In Bed with the Devil

First let me boast disclose say that I (KD) get paid to sit home and read nonfiction. This gives me a certain bias: I expect to get paid for reading nonfiction. Therefore, I rarely—very rarely—otherwise get more than a quarter of the way through any nonfiction book. I keep thinking, “Why am I not getting paid? This can’t be right.” Then I pick up a novel, possibly even a clean one.

I am past the halfway point of Chaos Monkeys, by Antonio Garcia Martinez, and I am nowhere near putting it down. I may even finish it.

Martinez shines a cold, clear light on everything he sees, including himself, and he is not a nice person. At one point he describes himself as being driven by caffeine, greed, and fear. I may have the verb and the order of items wrong, but that’s the gist.

However, he can write.* And in comparison with those around him, he fares pretty well. Now, this view may well be self-serving on his part, but what the hell. It’s his book, after all, and he does not (apparently) spare himself. In the early pages he paints a less than flattering portrait of Wall Street and of Goldman Sachs, where he did statistical things. Thence he goes to the West Coast to a sweatshop startup, and yet thence to his own startup. At 51% of the book (according to the tiny little type in the corner of my e-reader) he has just “joined” (gone to work for) Facebook.

So far nothing I have read has budged my conviction that Facebook is the devil and Zuckerman is the devil’s minion. From the way Martinez describes Silicon Valley, I gather that everyone at Facebook and most of the population of the rest of the valley are all happy as clams to be the devil’s minions as long as they get to play with their toys, whether the toy in question is money or computer code or what Martinez is working on at this point in the book.

What, you ask, is Martinez working on, then? Well, he’s figuring out more and more-insidious ways for Facebook to delve into your psyche. Facebook is like the nameless (as far as I recall) computer game in Ender’s Game, the one that psychoanalyzes him and leads him to the same place over and over, intensifying the experience more and more. Facebook records, categorizes, and analyzes every keystroke you make on it, and then it reports its findings to the advertisers so that you can be manipulated into turning loose of some money.

You see, these days Facebook is not primarily social media. Social media is just the gimmick Facebook uses to sell ads, same as your favorite TV show is a gimmick to sell ads and get you to watch them. (Love that mute button.)

Mind you, Facebook can’t help it. It could not survive its expansion without that IPO, and now it is owned by people who want a return on their investment. It could not possibly survive without capital, and its users will not fork over the kind of money it takes to keep it running.

Of course, running it would be a lot cheaper if it weren’t for those ads. A devilish trap.

Addendum, December 12, 2016

I got most of the way through Chaos Monkeys and put it down because I couldn’t follow the details of whatever that chapter was about. (See that? I don’t even remember the subject.) However, Bill just told me that there’s a chancery suit in Delaware over shenanigans in the run-up to the IPO whose effect was to keep Zuckerberg in voting control. So I’ll be picking up the book again to see if I get any foreshadowing.

*And God bless him, he either has an unreasonably broad knowledge of English for a statistician or actually respects his copyeditor. This book is clean but clean, even to this copyeditor, who am [this is correct; the referent is moi, via who and copyeditor, so it’s as if the subject were I] maniacally devoted to the rules of grammar and punctuation. If your caffeine frenzy and your relentless search engines ever lead you to this page, Mr. Martinez, know that I was shocked to see principal in place of principle—because of the excellence of the editing so far. And published is better than perfect.

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