A Note on Facebook

A few years ago, “25 random facts” had its predecessor in the form of email forwards from obnoxious co-workers, well-meaning relatives, and spam services. There were a ton of these chains (invariably with one of these things: @-}–), complete with anecdotes: a guy who hadn’t passed it along was hit by a car the next day, a girl who did found her true love soon thereafter. For most of us, these emails were quickly discarded and forgotten, soon to lie in a cyberheap alongside notices for penis enlargements and Nigerian investments. Sure, some people thought it was cute to pass them along, but they were quickly isolated and ostracized, then forcibly removed from society. They were not missed.

The AIM phenomenon began when I was back in high school. Xanga swept the world – or the Asian-covered parts of it – when I started college (not coincidentally, that was the genesis for this very page). Friendster was big for a while, Myspace took it up a notch. But what Facebook is doing is totally unprecedented, and perhaps it is in these “25 random facts” forwards that the power of the site has revealed itself. Not only has it made those aforementioned chain emails acceptable, but Facebook has astoundingly inspired sincere (and interesting and commendable, to be sure) efforts from a significant number of individuals on that front.

I, of course, do not claim to be above Facebook. In fact, those of you on Facebook will see this as one of my imported notes. And once in a while, I will upload pictures to my albums, or post links to videos and websites (that no one will respond to, or comment on). It is a cute tool, one that allows you to keep in touch, kill some time, and cyberstalk. All of this is encouraged by the website. After all, there’s a newsreader that tells you when one of your ‘friends’ comments on other people’s profiles, or show up tagged in other people’s albums – none of which have anything to do with you, or their relationship to you. It’s like an amplified Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, only with a lot less shitty movies and no Kyra Sedgwick.

But I must profess that I do not truly understand the Facebook phenomenon. I cannot fathom how people have 800 friends. I don’t think I could name 800 people… that have ever existed (I’d taper out after Martin Luther at #604 and Martin Luther King, Jr. at #605). I don’t want people I barely know or barely remember to know my life. Of course, I realize the irony here. But I feel there is a striking discrepancy in the nature of content, in the level of private material, made available on a normal blog – including this one – versus that on a normal Facebook page. You don’t see when I “feel angry,” or when I “go to the store,” and you definitely don’t see pictures of me doing whatever it is I do.

Furthermore, even my Facebook page is somewhat controlled. I do not have a wall activated. I minimize the activity broadcast to my friends… with the whoring out of this blog not only a notable exception, but arguably the primary reason for my Facebook’s existence. I have deleted friends: people from high school who were decidedly not friends, or even acquaintances (immediate rejection is unfair, so I wait to ensure there is no effort at contact, then check their friend numbers to confirm that I am there solely because I existed somewhere in the outskirts of the vicinity of their world once upon a time). You will never read a 25 random facts about me that isn’t laden with sarcasm and falsities. And my relationship status will never be announced. But I realize I am in the minority.

It’ll be interesting to see how Facebook evolves. What is the line between keeping in touch and attention whoring? What is the breaking point where the private information revealed becomes overbearing and overwhelming? I don’t expect to communicate with all of my Facebook friends regularly (and it’ll be interesting to see if they are discarded in the future, a la my high school strangers), but I do wonder: if there is any reticence, any hesitation on my part to comment on stuff that they post; if there is awkwardness on your part when I do, then why did we add each other? And what the hell is the purpose of this thing?

I guess at this stage, I’m only sure about one thing: it’s not as stupid as Twitter.

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