Monday, November 24, 2008

Facebook, capitalism and the Imperialism

I was hanging around facebook till midnight. I occasionally do so when I have a lot of burden. Actually, facebook is providing me a wonderful place for diversion and also many times, it is a leisure time activity. It is also facilitating my social networks. In fact, I have met many friends with whom I had lost the contacts.

However, the coin has the other side as well, the grimmer and darker side. Many people will be writing about the pros and cons of facebook or similar social networks in the days ahead or some of them are already pursued. Here, I would like to see some of the grim sides of it (actually we always see negative sides better than the other.)

For that, let me begin with some of the comments that I wrote for one of my friend’s picture in facebook:
We are having discourse about encoding and decoding, signifier, signified and signification and denotation and connotation. How are you stuck in the discussion of a spelling error? Look the other way around. And it will become -----(here I had reversed the letter order of the name- deleted for privacy).... Does it have any meaning- maybe but deeper. Look from critical discourse analysis and feminist studies.

In these comments, I invited some serious discourses about how we look the world. What is constructed as beauty, good or elite in this world? To use Roland Barthes’ words, what are the myths that have been naturalized so that we feel them as true and fear questioning them? How are the interests of the bourgeoisie or the dominant class imposed upon us and how do we respond to them? In this era of global capitalism, what are the truths imposed upon us? What are the colonial legacies that we are still used to and what are newly being imposed? These questions obviously seek explanations and it is bestowed upon the scholars to answer them (Of course, the meaning of scholars will have to be deconstructed here to mean for those who are real scholars, not the guards of the dominant ideology.)

Actually, I was inviting my friends to have similar discourses. It was the eve of one of my exams and I was spending the precious moments in facebook! Than one of my friends wrote that Name carries many things and spelling error matters. It was my comment:
I think attachment to name is also seeking identity in the signifier. You know the name (omitted for privacy) doesn't necessarily mean for you. It is just because we understand. If all NOMA Regional Masters Program people begin telling you Indra, you will be Indra. So name is nothing. The person who you are is very important.
You know, that's why, I am not anymore using my family name. It attaches you to certain caste, creed, religion and nationality. I don't want to be bound by these things.

Of course, this question is worth pondering. Here comes Foucault, who told that people don’t have an inherent identity. It is constructed or created. Same is with the name or any other identity we belong to. And, of course it is temporary and changeable. So, I can be identified with any other name in later days. Foucault has the similar view about power. He says power is not possessed, it is exercised. The society or the people give somebody the premises to exercise power. There is optimism in Foucault’s analysis that where there is power, there is resistance.
The discourse that can be linked with my decision to use only given name is contrary to Foucault. Of course, regardless of whatever Foucault said, we can’t live without identity- that is the bottom line. But to tell in Marxist terms, there are two classes in the world- bourgeoisie and proletariat. By not using my family name, I will be free from other attachments like nationality, religion, caste or creed (My given name also comes from Hindu God Indra, but there is the bottom line- I can’t live without identity.) With this decision, it will be easier for me to be identified one among these two classes. Then, I wrapped up the day’s comments and countercomments with the following:
I am indebted to facebook but sorry that it is an example of media imperialism. The owner of facebook is being richer and richer while millions of people across the globe are spending their precious hours hanging around facebook for no good reason. This is the thing we should very seriously think about.

I think this is the most important of the ideas. I want to work separately in the myths about beauty, religion and culture in later days – hopefully they will appear in these pages. Here, I have raised two of the important ideas the imperialism and the economic implications.

The comment speaks many things about imperialism – like televisions and newspapers with global coverage or circulation, the facebook is being one of the few such social networks - we can say there is condition of oligopoly between facebook and myspace (it doesn’t matter if there are a couple of others). They have imperialized the world. They have established that we can’t live without them and that they have the power to show us the path. They are the pioneers and we are the followers.

Each visit by its members is counted in financial terms and world wealth is being accumulated in the hand of a handful of persons. According to Forbes magazine (May, 2008), Facebook has the annual transaction of 5 billion and its CEO made USD 1.5 billion last year. It is unimaginable but possible only in this extreme world imperialized by the West and ruled by global capitalism. This is not being envious because Mark Zuckerberg makes USD 1.5b a year but that how the money is and can be accumulated in a few hands. It is obvious in any other businesses as well but it is, conventionally, no business at all. As Zuckerberg makes so big money, millions of people across the world are starving to death and suffering from malnutrition. Possibly, soon there will be time the capitalism will have to answer these questions- how long a few people can live happily when their fellow human beings are starving to death?

