Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Few, The Proud, The Annoying

Although I can't say why I'm annoyed, other than that I've always hated cliques, and this sounds like a worser clique than the Skull and Bones:

From the NYT, "A Facebook for the Few":

If more proof were needed that the rich are different, it could be found on a, an invitation-only social networking site.

Founded four years ago, the site, promoted as a Facebook for the social elite, has grown from about 500 members to about 150,000 registered users. At a time when Christina Aguilera has 466,550 MySpace friends, aSmallWorld has attempted to create an Internet niche by cultivating an air of exclusivity.

The site functions much like an inscrutable co-op board: its members, who pay no fee, induct newcomers on the basis of education, profession and most important, their network of personal contacts. Sleeker than MySpace or Facebook, is not the type of site where one is likely to come across videos of amateur motorcycle stunts or girls in bikinis.

Users are mostly young — 32 on average. Many have graduate degrees and a taste for living extravagantly on more than one continent. Sixty-five percent are from Europe, 20 percent from the United States and the rest scattered around the globe.

“We have put together a platform where a definitive group of people are separated by only three degrees,” Erik Wachtmeister, aSmallWorld’s founder, says often and loudly.

Skeptics are not sure just who is getting the message. “For truly wealthy consumers, time is the ultimate luxury,” said Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing, which researches luxury brands. “These people are not going to waste it hanging about on a social networking site.”

Those who do hang about often use the site to billboard themselves, advertising unabashedly pretentious tastes. A journalist in Vienna shared the news that her favorite Champagne was Henri Giraud — “I particularly like the 95 Grand Cru,” she wrote on the Forum. Another member recommended Eclipse, a bar on Walton Street in London, for its watermelon martini, “a tour de force.”

Small World loyalists seem content. Laura Rubin, a brand consultant and fashion publicist in New York, uses her personal network of about 170 members to build her business. “It’s like a Rolodex,” she said. Last month she combed that base for guests to attend a fashion party in the glass-enclosed penthouse of Hotel on Rivington on the Lower East Side.

Etienne Deyans, a party promoter from Zaire, mines his network of contacts to toss together weekly galas with international themes in the cavelike basement of Amalia, a restaurant in Midtown. “It’s a civilized way to have people meet,” Mr. Deyans said. “Here, I tell myself, there will be no rudeness at the door.”

Dude, that is not a "small world" in the sense of Milgram's experiment. That's just a clique! It's a social network to be sure, but hardly revolutionary. This is just an international country club.

My limited defense of Facebook as a social networking tool and my joining of a bourgie intellectual Rotary Club aside, I think this takes the pretentiousness cake. This is worse than the personal ads in the back of the New York Review of Books. This may even surpass those academic secret societies, now that we operate under the (myth of) meritocracy model--there's a passing chance of socioeconomic diversity at Yale or Cambridge.

I have no problem with homophily--birds of a feather will flock together, and if the rich, spoiled and prententious want to hang out, go right ahead. It all depends on what factors you depend on for homophily; I myself am attracted to intelligent, literate types who have a penchant for silliness, oversharing and tacos. Educational pedigree is a rough proxy for intelligence, but as a perpetual student I haven't found type of profession to be a real stumbling block for whether I connect with someone. And who doesn't like tacos? So I have no real objection to the existence of this network other than that I find it excessively pretentious and too social registery. It's too blatantly retrograde.

This reminds me of last year's cliques. Or every clique in every school, actually. The danger of cliques recall to meColumbine, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the song "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. Maybe it's just that I wonder if all this education and recent yuppieness makes me a social climber, rejecting my impoverished past for one of canapes and champagne. So I've always had a cognitive dissonance and unease with my current situation, as I remember what it's like to be hungry. I remember that it was worse not having enough food, which in later years became nonsensical embarassment over not being able to afford nice fruit or brand name snack foods. I mean, when you had to split up fruit with your siblings or eat basically salt-flavored rice to fill your stomach, you are ashamed at your lack of gratitude at the age of 12 over having to eat Hydros rather than Oreos. And I feel the same "what is wrong with me?!" ambivalence about my newly acquired bourgeois tastes. Law school wine and cheese parties or firm receptions with the canapes, Zagat rated restaurants, being able to distinguish between grades of wool or cashmere--what have I become, and who am I, I wonder?

I am not one of them, that's for certain. I may have the education and professional markers, but I'm not so well connected. I'm better connected than before, ironically because of this free blog, but I've never been a secure member of some clique or society. Public educated all the way, I don't even have strong alumni networks. And cliques seem to reject me anyhow. Every time I try to have have a group of friends, a la "Friends," it miserably fails. No, only Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe and Monica are there for each other when the rain starts to fall.

I also have a befuddling aversion to pretension, or at least a self-awareness about my own pretensions. And I chafe againts such exclusion--this is a "civilized" way to meet people? No "rudeness"? Do they fear that by letting in the riff-raff, pigs-in-a-blanket or nachos will replace the canapes and crudites? Ugh. This reminds me what annoyed me so much about FDD when I first met him--he would always bemoan the lack of civility in any interaction, the coarsness of people or the place, and talk nostalgically of Cambridge and refer to "PLU"--"people like us." I am not one of you, dude. Maybe this partly explains why things didn't work out. I count more how people treat others than superficial homophilous markers. I really hate caste systems. And noblesse oblige may be condescending, but it at least is compassionate--the disdainful exclusivity of the nouveau bourgeois class annoys me greatly. No, I'm not a PLU. Don't want to be.

Man, I really can't stand unjustified elitism. It's just the trivial elevated to the sublime. Social capital still seems to matter more than human capital, whatever the myth of meritocracy would have you believe--but even being a member of an elite group (the educated, professionally networked) isn't enough--you really have to know, within three degrees, someone of "consequence," and you have to have exquisitely discerning tastes. Ugh. There are falser gods to worship, but in this age of of luxury-for-everyone (a paradoxical concept if ever there was one, perhaps this is the basis of the plea for gates), this is as close to a pig's-head-on-a-stick as we can get.

The network raises interesting questions about how to circumvent Putnam's atomized, de-centralized modern society--when you no longer live and work among people like you, go on the internet! The last democratizer is also capable of setting up firewalls and artificial country club doors. (But then again I'm an advocate of network neutrality). I wont' be joining, but I don't think they'd let riff-raff like me in anyway.

Well, back to work on my organizational theory project, and my hobby of making mix tapes for my descended-from-American-Royalty friend Hipster Law Prof, and my taco-loving-clique-hating TC, both of whom seem to think I have enough in common with them to be a part of their networks.


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