Why Facebook Must Die For Internet Freedom To Flourish

Op-Ed: Facebook is squaring with Google in a race for control not only of the social network market, but of the Internet as a whole. Regardless of who “wins,” there’s a danger for users, who bit by bit are losing control of both their digitial profiles –

Zuckerberg at Friday's F8 Facebook convention (paz.ca)
Johannes Kuhn

MUNICH -- Do you like horse racing? We observers of the technology sector love it, only our horses are Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Who's in the lead? Who's getting more market share? Who has the best features? And in this winner and loser journalism of ours, innovations like the ones Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg introduced at his annual F8 keynote get quickly relegated to one or the other category.

Some see Facebook‘s new functions as giving it an even wider lead against Google Plus. Others see the Zuckerberg portal as past its peak already and on the way down. Some predict that within a few years, Google Plus could actually push past the social network juggernaut.

But concentrating the conversation on the competition between these two giants misses the salient point: this latest Facebook overhaul has given us a clearer view than ever before of Mr. Zuckerberg's vision of the future.

With its "Like" button, Facebook is part of the network behind the Internet -- but the portal's new orientation would mean that Facebook users no longer need the rest of the Net.

You want to listen to music, watch a movie? That will be possible on the new Facebook. What's more, you can share the activity with your friends. The news? Users will be able to catch up on that too, without leaving Facebook.

Add to that a Timeline – individual, chronologically meticulous digital biographies -- and the transformation of things we do in real life into Facebook apps. By way of example, Zuckerberg gave a Nike application that records your jogging route via smart phone GPS and recreates it in map form.

Let's leave privacy issues out of it, and assume the best case scenario, which is that every single Facebook user understands what registering that kind of information on Facebook servers means (while hoping, of course, that the data-managing giant will soon be forced to become more transparent with regard to the ways it uses the information). Let's also leave moral issues out of it. The fact of the matter is that Facebook and Google are quite simply out to market information that will make the value of their companies go up.

The world as Facebook interface

Let's look at the consequences that a Facebook or Google world would have for the Internet. One web developer I know put it like this: "I sure wouldn't want to be in the position of only having Google or Facebook APIs to program." (APIs are the programming interfaces via which developers can create software for Internet services.)

The more powerful the great monocultures get, the greater their pull. That is more than clear on the social web: there is hardly a company, artist, or user who isn't on Facebook, and there are very few platforms that don't use the Facebook "Like" button.

You could just chalk up to chutzpah Zuckerberg‘s plans to create a Facebook universe that nobody ever has to leave, because everything's already in it, including what happens in real life.

But the truth of the matter is that the move is meant to increase the market power of his company. What he's saying is: If all users were only to use Facebook, then all and any sectors that make money from the Internet have to be a part of it too. And not only with fan pages and "Like" buttons, but with Facebook clones of their own websites -- with Facebook dictating the terms.

Common sense, meanwhile, dictates that such overweening plans are doomed to failure. Do I really need a complete online chronicle of my life on Facebook servers? Do I really want my jogging routes to be recorded and made available to others? Is absolutely everything that we do "social," as Mark Zuckerberg seems to imagine? All we really wanted to do was stay in touch with friends, have some fun exchanges and maybe upload a few pix.

Facebook is after two things. One, it wants a complete picture of our digital user behavior. Two, the company is counting on us recording our daily activities on various Facebook apps so they are available via the platform. They're betting on a fundamental change of user behavior – just as Google once bet on search as the anchor of web navigation.

If Facebook is right, it will become difficult for people to opt out of Facebook or leave their digital Facebook identity behind. An open, decentralized web would lose much of its importance, and users would have fewer options. The same thing holds true if Google Plus "wins:" Let's face it, our searches, and often contacts, e-mails, agenda, and documents, are already stocked in the search giant's servers.

Still, the beautiful truth is that We, the users of the Internet, have the choice. On the one hand there's the convenient route – that of the identity monopolists – that could do permanent harm to our digital eco-system. The other route isn't as comfortable: that's the one that involves parceling our data out to various services or even managing it ourselves from our own server at home.

If we hope the Internet will stay as open and varied as it has been until now, we should opt for the less convenient route.

Read the original article in German

Photo - paz.ca

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Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

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