Monday, June 11, 2007

Now i know why they call Facebook the two-headed bitch queen of the intertubes. Don't they? Well I do.

After years of frustrated hopes and expectations, Facebook has finally turned the internet from a radiant web of communication into a small, stuffy room full of everyone you've ever known. People wave at each other, speak publicly and privately, poke each other incessantly and generally behave as if they’re attending an endless party, except all the drinks are virtual and the drug of choice is contact and all its small thrills. It’s an evolved Myspace free of the band trappings and atrocious design issues, an AJAX-heavy Friendster for Web 2.0.

I signed up on Facebook a few weeks ago. After thirty minutes I’d found and friended practically everyone from my past. If I remembered their names, if their faces seemed familiar, I netted them but good in my Facebook friending trawler. The experience of virtually resurrecting my adolescence, even my childhood, online was intoxicating. Old girlfriends, barely remembered classmates, people whose guts I’d hated for reasons I'd long forgotten – I friended them all and scoured their profiles. Who likes decent music (a few people)? Who has kids (everyone)? Who still looks the same after eighteen years (again, everyone)? And of course, who's secretly obsessed with the past, constantly reliving and redoing it in their imaginations, turning tiny humiliations into gigantic victories, and releasing the unbearable psychic pressure of all the irredeemable but inconsequential mistakes they've ever made? Who's with me on this one?

As in real life, the faces from the past on Facebook are willing to forgive you for the numerous jerky sins that you committed in your adolescence. Old girlfriends, to whom I gave no good reason for speaking to me again, are happy to chat back and forth with me about time and adulthood and whatever else. I find myself reminiscing and catching up with people that I barely spoke to back then. Eventually this tumble of chat and memory is going to lose some of its energy and flatten out, and I’ll lose touch with some of them again. But thanks to Facebook, they’ll always be immediately accessible, as if they’ve just gone to talk and drink in the kitchen for a while, before returning to the main action in the living room.

Having said all that, there are things about Facebook that drive me absolutely crazy. Some of them are inherent in the design, others are inherent in the users. Since Facebook is so dependent on its users, though, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. In no particular order, here they are:

The Wall. If only they hadn’t named the public message section “The Wall”. Facebook feels like a modern loft apartment, all clean lines and tall windows and a nice plasma screen with a constant feed of information set high in one corner. The Wall calls to mind a teenager’s attic bedroom, where everyone goes to smoke dope after school and write Led Zeppelin lyrics on the slanted ceiling. On top of that, most of the messages on The Wall are cryptic and one-sided, subjects and context clipped away in the economy of the back-and-forth conversations between cybergraffitists. “Oh yeah! Can’t wait to be there!” and the ubiquitous “Hi there! How’s it going? Long time no see!” crowd the Walls and turn them into indicators of your ability to attract commenters. At moments it skates close to purely phatic communication, the equivalent of yelling "Hey! Hey you!"

Profile Photos. The profile photo is the first thing that people see when they encounter your name. It’s an advertisement for your personality, a logo of yourself. Some people don’t get it. There are several photo sins that people commit:

  • The Professional Portrait. This is like handing out business cards at a five year old's birthay party.

  • The Group Shot. Which one of the five shrieking girls in black tank tops are you? Are you split into separate entities, or are you fused, hydra-headed, into an undying Screwdriver-swigging monster?

  • The Family Portrait. Again, which one are you? I know you're not the two-year old or the one with the goatee. Are you at least the one in the middle?

  • The Hasselhoff. Ah, hah, hahahahhhh. You look just like David Hasselhoff. Wait a second - that IS David Hasselhoff. Oh, that is the kick.

  • The Nolte. Warning: this is no ordinary picture. Nick Nolte’s mug shot comes from the stirred-up silt of our collective unconscious. For that reason, you should show restraint, lest the picture sail into your unguarded consciousness and consume you.

The End of Privacy. So, why is Facebook out there in the first place? Is it a philanthropic enterprise for bored middle-class college students? Or a gigantic data-mining project masquerading as a social utility network? If you guessed the latter, then I will airmail you an Arrowroot cookie.* The people who run Facebook have more DARPA ties than Dick Cheney’s walk-in closet.** Seriously, if there's any reason why you should delete your information and walk away from Facebook, it's the lines of connection between Facebook, In-Q-Tel, the CIA, DARPA and the Total Information Awareness Program that should make you feel uneasy. Here's a Flash presentation on the relationships that go into the MOST AWESOME BIG BROTHER EVER.

Even if the relationships outlined are insignificant, the fact remains that Facebook will send your traditional concept of privacy to a deep, dark place, and you'll have fun doing it.*** Until some lawyer successfully argues that you don't have an expectation of privacy on your social networking site.

Diminishing Returns. An ex-junkie friend of mine described his addiction as “five years of my life spent chasing five seconds.” The same could be said of Facebook. The initial experience of finding old friends overwhelmed some circuit in my brain, and ever since I’ve been going over friend lists to find just one more person from my past to add. But it’s never as good as the first time.

