Why I Hate Your Face
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: Facebook, You’re Killing Me Here
I think I know what it must have felt like for the people who hated television when it was in its infant stages. They probably recognized that this was the direction in which the world was headed, and that this new phenomenon was only going to become more and more popular. But that knowledge didn’t stop them from hating it, and from feeling sad as they watched it become more omnipresent every day.
It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about Facebook. I think a large part of the problem is that every time I visited the site when I was a member, I got the distinct feeling that I was indulging some sort of guilty pleasure. And not a fun, silly guilty pleasure, like watching a Lifetime made-for-TV movie or eating an entire plate full of hot wings. I love that kind of guilty pleasure, but this felt different. It was a dirty, wrong kind of pleasure, like stepping on a worm on the sidewalk or cutting someone off in traffic.
Not only did it feel like a bad guilty pleasure, but it also felt kind of like walking down a high-school corridor, lined with lockers and filled with frenetic teenagers. Suddenly, you were back in a world in which it was ok to make snap judgments, to snoop around and find dirt on people and then talk about it; to base your opinions of others on superficial criteria. Suddenly, I felt like I was in an adolescent echo chamber, and none of the echoes were particularly worthwhile, and many were simply cries for attention. This may not be everyone’s experience with Facebook, but can you see why I wanted out?
Even if your Facebook friends really are your actual friends, which I think is dubious for many, the types of exchanges the website fosters are the social equivalent of Cheetos; tasty at first, but also dry, artificial, and not particularly nourishing. Don’t think so? Here’s a typical Facebook exchange, re-imagined as an actual face-to-face conversation between three people:
Bob: “I am a fan of Cheese.”
Jill: “I like this.”
Pete: “I have given Bob a pretend Rum and Coke.”
Bob: “On Saturday I am going to this party.”
Is this where technology has brought us? Is this how far we’ve come? I think people probably had more interesting conversations with telegraphs.
Facebook’s utter ubiquity is also a large part of the driving force behind its popularity. After all, how could something be bad or harmful if everyone is using it? You might be wasting hours of your sweet young life on Facebook every day, but so is everyone else, so it must be ok. You might question the usefulness of giving someone a flower that doesn’t exist for them to plant in their virtual Facebook garden, but that’s just what people are doing these days, so it must have some validity.
I am also astounded by the way in which Facebook manages to make us look at data through the wrong end of a telescope. The notion of saving the rainforest is reduced to a vehicle to get people to download applications which enable them to plant more worthless virtual flowers. You join the cause to fight world hunger with the same level of interest and concentration you use while taking a test to find out what kind of Pirate you would be. Things that matter in the real world are reduced to empty, baseless concepts.
On the flip side, trivial information is given the star treatment and insignificant facts are trumpeted to the skies. On Facebook, commenting that you are sleepy, or in the mood for a muffin, or that you partied way too hard last weekend, is expected—and is bound to be recognized and commented on by numerous people. Terse, staccato snippets of conversation rule the day, and all the while, the amount of useful information we are really learning about each other, and our actual closeness to one another, continues to stagnate.
Human beings love drama; they love gossip, they love secrets and allies and conflicts. Facebook provides them with all of those things, and more—but at a price. It sets the stage for a living, breathing soap opera, and in return, it gives our lives the same amount of depth, dignity and meaning as you would find on an episode of General Hospital. Devotees to the site, I’m sure, would like to tell me that I don’t have to be a member of Facebook if I hate it so much, and they’re right. I just wish more people would question exactly why they do choose to be members.
Face-to-Face; Um…Can We Just Be Friends?
In the beginning, there was AOL. It used to stand for something, I think.
But I can’t imagine much less of a force where internet is concerned today.
The only people still on AOL have to be the 70+ crowd — still using dial-up
connections and feeling good cruising somewhere around 14kbps. Yes, there
was AOL and they gave us the original “Instant Messenger.” And the world
saw it and they saw that it was good. When *You’ve Got Mail* came out in
theaters AOL was in its golden age building up a brutal, unstoppable empire
of dual-income families with adolescent children. Then there came to be a
splintering in the empire. The adolescents went to college and got free
high-speed internet access and AOL was lost to them. And they chose to
worship only: Instant Messenger. Years passed; internet speeds grew; WiFi
become the standard. And there came to be a site called Friendster and one
would join and make people their friends and the first internet villages
were born. But Friendster was an evil menace and it drove people apart.
And so it was destroyed — and that was the ending of the First Covenant of
Internet Networking Websites.
In this day and age, the “off-spring” of Friendster are multitudinous and
while there are many pretenders to the throne (LinkedIn, Myspace,
Blackplanet?!) only one among them is truly king. And that is the infamous:
Facebook is the New Covenant.
Space At The Table
The thing about Facebook is — they got it perfect. They really nailed. Of
course every other month there’s some uprising about a change in the layout
or the privacy settings or third-party add-on nightmares, but that’s just
par for the course. In any community changes to the status quo are going to
upset many people while at the same time pleasing others. And that is
what’s crucial to remember: Facebook is a community. To be sure, it began
as a gimmick. I understand its origins were with a Harvard University
drop-out — putting in the auspicious company another great empire:
Microsoft. Back then I’m pretty sure it was just a hot-bed of horny males
looking for girls to bother. Assuredly, this was its first major function.
When I first got on Facebook, I basically lurked about voyeuristically
trying it piece together the poorly-euphemised conversations of my estrange
acquaintances. I made friends with people at my school and spent most of my
time changing the quotes of my profile to reflect whatever chunk of Baldwin
I was reading that weekend. To me Facebook was simply a curiosity; a game
of false friendships dressed up in the glorious neon-light of the world wide
Of course, at the time Google was just a search engine, Macbooks came in
white only, and the hottest cellphone on the market was the Razr. THE RAZR!
