Dumb and Dumber Down: Facebook, Web 2.0, and the Autistic Network

Facebook and Web 2.0 make you dumb? 

Certainly there’s been lots of speculation about the internet making us dumb (on Discovery magazine and at the Wall Street Journal).  Facebook, with its apparent capacity for keeping us all connected and happy, might seem to be at least serving some sort of purpose, as far as, well, keeping us all connected and happy (if also lowering student GPAs).

Not so, says writer Zadie Smith in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books on Facebook, ‘our new beloved interface with reality.’ The problem (well, one problem) that she notes is that Facebook 

was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

Writing in The Register, Andrew Orlowski offers one reason for the limitations of human interactions Web 2.0 style: 

Web 2.0, like most of our software, was created by autistic people. Zuckerberg is autistic, and can’t see individuality, let alone understand it. So he can only understand what humans want through the hive mind. And by creating Facebook, he created a massive machine to help him figure it out.


Might Facebook and other forms of social media software be better termed ‘the autistic network,’ the title of Orlowski’s article? In using such software, are we not so much presenting our real selves as some 2-dimensional representation of ourselves as an autistic person might understand things?


Such a claim presumes a lot, and a lot that is in itself very limited, and misleading not to mention incorrect, about autism and autistic persons. And indeed Smith’s New York Review of Books essay does not at all reduce Facebook, or Mark Zuckerberg, to any neat or pat distillations (and she does not specifically mention autism). Reflecting on the movie The Social Network and, in particular, its portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Smith (who indeed notes that she quit Facebook about two months after joining it) considers what is actually known, or not, about him.

The real Zuckerberg is much more like his website, on each page of which, once upon a time (2004), he emblazoned the legend: A Mark Zuckerberg Production.Controlled but dull, bright and clean but uniformly plain, nonideological, affectless.

In Zuckerberg’s New Yorker profile it is revealed that his own Facebook page lists, among his interests, Minimalism, revolutions, and “eliminating desire.”


As Smith notes, ‘life is turned into a database’ for users of Facebook, who must ‘“reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate.’ Smith is quoting from You Are Not a Gadget, a book by ‘master programmer and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier’ in which the author


wants us to be attentive to the software into which we are “locked in.” Is it really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing the needs we feel in order to convince ourselves that the software isn’t limited?


Come on: How often have you found yourself taking an abysmally long time to compose a 140-character Tweet that presents your wit and humanity perfectly, as you’ve synced your Twitter with your FB account and need to explain that your waiting in line for a cup of Starbucks exactly embodies the state of the universe for you at this moment?  


Well, I’ll admit I more or less do the above except, I never stand in line for Starbucks. I make my own coffee and, in all honesty, I don’t like Starbucks—perhaps a useful fact to know if you might be in the (very unlikely) position of getting me coffee, but not information that, as far as I know, might be making anyone the wiser, better, etc..


As far as the notion of the limitations of what can be learned from the ‘autistic network’; from some entity termed ‘autistic.’  I would be hard-pressed to introduce you to someone as distinctive and individual as my son Charlie, who is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. I certainly see glimmers of him in others on the autism spectrum, but I think it is accurate to sat that there is only one boy like ours.


And that the only way really to know him (or anyone) is via actual, real, interactions, face to face.

Photo by Ray-Franco Bouly.


Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman8 years ago

Interesting article. thanx for post

Tori W.
Past Member 8 years ago

interesting and i have no problems with adults making choices on what to use. for children on fb or any other site, program or whatever, children still need limits set by their parents, need their parents to be in their lives, and need to learn some standards and beliefs from their parents. parents who wanted children to begin with should not be allowing these sites or computers or toys to be the "parents" of their children. get involved with your own children! you owe them.

Cy G.
C. G8 years ago

interesting thinking toward Facebook!

Nic F.
Nic F.8 years ago

Facebook is not dumb, boring or a waste of time, if used the right way. I use it to keep in touch with my sister, neice and nephews, and cousins in America, as well as relatives closer to home and friends, some of whom I actually have met, and others I hope to meet. It can be used to give support to people who need it and promote causes, as I do from here on Care2, Some younger members do "collect" friends, thinking that the more friends they have, the more popular they are. Not all the friends you make are real friends, it depends on how much they visit your page, make comments on your posts, links or photos or participate in games. Some will only be ever friends on your friends list, not real friends. Others will become very good, lifelong friends. I only accept friends after checking their profiles or if they are friends of friends. It is best to check out potential friends before accepting them, but even then, maybe everything in their profile may not be true! FB would be bad if you spent all day on it and didn't have any other friends, in the "real" world. But for some people, that sadly is the case and for them it is important.

Shelley Bergen
Shelley Bergen8 years ago

A good parent would only allow a young person with good grades so many hours per evening on FB or online gaming for that matter!

I watched my grand daughter glued to the Wii on my visit and I would try to talk to her and her mind wasn't even here~

She was like a Zombie! Staring at the game! They have become babysitters so parents are not bothered and they can go do what they want.

You want a baby then be involved in that child's life! Know what is going on in your child's life. You may think you do,

I bet if you really followed them around, it would shock the hell out of you what they are watching on TV, the games they are playing and who they are with when your running around.

I understand that not all parents are this way but, there are plenty out there! The gaming is getting more violent, the theater Ratings have lowered for to young to see. And our young are getting more and more violent! Something is very different!

I am glad I am older cuz I would never raise a child with what I have seen in this world today. They are not taught tolerance of gays, color of a persons skin, they are allowed to hear what the parents opinions are and do not understand the intent it was said in and they are angry! Or maybe they do understand the intent. To much anger in the world today! To much feeling 'EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO BUTT IN AND FORCE YOU TO LIVE AS THEY SEE FIT"?? GET OVER YOURSELVES! Either that or we have finally over bred and the minds are cracking on eart

Koo J.
greenplanet e8 years ago

I ws going to comment, but that would mean more time commenting on the internet ... oh, it's too confusing.

It's true that some people care more about their photos on Facebook than real life - as if those photos are their life.

Interesting, but convoluted to get your head around. What is reality, after all?

Mark S.
Mark S8 years ago

Interesting article, thanks for posting

Dorothy K.
Dorothy K8 years ago

Facebook has it's advantages, and it's all in the way it's used! Some people pride themselves(usually teens) on having the most "friends" and out of those, they know only a few, others use it to connect with groups or play games where they "meet" others playing he game, and then there are those, like me, who use face book to keep in touch with friends and family across the country and in other countries as well! I have only a few "friends" but I know them all, and enjoy seeing photos they share, as well as interesting links they might share, like Freekibble, Free Rice and care2, where you can actually donate and help people and animal, at no cost to you! I have learned a great deal from my friends posts and links, and those of Care 2 as well. Like I say, it's all in the way social media is used, if there is no real human contact for people, then there may be a problem but if, like me, you have real friends you see and talk face to face with, then FB, Twitter etc. are just supplements to face to face contact.
Oh, and by the way, the previous comment about"having to be dumb to belong to FB, Twitter etc, Ha, I have degrees from 3 colleges and have been an educator, for many years! there are many others, including my Dr., roommate, who enjoys a little FB time! I have to go, am going to lunch with 3 real people, who also use FB, 2"stupid teachers, 1 chiropractor and one retired Phd!!! "

Nuke P.
Nuke P8 years ago

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

David M.
David M.8 years ago

Thank you for this article