Tom Hodgkinson is an English writer and thinker, perhaps best known as the long-standing editor of the Idler magazine. Tom has been one of Facebook's most stringent critics since it launched five years ago and began to gradually infiltrate our daily lives and most personal friendships, both old and new.
As this week marks the fifth birthday of Mark Zuckerberg's social network, TechRadar decided to speak to Tom to find out more about his thoughts on the Facebook phenomenon.
TechRadar: How will you be 'celebrating' the fifth anniversary of Facebook?
Tom Hodgkinson: I can´t conceive of an event less worth celebrating.
You're a vehement critic of Facebook, but isn't it a great tool for idlers to waste their time (and their bosses' time!)?
If you are stuck in a boring job then I can see that it is fun. Clearly people enjoy it. I just don´t think that they realise it is simply an advertising scam that seeks to make huge profits out of friendship.
You've been critical of Peter Thiel [an investor in Facebook], why is that?
Peter Thiel is a fascinating businessman from California. He runs a hedge fund and makes giant sums of money. He was a partner in PayPal and made a pile when he sold out. He was the first investor in Facebook. He is an intellectual libertarian futurologist who believes that technology will save the world. He sees human progress as a gradual escape from the restrictions of nature. He is involved in the Singularity project, which thinks that we can harness technology to live forever, and which sounds to me like the biggest pile of hokum in the known galaxy.
I just think that it´s important with these things to find out where the money is coming from. That will determine its nature. And Facebook has a clear ideology behind it. It is part of the American project. With 150 million users, Thiel is creating a global community outside of national boundaries.
You've been similarly critical of the CIA's involvement with Facebook, what can you tell us about that?
You notice that there are various people on the boards of the venture capital companies that allow things like Facebook to grow who are also on the board of the CIA's own venture capital wing (In-Q-Tel).
The defence industry has always been very interested in the uses of technology for warfare and for spying. With Facebook, they have access to a vast database of information. What is interesting is that various people in the US Defence department had proposed a computerised database of all American citizens. The idea was rejected on the grounds of infringement of civil liberty. But with Facebook, the commercial world has been able to achieve something of equal if not bigger scale with no trouble at all because people simply volunteered all their information for free.
Remember also that Facebook is now in control of a marketing database beyond the dreams of avarice, and they are actively exploring how to make huge sums of money out of it right now.
Can you say more about the 'neoconservative libertarianism' that you feel is behind Facebook and a number of other tech developments. For example, how does Facebook relate to the recent news of Google and Nasa backing 'The Singularity University'?
I touched on that above in the bit about Peter Thiel. Google, Nasa, Facebook - they are all in the same game - US domination through technology. It all seems to be completely crazy and a colossal waste of money. Why did we put a man on the moon? It was a stupid idea.
How do you respond to criticisms of seeming to be elitist or a Luddite when you tell people your views on Facebook?
I confess to being a semi-Luddite, for the reason that technology always suits the ruling classes at the top who make a lot of money out of it. The Luddites in the 1820s correctly saw the new machinery as an attack on their craft of weaving: they were being reduced from artisans to machine-minders. The government at the time hanged 12 Luddites, including one twelve-year-old boy. If it makes me an elitist to be someone who at least attempts to think for themselves and not become a slave to the latest fad then so be it!
So you recommend that people commit 'Facebook suicide', delete their account and get back to good old face-to-face communication?
Yes! Overall, I think it´s important to put this whole thing in its historical context. The technology is part of the US desire to spread its ideas all over the world. It's the enlightenment project, and they think it's freedom. But as we are seeing now, it's a system that is based on a lot of hot air and fantasy, and we´re currently going through a reality check that worries many people. Peter Thiel, remember, is, or was, a hedge fund manager. Facebook is a successful common delusion and I think we should all unplug and go down to the pub instead!
Tom Hodgkinson's new book The Idle Parent is available now via the Idler's website.