Alone in the Social Network (The Boy Kings review)

STARING AT THE SCREEN for an hour, waiting for someone, anyone to like your post, but nothing happens. And you look into other people’s posts and see that even the dumbest of statements has more likes than you and you just want to crawl back into your bed in utter disbelief or just want to sing “Nobody cares and I’m alone in the world…”

The social network arena is like an online war, and while people online battles for fame in various social networking sites, the creators of those fames sites, the gods of our time, along with their staff, their ‘soldiers’, struggle with the same war too.

Katehrine Loose’s book “The Boy Kings” takes us into a journey into the heart of the social network (so the book cover says), the battles waged within it and their consequences. What can we gain from it? And more importantly, is it important to participate in such battles?

Is it really a battle to begin with?

quail_air_background

“I don’t even know what a quail looks like…Facebook is hiring.”

-words from the Facebook wanted poster

Loose joined Facebook as employee number 51 in 2005. As a customer support group, she dealt with user problems, a work that involves personal contact with customers. The book details her struggle as a non-technical staff amongst the sea of programmers/coders (they call themselves “engineers”) and the story of how they tried to rebuild the world as they wanted it to be: the realization of what Facebook really is for.

In a way I thought Loose went on to two wars during her duration of stay in Facebook. One was the war to escape her lowly and maligned position in a company which treats engineers as gods and people like her as mortals. The other war was the war started by Facebook itself, whether she believed in their cause or not, whether or not she believed in their mission to connect the world.

This is what I liked about the book, because it chronicles her stay at the popular site during its rise to fame, and how she, herself, managed to be at the top, alongside, the ‘creator.’ The book tells the story about her struggle to be someone in the company while seeing the reality of what world Facebook wants to build.

It tells us of the parties the company staged for its employees, how you need to smile all the time for the cameras, as Facebook employees need to be seen happy online all the time. It narrates the stories about the dedication of its employees to the ‘cause,’ and how they play and work at the same time, always with their online version.

Loose vividly recounts the events she experienced while working with the boy kings up to the moment when she entered their throne room and be one of the kings herself. Her stories will not bore you because it is interesting, in touch with human emotions that by reading the book, you somehow get to know the characters within it, passing beyond the words and seemingly seeing them in flesh.

The book is really all about what is happening online, and Loose being at the center of it all, is in a position to tell us the whole story. You could be transfixed about her story because in way it is our story too, bringing us to the online world all of us are engage with.

The book is a fun read because it is intriguing. It is heavy with morality questions about data collection, how we conduct ourselves online, and how the internet affects the society as a whole. Despite that, the tone of the book is light, even funny in many instances, as Loose makes fun at the world she was with at the time. She struggled with the meaning of being a Facebook employee in the entire book, and that is all what really the whole book is. You could see its ending even at the start but what is special with this one is that it brings you inside the world of the creators of the site, unfolding the events that make the online site a reality while trying to fathom the moral questions arising from these events.

“I assumed that we would sit and talk and listen to music

…but…computers and gadgets started to come out…”

 –Loose during the drive to the Coachella music festival with other Facebook staff

She started her book with a question “would this be good for me?” Upon reading her question, I thought it depends how you use the social networks, how you conduct yourself online. But how to really behave online? One could ask. She provided an answer funnily enough even before the question. She said that the trick with Facebook (or with any kind of sites for that matter) is like the way a person behaves in a party: ”to say something without saying too much, to appear interesting without trying hard, to be true to yourself without telling everyone everything.”

If this is the trick, then the sites’ goal of connecting people is just a farce. We are not really connected with one another, but only a shadow of ourselves. I think the sites’ goal is more of like your goal in attending a party; you want to be entertained, no commitment attached.

I think this is the fault of Loose at the very beginning: she is trying to remake Facebook as a site where you can connect with your loved ones when in fact the very purpose of it is to escape from them once in a while, to be a different person from the ones they know. Other platforms can be used to connect to them, this is not it.

Once you accept this kind of thinking, then we are now ready to enter the party, to have fun and at the same time to be on guard. Remember, this is a war, an online war and like in a party, you could meet not just your friends but also your enemies.

Loose said that “people and stories are what keep us coming to the site.” It is a way of fostering social bonds, she said because “it is human nature to want to know what is happening to the people in our circle.”

You need to keep your stories interesting, so you could be interesting too. Reinventing yourself online is not illegal. You would want to make yourself interesting if your world isn’t good enough. After all, being online, Loose said, is a constant chase of attention and fame. You need to gain more likes to be on the top. But this is a trap that you must be sure not to fall into; you could play on the edge of the field, but be sure you will not fall off the cliff. No one will catch you.

The book said that being too true online makes you vulnerable, so you could not win online as your true self. Isn’t this the fun part of being online? You could write your own story; you could want to appear interesting for you to win, to experience the feeling of being at the top. Loose as a Facebook employee knew the feeling all too well, but on being on top, on winning, she said this: “It was a strange feeling knowing you are supposed to want to win when you aren’t sure what it is you are winning.”

But then you could enter a party without minding too much if you are on top or not. While everyone is trolling, playing and judging you could just act as an audience. You could be alone in the social network. If it is cool with you, then you could be online forever, watching them do battles while you just sit and relax. Who knows, you might be the one remaining in the end, the one-eyed king among the land of the blinds.

“In the constant chase after attention and fame, he might now more than ever need someone who didn’t care who was winning, how many followers he had or what he had said online.”

The Boy Kings (A Journey Into the Heart of the Social Network)

Katherine Loose

2012, Free Press

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