Seeing with more precision than a state

27 May 2012 | 299 words | facebook politics review books

So i am finally finding the time to read James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. At the end of chapter 2 he makes the observation that…

…the modern state, through it’s officials, attempts with varying success to create a terrain and a population with precisely those standardized characteristics that will be easiest to monitor, count, asses, and manage. The utopian, immanent, and courteously frustrated goal of the modern state is to is to reduce the chaotic, disorderly, constantly changing social reality beneath it to something more closely resembling the administrative grid of it’s observations.

This observation, which is essential in understanding how governments work, is even more interesting when seen in the context of large non-state entities like facebook. It clearly illustrates why the recurring attempts to compare facebook to a nation state (most recently in this otherwise rather informative Verge article on facebook’s security).

Seen in the light of Scott’s observation facebook is a quantum leap ahead of the modern state: Facebook does not need simplified abstractions to make sense of the social reality of it’s members as it had direct and unmediated access to this social reality (if you want to understand how granular Facebook’s analytical grid is, this Planet Money episode is a good start).

In the end this is what makes Facebook dangerous: it may very well be that this direct access to the social reality of it’s members does not justify it’s inflated IPO price, but with increasing pressure to monetize the social reality of it’s members, Facebook will sooner or later realize that governments are probably willing to pay for access in order to once and for all achieve their utopian, immanent, and courteously frustrated goal of total information about their populations.