it’s cool that we can converse across the pond at the moment when back when we were kids you had to send a guy on a horse with a message 🙂

  11. Marcy Says:

    Bruce, I read the whole thing. (How wonderful for you to include the picture of Lucy and Nate.) I don’t “facebook,”and I am starting to feel like a cultural outlier, as a result. What do I do? Oddly, I find I am spending less time online, even to the point of letting email slide for a few days. It is less satisfying to me. I find myself spending more time in the real world — outside, endlessly satisfying. I cook, read, write, hike, paddle, garden, take pictures and print them. I can’t keep up with my Netflix subscription; we go to the movies. I feel more connected to being human and a member of the planet away from my laptop. We eat dinner at the dining room table most nights. I am trying to model a connection to the world for our 2 teenaged daughters, who have a knack for endless electronic multi-tasking. I guess this is our “generation gap.” Love you!

  12. Laurie Says:

    Once again, wonderful insight.
    It’s true all the emails, Facebook and texting is much removed from face to face. I still crave my connections but must admit as an old gal, I love my Facebook. I feel like I’m at a sober cocktail party moving from group to group. A few folks from way back when have tried to “friend” me. I figure if we didn’t speak or get along back then, really no need to do so now. I also don’t have a thousand friends as I know the younger folk do.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Laurie, “a sober cocktail party,” I like that. So who’s the designated driver at a sober cocktail party? Or are we all home to begin with so it’s no matter, literally, all pixels and pixie ether dust?

      Namaste either way 🙂

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