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Mark Morford Headshot

Facebook in Sweet Decline

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Is it time? Are we about done with the hype and the bluster, the over-amped, OMG-what-has-happened-to-the-world amphetamine breathlessness? Can we get on with it, already?

Did you hear? Facebook went public and nobody cared. Check that: Facebook went public alongside the most dizzying howl of orgasmic hype and "biggest-IPO-ever" mania imaginable and very quickly slumped, thudded, flopped around like an awkward fish in an insufferable hoodie.

It then proceeded to quickly lose more in value than anyone thought imaginable and has barely recovered, has left everyone from the Wall Street vampire squid to preternaturally jaded tech journalists with a strange but familiar taste in their mouths, a taste like stale asparagus, like a watery gin cocktail, like a big, sloppy dose of ... what is that again? Oh right: schadenfreude.

Have you noticed? For those who pay attention to such things, who note the heft and timbre of the times, it's a feeling that something just gave way, very similar to when a stale love relationship turns a fatal corner, when you wake up and look over at your partner and go, "You know what? I still love you and all, but the hot spark we once had is sort of ... gone."

To recap: Facebook was the biggest and most hyped-IPO in history, and its equally historic stumble onto the big stage is sort of a perfect encapsulation of what Facebook is and is not -- no actual product, no tangible thing you actually care to care about. Just a huge and baffling mechanism, an empty modality, just a delightfully distracting, disorienting, still-immature means toward something no one really understands and no one really cares all that much to figure out anymore, anyway.

Oh sure, we've pondered. Is Facebook making us lonely? Is Facebook making us dumber? Is Facebook making us jealous, depressed, stalker-y, megalomaniacal, vain, suicidal, popular, loved? Is Facebook ruining marriages? Inducing murder? Inviting pedophilia? Helping teens cope? Fostering community where none existed before?

Answer: Yes. Or rather, maybe. Or rather, absolutely not. Really, it's impossible to say for sure, a testament to FB's utter inability to help us make sense of much of anything while reinforcing the complicated nature of everything.

Make no mistake: FB will do just fine. Spectacularly well, even, once it figures out how run ads properly and make Google-like mountains of money. I still use the hell out of it and enjoy some of it tremendously. But I think what's most interesting is how all the questions and studies seem less inspired by a genuine excitement for a truly world-altering idea, and more about trying to convince ourselves this new pool isn't really just too goddamn shallow for everyday swimming.

Which is to say, Facebook is like auto-tune. It's like Starbucks. It's like the Honda Civic. It's like the thing no one really loves at any substantial depth, but millions are addicted to and don't really know why.

It's also the thing that became so pervasive so quickly, that turned into a geeky, $100 billion gorilla with such dizzying speed, we never had a chance to build a proper psycho-emotional cage for it, never had a chance to actually develop any sort of emotional connection. It was just there. Unstoppable, inelegant, belching the alphabet like a frat boy crashing a wine tasting. Dude, chill.

(Apple, by way of contrast, earned the mad devotion of its followers by way of 30 years of obsessive honing and refining, by way of actually caring about innovation and creativity, graceful interfaces, gorgeous industrial design to make you swoon, from day one. Facebook still feels held together with rubber bands and a million pounds of gluey code. And I suspect, given its desperate need to be all things to all 900 million of its users, it always will).

And now? If all reports are to be believed, you might be tempted to agree that the bloom is off the rose. You might be tempted to say that watching Mark Zuckerberg dork around Wall Street in a hoodie and an awkward smirk during the IPO frenzy made the perfect statement as to Facebook's place in the world. This ain't Apple, he's no Steve Jobs, and Facebook, while far from waning, has instead suffered an even uglier, though inevitable, fate.

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