This long and rewarding essay is currently up at the London Review of Books. Burt notes:
Facebook is big, and it seems to be everywhere. Founded in early 2004, restricted first to Harvard, then to students at American universities, and now open to anyone, the site claims 500 million users, having passed MySpace to become the largest social networking site in the world. Social networks – Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Bebo (big in the UK) and QQ (big in China) – let users build a page about themselves, containing everything from romantic status (‘married’, ‘single’, ‘it’s complicated’) to video clips; each user’s page is linked to the pages of ‘friends’. Social networks aren’t the entire internet (no more than porn, or Google), though (like porn, like Google) they are a big slice: 80 per cent of Britons with internet connections use them. And (like porn, like Google) they are a synecdoche for the internet generally: social networking sites put us in touch with strangers who share our odd interests; reduce the effects of geographic distance; promote bitesize units of image and text; spread up to the minute news; suck away hours; and change how we see ourselves as social beings.full review is here
The full essay is here.