George Graham

What Does “Value” Mean in a Surreal World?

In a country where family farms have all but disappeared, where factory jobs are a dim memory and where millions are unemployed, a social networking web site has been “valued” at $50 billion. The “value” appeared in a New York Times article reporting that Goldman Sachs has invested $450 million in the “Facebook” website.

Think how many suppers that would buy for hungry children.

I must be missing something. I wouldn’t pay anything for “Facebook.” I just can’t see any real value in that kind of thing.

I know, I know, family and friends, I enjoy keeping in touch with you, too. And it is probably more convenient to get together on “Facebook” than through Yahoo Messenger or in some chat room, or any of the other cyber spaces that have been available for years.

And “Facebook” is free.

But what part of “Facebook” is worth real money? I don’t care how many of you play those silly games (like Mafia Wars) or kill time pretending to plant corn on Farmville, or whatever. How does that generate revenue?

Tell the truth: Have you ever bought anything because it was advertised on “Facebook”? When I asked Sandra that, she responded, “They have ads?”

I’m sure they must have ads, but I couldn’t tell you the name of one “Facebook” advertiser.

Why am I ranting against “Facebook”?

It’s not just sour grapes, although I suppose that has something to do with it.

To me, the hugely inflated “value” of internet based ventures like “Google” and “Facebook” illustrates the sleight-of-hand that pervades American society – and the rest of a follow-fashion world.

I see great harm in the tendency to ascribe value to shadows and to shun substance.

That’s why some fast-talking stock salesman can make millions while a skilled machinist pounds the pavement looking for work. Somehow,someone sold society the idea that the stock salesman has value while the machinist does not.

In a recent Boston Globe article, James Carroll wonders:

US Census data for 2010 show the widest rich-poor income gap on record. In 1968, the top 20 percent of Americans had about 7 times the income of those living below the poverty line. By 2008, that disparity had grown to about 13. By 2010, it had grown even further, to more than 14. The poverty level in 2010 was put at $21,954 for a family of four. In 2010, the percentage of Americans living below half of the poverty line (or about $11,000) had grown from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent. That the rich get richer while the poor get poorer can seem a timeless cliché, yet something is steadily corroding America. The mythic land of equality has the largest income disparity of any Western nation. How can that be?

And the sad truth is that the richest Americans often produce the least value.They sit in paneled offices and concoct schemes to bamboozle a gullible public with glitz and glamor and gossip and false hope…

Meanwhile, somewhere under the relentless prairie sun, a farmer drives his tractor back and forth across an endless field, hoping against hope that this year the weather will be kind, the markets generous and the banks merciful… that he and his family will manage to hang on for just a little longer.

Somehow, it seems to me, we lost our way over the years and no longer recognize value. We have been diverted by the dross and drivel of a make-believe world.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for