When you log into Facebook, immediately you are greeted by a flirty, desperate direct message from Chipotle.
"hii :)," the burrito titan types. "what have you been up to?"
"i think you're super-talented," Chipotle coos, while encouraging you to ask for a raise. Then your burrito friend apologizes for being "totally obnoxious," but says that if you buy a burrito bowl today, you can get a free medium drink.
This exchange takes place on the Facebook of 2016, a fictional online project that imagines that Mark Zuckerberg has fled Silicon Valley in a "blaze of gunfire," taking the valuable data of millions of Facebook users with him and uploaded it to the Pirate Bay.
The social network has been bought in a fire sale by the Texas mattress tycoon Buck Calhoun. Deprived of its lifeblood — data — Facebook is hosting a "data drive." The company is in a crunch to raise one hundred petabytes of personal information in order to survive — "no sliver of data is too small to help." Outside of Facebook, the entire startup community has fallen apart.
It's like interactive anti-fan fiction. The dystopian future of social media was imagined by Daniel Kolitz, the Brooklyn-based creator of the satirical Tumblr site The Printed Internet. Kolitz wouldn't say what his full-time job is beyond creating fantastic internet projects.
Kolitz worked with the publishing collective Useless Press to make mockups of webpages, print them, collage them and then digitally scan them one by one to create his Facebook of the future. It's intended to evoke a world in which technology companies lose the thing on which they most depend: the allegiance of their users.
"I like the idea that these networks are not infallible and could collapse in a very short time frame," Kolitz said over the phone. "These networks are dependent on our information."
Scrolling through bizarro Facebook's News Feed surfaces links that steer users to articles and ads that portray an Internet in the midst of anarchy, and that reveal the dystopian story, click-by-click.
An open letter from "bear-skinnin', pistol-twirlin'" CEO Buck Calhoun announces that he's sunk $10 million into tracking "that Zuck kid" down. (Zuck is now a cypher punk living on the lamb, who occasionally surfaces disguised, for example, as a deer.) An ad for a teen chat app called Gluhh boasts that it "receives hundreds of e-mails a day from concerned parents" and "ignores all of them." A Forbes article appearing in the News Feed champions the need for more women in organized crime, with the dude who posted it noting that "BIOLOGICALLY men are much more likely to develop sociopathic tendencies." A pop-up ad on an Inc. article about Calhoun asks users how interested they are in "chemically ameliorating" their loneliness.
The cut-and-paste rendition of the social network points to the immense value of data — without it, Facebook is reduced to a crude version of itself, something that looks something like a cross between Myspace circa 2004 and a ransom note. Thirsting for data, Facebook's new admins beg users to donate their scraps.
A Time magazine profile of "Generation Z" linked to from the News Feed portrays tomorrow's millennials as gambling, cigar-smoking newspaper readers who hang out on a website that trades in blackmarket vinyl masquerading as a peppy teen social network.
"I read about how we're living more online and not enough offline," Kolitz said. "I think that might be overblown."
Kolitz's Internet dream world is a vision of backlash against the world that we live in today — one in which we hold the power, not our screens.