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ACHENBLOG
Posted at 11:49 AM ET, 05/21/2012

Facebook IPO and Twitter meet Copernican Principle

Mazel tov to Mark Zuckerberg and his lovely bride! Now let’s talk about that Facebook IPO again. Your blogger, as previously noted in this space, will not be purchasing any Facebook stock, because of the lack of clarity about its value. Yeah, I guess I could do some research, but my assumption is that most of the information available to someone like me — an outsider, and a confirmed doofus with a history of losing money in the market — will have the net effect of making me less, rather than more, likely to reach a sensible decision. It’ll be a trap. It’ll just sucker me. We have a saying around here: If you don’t know who the pigeon is at the table, it’s you.

The tech world befuddles me, as does anything involving money, so the Facebook IPO was, for me, marked with skull and crossbones. Question:Will Facebook even exist in 10 or 20 years? I had a Compuserve email account back in the day, and also MCI mail, and I still have an AOL email account, which for many people is laughable, a fact necessitating mockery and outrage, followed by derisive comments about my sad, scuzzy cell phone. My cell phone is so primitive it’s hidden in the heel of my shoe.

I come from backward people: When I was growing up we were in a Hobbesian state of nature and had barely mastered the technology of fire. We would sit around the dinner table chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing hunks of stringy meat, desperately trying to swallow it, and then someone would say, “This might be easier to eat if we cooked it.”

I heard on the radio this morning that Facebook shares were trading below the original IPO price. Let’s check again: Ouch, it’s down 11 percent at the moment from the previous close. See how smart I was to stick my money in the mattress instead?

The Copernican Principle worries me a bit here. As you may recall from many previous Achenblog items, the Copernican Principle goes beyond the whole earth-revolves-around-sun concept. It states, broadly, that we should not presume to find ourselves in a special position in time or space.

The principle tells us we will rarely find ourselves right at the beginning or right at the end of something that has a long duration. This is not deterministic. It’s just a guide, a general truism — a playing of the odds. The astrophysicist J. Richard Gott of Princeton has extended the principle to cover a great deal of social and political phenomena. He goes so far as to use it to craft a general range of future human population. Bottom line: We're probably not living on the home planet of a future galactic civilization because that would put us in a privileged position. (COULD be, but you wouldn’t want to bet on it — or invest in Galactic Empire, Inc.)

The biggest car company in America is General Motors, and it has had its problems, but it has been around in some incarnation for more than a century, since some fellows in Detroit started selling jalopies. That would make you suspect that it will be around for many years to come. [Insert grousing about too-big-to-fail.] The point is that we shouldn’t expect to find ourselves at the end of the long-running General Motors saga. [Disclosure: My wife drives a Buick.]

What does that say about Facebook? Maybe nothing. But the very newness of Facebook makes one wonder if it’ll be around in a couple of decades. Or maybe it’ll be like Compuserve, swallowed up by some competitor (AOL in that case). Isn’t Netscape the backbone of Mozilla?

I also wonder about Twitter. Repeating myself: The fact that I have a Twitter account (@joelachenbach) suggests that it’s a dead platform. Moreover, corporate America is determine to use social media to promote its interests. Surely this will pose a long-term challenge for platforms that want to be more than advertising and promotional tools. The situation is fluid and the audience has a way of avoiding floods, finding higher ground. [Metaphor under construction.]

Fogeyishly, I like to read a book in peace without the Internet chiming in. A book is silent, inert, content with itself. A good book doesn’t aspire to be anything more. A great piece of writing (whether in print or online) doesn’t need to contain hyperlinks to elevate its value.

Writing is a technology, let’s not forget. Symbols enable the author to conjure images and ideas in the minds of other people. I’m still trying to get the hang of this technology, so bear with me.

Oh, and a late-morning update: Facebook is now down 12 percent.

By  |  11:49 AM ET, 05/21/2012

 
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