Facebook and Wilfred Thesiger

By | 15/04/2009

Facebook is a fascinating and intriguing phenomenon. Hate and love. On one side, a planetary phenomenon, with splendid growth; and on the other a lot of concern about privacy, and other related questions. If one had to understand the scope of facebook, a look at its wikipedia entry, or, more precisely, at the left colum : how many different wikipedia, in the sense different languages, have an entry about facebook, is impressive : 59 different languages…

There are too many studies about facebook, it is not the point here to recall them. This post started from a very specific remark, coming from a 19 years old person : “one of my professor asked me to be a friend on facebook. I did not feel comfortable, so I declined“.

Very interesting remark, from many perspective. First of all, there are people who can resist the pressure, and those people are 19 years old. Second remark, yes, facebook is about communities. But what is a community ? “I can laugh about any topics, but I cannot laugh with everybody“. When asking why he declined, this person confessed that : “I do not want my professor to see my friends in bathing suits“. There is no problem with being in bathing suit, except one : who is looking at me. It is all about context.

So, what does it mean to be part of a community ? Let me recall about a person who is almost forbidden, Wilfred Thesiger. Interestingly, its french entry on wikipedia is more complete than it english entry. Probably because he was very critic about British Petroleum’s impact on one of his love, the  Rub’Al Khali, the main desert of Saudi Arabia. He was a multi cultural person, born in Addis Abbeba from a father who was the British ambassador, graduated from Oxford, and decided to share simple life with Arabian tribes. He spent four years in the Rub’ al Khali with the nomads. He wrote a superb book out of this experience : Arabian Sands.

In his third crossing of the desert, he had a very interesting conversation with the nomads. Suddenly, one of them asked him, in a very provokative way :”Why do you not convert to Islam?“. Wilfred Thesiger had a superb answer, a single sentence from Quran : “Let God protect me from the Devil“. Superb with two respects: firstly, he told them “I share with you, I have the same life as you, but do not forget that I am different from you”, thus confirming his identity. Secondly, on the syntactic level, by using a sentence from the Quran, he spoke their language. The answer from the nomadic was beautiful : they laughed. It is all about “yes, I am part of a community, but I keep my identity, my personal willing; and therfore, I choose what I do share, and what I do not”. Exactly what this 19 years old person did, by not answering the request to be friend with the professor.

Facebook is a very innovative service, far in advance from many other social networks. But the main issue is the relationship between usage, and technology. This story about confusion in relationships in Facebook is not isolated; many people have experienced it. What we may learn is that it is much more dificult to master facebook than any other social network. Facebook is a very long term tool; a concept not very compatible with the usual short term investment views of United States. This means a very passionate debate to come, a debate about the importance of ethic versus moral.

 

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