Here, I would like to deal with another economic implication. I have seen many friends and even fallen myself victim to such trend of spending hours and hours in facebook without genuine cause. I guess millions of people are falling victim to such trend and the precious hours that could be spent in many other creative works are wasted. Thus, in economic terms, there can be two possible meanings of facebook trend- to the one hand world wealth is being accumulated in a few hands while many others are deprived of economic activities because they devote these hours for facebook.

There are dozens other negative effects - the cultural implication can’t be exaggerated which I wish to write in later days. I will expect my friends to come up with their wonderful ideas. To borrow Stuart Hall, we will find meaning through discourse.


  1. A.K.M. Atikuzzaman RussellNovember 25, 2008 at 5:12 AM

    Indra Ji,
    At first, a heartiest thanks for this timely and thought provoking write-up.

    Which you said said very rightly, about ideology, discourse, colonialism, imperialism and so on. I have no point to differ but have something to add.

    In a comment of that picture, you said, [N]ame is nothing.

    My answer of your this particular comment was: In the question of signification, the name is important, indeed!!! Which is established. I need not present there physically. Your utterance of just 'Russell' make me present there. Isn't it? [I am this Russell and need not maintain ‘privacy’.]

    In this write-up, you have admitted referencing Foucault that name does matter. In addition, you have rightly said: name, as other identities, is ‘constructed’, ‘created’, ‘temporary’ and ‘changeable’. By the word ‘established’ (in that comment of mine), I meant ‘developed’ or ‘constructed’. And every construction creates possibilities for ‘deconstruction’ and also ‘reconstruction’ by birth. In simple words, I shall say again, in the process of signification (also in signification as product) naming is necessary but not sufficient, of course.

    You ‘invited some serious discourses’ and we were started to going trough. But you withdrawn yourself from there after a short while and the possibility of Facebook to be a platform for critical discussion and analysis destroyed. But thanks Indra, to revive the discussion in another platform.

    You have mentioned that turn-out of the social networks are dependent on usage. I wish to present some data about usages of social networks here. In web traffic rankings (according to, 25 November 2008, 4:15 BDT) this kind of sites hold some top positions:

    Facebook and MySpace are in 5th and 7th positions, respectively (Yahoo! is in the 1st)

    And for Bangladesh,
    Facebook and hi5 are in 2nd and 16th positions, respectively (Yahoo! is in the 1st; MySpace is 83rd, some other social networks are before it)

    It means, in Bangladesh, Facebook is grabbing or we may say stealing more times than other sites. Globally it is not that much famous, in terms of usage, compared to the famousness in Bangladesh exclusively.

    Some Criticisms against criticism of Facebook
    Facebook is contributing in creation of identity in some positive ways also. You may find a good number of young generations campaigning for making Cox’s Bazar one of the natural wonders of the world. Some are involved in building unity against social and political injustice. Short story writer and researcher Sumon Rahman (Bangladesh) also elaborated similar arguments in an article.

    And dear, can you deny that it is that very facebook, in which this discussion generated?

  2. hey good job!! it was great to go thru that..have nt thought so critcally,,,but i wil be writing my name n surname...irespective of ur discourse...
    Samiksha Koirala

  3. Russell and Samixa,

    Actually, this discourse came from two of you and I am glad that you have read this article. And Russell, thank you very much for so nice comments and additional data. I am very grateful to you. It is only after your comment this article becomes somehow complete.
    Here, I would like to elaborate some of my limitations. Actually, covering all aspects of imperialism, social networks and their pros and cons was not possible in this short article. This is just a discourse and will go ahead. Only further discourses will keep giving meanings to this article only through further articles.

    Of course, there is no denying that there are many good aspects of facebook and such social networks. For example, this blog also gives me platform to host a website even without I don't know anything about HTML. But, yeah, I tried to look some grim side of the coin and of course the side is grimmer.
    We will have further discussions and very well hope to hear from my critical and creative friends.
    Russell and Samixa, thank you once again for keeping the faith and encouraging me to create further discourses.

  4. Hi Indra, u raised some serious concern and point of discussions. I agree to some extend with your thoughts. But that would be better if you think it with broader perspectives. It is not prime concern that, how much Zuckerberg making money. I think whole think is that where you are living, it is a part of your social structure not only ‘face book’ every sites you visited, they are making money. It all due to political economy, u knows all things, but irony is that you can’t avoid anything. It is easy to write about consequences about not about remedies. Thx for your writing hoping I will see u here again .

