Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook: Going Electric

Alamo Square
I arrived in San Francisco on a Friday evening in March 1976 in a wounded (fatally as it turned out) '67 Chevy Malibu, with two phone numbers, $100 in my pocket, and a desire to learn how to write marketable prose. With the first number, I found a place to stay that night in Inner Sunset. The next day, Saturday, the second number landed me a job. Sunday I rested from all that phone-calling. On Monday, I began hauling sheetrock in an abandoned building on Fillmore, around the corner from Alamo Square*.

The building had come to the owner in lieu of legal fees for representing a certain neighborhood minor drug dealer/pimp. Judging by the state of the seventeen apartments, he must have lost the case and got a booby prize. He had been married to a City Supervisor of some note named Diane Feinstein. Later in my first week on the job, my luck held, or so I thought, and I moved in, gratis, to one of the third floor apartments to guard equipment until the real night watchman arrived on the scene.

Some local entrepreneurs came to get that equipment the first night. I surprised them and they apparently had no idea how frightened I was, because they took off before I could reach the front door and alight onto Fillmore Street.

Berlin "Friends"
I went into the little all night grocery next door to see if the proprietor would call the cops, and he took this as a punch line of sorts, nearly doubled-up in laughter. Instead, he reached under the counter to bring forth a shotgun, loaded I presumed, to offer me in place of the official authorities, who, according to him, treated attempted larcenies in my new neighborhood like fleas on a dog. Instead of the gun, I accepted the offer of a stick of sugar cane (many of the locals had begun life in Eastern Louisiana) to soothe my bruised senses.

Thereafter, I became a neighborhood curiosity of sorts, surviving to see the building remodeled, getting paid in cash each Friday, and being rewarded with one of the new apartments.

But, why am I telling you this now?

Because, little did I know that, while I was serving my writer's apprenticeship, in order to be able to bring you this missive one day, Woz & Jobs were busy down on the "peninsula," as we then referred to Silicon Valley, changing our world with something called Apple. At the time, I only knew one person of any note working down there. She was actually getting paid to write for something called Guitar Player magazine.

In case you have been away in another planetary system and have not heard, yesterday Facebook went public, selling less than 20% of itself and becoming worth, as of this moment, about $104Billion.

At the same moment, the company that really started the whole Silicon Valley thing, Hewlett Packard, was announcing that they planned to lay off 30,000 employees. That is not a typo. But, not to worry, according to the people in charge of HP, this is only a smidgeon of the 324,000 worldwide HP workforce. What good news!

I only possess one HP product, a wireless (also clueless) color inkject printer. Judging by the quality and dependability of this product, I believe that those 324,000 remaining HP workers might start to worry. This printer, you see, is a sorry excuse for getting owners dumb enough to have bought one to buy ink cartridges every few weeks. These machines are so dumb that, are you ready for this, they are dumber than your DVR and remote that the cable company gave you. Not kidding.
Going Electric

HP puts their name on these dubious products and practically gives them away. After you've bought the first two of many ink cartridges, HP has already made money. But, in the process, they have taken a page from the old AOL playbook that states: treating customers with complete disdain is its own reward.

Facebook, BTW, currently has about 3,000 employees, 10% of the number HP is laying off.

But, what of Facebook's product? What do they produce?

They That is, they purport to produce you, everything about you, Friend, to advertisers, and therein lies the $104Billion value to financial markets. What the old Soviet KGB and East German Stazi eventually went broke trying to do, gathering detailed information about every citizen, Facebook turned into a platinum business model. What's more, they get the info voluntarily. What a great country! Putin, the old KGB man, must be scratching his eternally-presidential head in awe at this and sending those dope-niks who burned all the files to what passes for Siberia these days.

My grandmother used to blame all these otherwise unexplainable things on men having landed on the moon, But, I think this i-stuff all began when Dylan went electric***, after which we all seem to have gone electric, with a vengeance.

In one of his psalms, entitled Ballad of a Thin Man**,  he sang "...something is happening, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?"

Amen. But, let's try to enjoy the i-ride, shall we, Comrades?

* The Times recently reported on the gentrification of this area:


*** For the record, I was there when it happened, at Forest Hills Stadium.

1 comment:

clectcar said...

Facebook took the better page from the old AOL playbook. AOL had a closed network with lots of user data long before FB. But AOL did treat many of it's advertising customers with complete disdain.
Hope I can prove I'm not a robot and get this posted