I began to understand the true power of Facebook when at last it was opened
up to colleges across the nation. To high schools, to social groups, to
professional groups. Suddenly I was deluged with friend requests from old
acquaintances as far back as elementary school. One has to be in awe of
such a powerful tool. Now the relationships and connections that define us
as we grow can be sought after, nurtured, and re-convened. Who hasn’t
thought about trying to look up the childhood friend that they’ve lost track
of in the fray of adulthood? Or wondered about the old STP-coverband from
high school (yes. yes, I was IN one.) Now you can find these people. You
don’t need to hire a private detective or call eleven “Tony Smiths” in the
phonebook only to leave three creepy messages and awkwardly disturb eight
other people who don’t know who you are.
And there is space at the table for all of us. No matter how complex the
story it can be unwound on Facebook. A few wall-to-walls, some photo
albums, and you’re read to take that leap of faith.
Overkill In The Metropolis
The one downside to Facebook is actually due to the results of what it has
done so right. As the number of people on the Book reaches a critical mass,
Facebook becomes more than just a social networking site. Facebook has
become the internet’s thoroughfare. We are all positioned on it like houses
on a street, but with each new block of members the street expands and the
houses become condos and high-rises. When that happens, of course, it
becomes a commercial (and not necessarily cultural or artistic) Mecca. The
issue with Facebook is that its ALL a metropolis; there is no suburban
sprawl on the Book. Once you’re in it, you’re in it. Its like waking up in
the heart of New York City. Everything is connected and running full-tilt
boogie 24-7. Meaning you’re going to get status updates from friends at 7
in morning before they go to work, or at work while they’re playing online
scrabble, or after work when they are hitting the nightlife, or at 1am –
when the Jimmy Fallon show is sucking hardcore.
Or at 4am, when they can’t sleep and they decide to buy a George Foreman
grill and loose 10 pounds before the summer.
Its overkill in the Metropolis. But it always is. That’s what cities are
like. Motion is constant. And Facebook, as it grows, may become the
world’s first largest worldwide metropolis. Time-zones become irrelevant,
language grows flex, cultural diffusion becomes the groundwork of a new way
of thinking about being human. These are lofty words, I know, for a website
that is still basically just the stomping ground of over-hormonal teenagers
looking for a way to sort-of-get-laid. I see more in the future of
Facebook, honestly. I think as more adults and professionals begin to join
up it will become something new and vital. I am not so much impressed with
what Facebook IS as I am with what it has the potential to be.
And let’s be honest, shall we? Its still pretty amusing.
But….but… but… My Privacy!
The privacy argument I just don’t buy. Yes the social networking sites do
create a sort of inescapable osmosis between our “private” selves and our
“public” selves, but so too has the cellular phone and the credit card and
the EZ-PASS. Used to be you couldn’t get a phone call unless you were at
home and weren’t busy. Someone would say, “I’ll call you tonight.” And if
you wanted to speak to them you had to wait by the phone. Now they can get
to you anywhere. ANYWHERE. In the bathroom, on the train, if you’re out
working in a garden or gone to the beach — you remain connected. You
remain on the grid, visible, being observed. Same thing with credit
cards… you buy with cash and (according to several movies) there’s no
evidence that you bought anything at all. However, you buy something with a
credit card and the jig is up. We know what you bought, we know when, where
and from whom, we know where you’re taking it home to and, if we have a full
credit card history, we can basically piece together your daily activities
one scrawled signature at a time. I’m not saying this to make us all
terrified that Big Brother is watching (though I am sure, in some respect,
He is) but to make it clear that the conveniences of modern-living come at a
price. It has always been so, since we rose up from ignorance and formed
communities and family groups, that no man (or woman) is an island. With
every technological advance that become more and more so. Its not that one
loses one’s identity its just that the natural barriers that separate us
(time, distance, stark subjectiveness — and we can talk about Descartes
some other time) have less and less of an impact.
So yes, we do lose a bit of the clarion clear division between our private
lives and our public lives — but really only to the smallest degree. One
can have a Facebook profile and still maintain a modicum of privacy. And
excuse me for not being moved by those people worried about their bosses or
students seeing the photos of them binge drinking and doing body shots at
their local biker bar; by those who are worried about being observed using
foul language or making “blue” jokes; by those which to let none see the
true demons of their nature. If that’s what you are, then that’s what you
are, baby. Its a brave new world we’re entering into. We should begin to
prepare to live our lives accordingly. Give up the old hang-up and realize
that transparency (which acts as an aggressive equalizer) is part of what
will make our global community truly coherent.
603 And Counting
My girlfriend has tried to impress upon me that 603 friends is lot for
someone to have of Facebook. I can’t believe that this is true. Considering
how picky I about who I claim to be friends with its more likely that 603 is
an accurate count of all the people my life has come into contact with in a
significant way. Not just close friends and family but classmates,
teammates, arch-enemies (indeed, i have a few… and we are friends on the
Book!), former-professors, and small-time celebrities. And then their are
the weirder, but still interestingly relevant group: ex-girlfriends and
their new boyfriends/girlfriends, erstwhile best-friends with whom I
fell-out and don’t actually ever speak, the occasional acquaintance met
after a show or panel or get-together where we hit it off and then depart
asking, “Are you on the Book?”
Yes the curiosity remains. But there is a functional usefulness making its
presence known now too. Wait it out and see. Facebook itself with likely
fade into the background sometime in the near future (once it becomes to
bulky to support its own over-populated weight), but the ability to connect
in such a way via the internet will remain. And I think when its gone,
we’ll think of Facebook like we did AOL. It was nice, it was fun, and it
set us off in the right direction. The question is: What will come next, O
ye gods of internet?!
Shall we call thee: Google?