  5. Hello dear!

    Too little and too late, but believe me I will have more too say in future. This is nothing but sloughing off my responsibility!!Lolz! I am leaving my quibbles here. As far as brand image is concerned, it's good to have the title with great expectation with great hope as well. You have done it actually with an academic flair. I feel very thought provoking and hair-splitting arguments and points. Red salute to you!
    I have nothing to say about the merit of the article but something about your theoretical proposition. These seem to me little entangling and simplifying when it comes to the evocation of renowned theoretical rendition.

    I would love to see how facebook is gendered. How relation is very much contested, negotiated, manipulated and organized in the facebook and in the capitalism and in the imperialism. Without conceptualizing and problematizing the concepts such as capitalism and imperialism or colonialism or even discourse and ideology readers might have skidded off your intended meaning. Well, like I said, everything is referential and it does not matter about the author who writes what, but the readers who think what out of the given thing. I am a reader. Anyway, your last line will definitely grab readers' attention.

    I want to see more write ups like this one. Keep it up.


  6. Thank you my friend.

    So let's do these things together. In one of the comments that I wrote at your blog, is that obviously we can't understand gender or class or capitalism in isolation. They have to be read and understood in relation to eachother.

    And time has come to do it. We need to do it together.

    Thanks again and LOLz.

  7. i just downloaded the article. will give the feedback soon.

  8. This article has reminded me of the childhood days when we used to argue seriously for and against communism, thus with implied meaning, Marxism. I was on the Marxist side then. Yet I perceived a line in your article ‘Possibly, soon there will be time the capitalism will have to answer these questions- how long a few people can live happily when their fellow human beings are starving to death?’ , as an utopian one. This signifies an important evolution in my attitudes over a decade. Is this the outcome of the ‘liberal democracy’ myth that is imposed on all of us so vehemently throughout the period? This question needs serious examination though I am currently devoted to study the Marxism and other creeds that had indelible footprints in the history.

    Coming to the facebook and other similar ventures, they are miles away from the other tools that have found practical acceptability in this profit-driven world of capitalism. From alcohol manufacturers to casino-owners, from drug traffickers to corporate fraudsters, all have their share in sustaining the current regime as it is. Where thinking big is limited to earning big by any means, little is to be realistically expected from the youth. With this I never mean that we should ignore the pitfalls mentioned in your article. My precise intention is to take this phenomenon in the background of other more serious and outrageous trends nurtured by capitalism. This will help make our efforts to resist the capitalist propaganda machine more coherent and more fruitful.

  9. This was a very interesting and intellectual comment that I got in facebook. Thank You Mikel.

    Hi Indra, thanks so much for sending me the link to mediadiscourses. You are obviously a very intelligent young man who is working hard to decipher the mysteries in which the 21st century is developing. As you correctly point out, the media is one of the major powers and stumbling blocks in current society. I think at times, however, you need to relax a little and accept certain things as the inevitable results of human attraction, not always the result of evil capitalism.

    In your piece on Facebook, for example, you talk about how people, including yourself, spend hours sifting through FB for no good reason as if that were a bad thing. Is staring at the sky and sunset for no good reason also to be lamented? People, no matter where they are, whether in capitalistic or socialistic societies, will find ways of amusing themselves. It's been proven that, physiologically, amusement and banal activities are beneficial to the mind and body. Dogs are now brought into cancer centers, where patients are encouraged to strike up a bond with the animals -- idle petting of animals can encourage healing. But that's not why patients pet the animals. They are motivated to pet because they find the activity soothing and interesting -- but in no way an intellectual discourse.

    I guess what I'm saying is: Everyone is entitled to their banalities. There are times in your writing where come off as a fun cop.

    As for the folks who brought us Facebook, sure they are making money, plenty of it. Why shouldn't their innovation be rewarded? Innovation is one of the prime distinctions of the human race. And innovation, whether it be motivated by money or noble thinking, can still be beneficial to society. I have benefited from joining facebook. I have not paid one rupee to reap those benefits. It's very difficult for me to be persuaded by you that I am being harmed by the activity. It is I who determines how much time I spend on Facebook, not the owners of Facebook.

    I am obviously -- like you -- a fairly serious person. I spend most of my day, long grueling hours sifting through tons of political, social, cultural and economic reports...digesting the information then writing about what I have gleaned. When I go to Facebook it is to GET AWAY from my long days of work, to relax, to be amused, to enjoy the pleasant experience of keeping up with one's friends.

    No one can be any one thing 24 hours a day, Indra, and expect to have a well-rounded outlook on life.

    In your intellectual pursuits, which I completely applaud, don't forget the two most important things: keep your sense of humor and allow people to be dumb during their downtime.

    All the best, Mikel