In a widely quoted statement during a conference in London recently, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s Vice President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, advocated the abandonment of the written word for video. “The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”
Regarding Facebook’s own posts and the habits of users, Mendelsohn added, “we’re seeing a year-on-year decline of text…If I was having a bet I’d say: video, video, video.”
This statement triggered a predictable barrage of complaint from text fans, deriding Facebook’s philistinism and extolling the virtues of text. But before we start to panic that technology is about to end the reign of prose narrative, remember where Facebook’s statement is coming from. Facebook only looks at text in terms of Facebook posts. These are increasingly being made from mobiles, which are hardly well equipped to write long screeds of text. But Facebook posters’ habits are not exactly the same as the behaviour of any other human lifeform or human type of activity that does not involve posting on Facebook.
So we can probably discount what one of Facebook’s most important representatives says about the future of humanity according to Facebook. Let alone worry that books are about to vanish. That’s the kind of prediction we’ve been living with since the advent of cinema, and we’re still waiting.
Facebook has a great deal of difficulty distinguishing the world from Facebook, and what is good for the world from what is good for Facebook. That’s no surprise from technology’s greatest testament to narcissism. But perhaps the rest of us need to remember the difference.