Zadie Smith Hates Your Internet

by Liz Colville

British author Zadie Smith, soon to be the resident book critic at Harper’s, recently donated some time to The Social Network in a review of the film for the New York Review of Books. She doesn’t wait to go in deep. “We have different ideas about things,” she says of herself and Zuckerberg in the second paragraph, despite the fact that they’re part of the same generation — nine years apart. “Specifically we have different ideas about what a person is, or should be.” I think she just broke up with him.

Smith’s nostalgia for the pre-Facebook era is something many of us can relate to, but we can also relate to the fireworks of The Social Network — this is our time! Smith, precocious talent and best-selling novelist, on the other hand, can’t, because she’s too preoccupied with how different the real Zuckerberg and the one in the movie are, and she doesn’t like the way the real Zuckerberg thinks. We’re doing things his way, she says, and for anyone who’s read the profile of Zuckerberg in the New Yorker, his way is incredibly particular, odd, and possibly “autistic” — her word, and she, too, puts it in quotes, presumably to soften the blow. “Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook?” she says, because:

Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me — I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?

But what about the main reason you and I use Facebook — to keep in touch with people thousands of miles away, or thousands of moments away?

Well, e-mail and Skype do that, too, and they have the added advantage of not forcing you to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg — but, well, you know. We all know. If we really wanted to write to these faraway people, or see them, we would. What we actually want to do is the bare minimum, just like any nineteen-year-old college boy who’d rather be doing something else, or nothing.

But Facebook is just a symptom among symptoms — no need to blame Zuckerberg for a compulsion that follows us across the Internet. If only Smith’s whole piece had been about how the Internet has caused us to “rather be doing something else, or nothing.”