Relationships Conducted By Poking. Someone pokes you on Facebook. You poke back. They poke you in return. To acknowledge the poke, you poke them. Then they poke you. This will go on until our electrical grid collapses and we lurch out from our homes, pale and blinking in the intolerable natural light, drooling out the single word “Pooooke”.

Amassing Friends as Objects. We all know that if your Facebook friends were all plunked down in front of you, there are some you'd latch on to, and others you'd more or less ignore (just like good old physical life!). In Facebookese, “friend” is a debased term that ecompasses soulmates and people you made eye contact with once, but he or she is a face to add to your ever-growing, increasingly awesome list of friends. In Facebook, as in most online social networks, a person is judged by the number of friends amassed. Welcome to friendship as token. Oh yeah, it's the inhuman online utopia of Facebook.

*will not mail you a cookie.

** Das ist der Rimshot.

***I will mail a cookie* to anyone who can identify what I'm paraphrasing with this line.


Abigail Road said...

I finally signed up for FaceBook, for the one and only reason, that I couldn't stand the thought of getting one more invitation to the damn thing. I promptly became addicted. I am now trying to ween myself to only checking out my family page, and the pub page to find out if Martha W is ever caught, but I think I may need an intervention if my own self-will doesn't work.

Feroz said...

Brilliant post. Expresses everything I ever wanted to say about social networking :D.
Haven't seen your blog before but definitely going to continue seeing it.

mathew said...

i need to start up - facebook for loners

Mr. Head said...

Oh, you're preaching to the choir, brothah. 'The hell is a superpoke? Maybe I don't have the time to sit and read the manual. Data-mining? Vermilion hells, if there's a term for it it must be real. Ever so much more insidious than VOX gnomes collecting all my insignificant proclivities. I do try to keep up with all these new fangled time killers, but where will it end? If anybody needs to know where I am, what I had for lunch, who I've "hooked up" with, I'll be in the jungle banging a rock on a hollow log. Butlerian Jihad, anyone?

cheesefairy said...

A to the men.

David Croft said...

Facebook is a scourge, uravelling the fabric of the social universe one tenuous thread at a time. It's inherently unnatural and an Orwellian nightmare.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some pokes I've been meaning to return.

Charlene Croft said...

You know how I feel about facebook... and if you don't then you haven't been reading my blog :)

You know you can't delete your profile... only disable it.


That blond chick near schmutzie's desk said...

After university a lot of people disappeared out of my life. So it was nice to find them again.

But, now I'm "friending" people I don't want to talk to and getting messages like "Hey I think you are a 9 download Hot or Not" (because who doesn't like strangers breaking them down to their basic parts and giving them a rating)

I'm using shit applications like "Food Fight" and saddened that no one has taken the time to throw anything at me.

After finding out who got married, had kids and which jobs they landed . . . *shrug* I don't care any more. I don't need to know what their favorite movie is or what they are listening to.


Yes time to ween myself off Facebook. It's gone too far.

pamused said...

i've had a draft 'note' - similarly ranty - about the oddity of facebook that i've hesitated posting for fear of offending former classmates who are now my *gasp* 'friends'. i essentially ask why the hell we seem to randomly 'accept' requests for friendship from people we never spoke to in high school or didn't even like. drives me nuts. in some pathetic attempt at facebook integrity, i at least reach out to only the people i truly want to reconnect with (like you, for instance) and not just people whose names trigger a remote synapse of recognition, all for the sake of ... what? i have more friends than you! i'm so fucking popular! for that 5 minute effect you talk about, we have all (unwittingly?) meandered right back into high school, re-enacted in even more meaningless terms than the original go-round... dumb photos (including my lame portrait-like shot) and all.

but i'll never say it all as well as you just did.

Feroz said...

Talking about Food Fight, I just threw a milk bottle at a friend.
When I get recruited by the CIA, at least they'll know what to stock in the fridge.

Anonymous said...

Would that be physically? Or just a mental state?

Thomas said...

Never been in facebook but I did look up my high school on Myspace the other day and realized that I don't recognize any of these freaking people.

Mr. Head said...

Then I found someone I'd been wondering about for years and got this weird rush. Aw, man, am I hooked now for awhile? Has there been any research into the addictive properties of these sorts of things? Mebbe I'm just old fashioned or something, like when our parents parents worried about television's influence.

*thinks about what's on T.V. these days*

oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck...

helvetica said...

I find Facebook a lot more tolerable if you pretend it's a spectacularly mundane version of Second Life. Then, like me, you can wait with baited (hahahah, pun!) breath for the day the CIA calls me up and tells me my husband has been implicated in terrorist activities in American Samoa.

palinode said...

You people comment good. Anonymous wins the arrowroot cookie for slyly acknowledging the source of my quote. Everyone else wins, and wins, forever, because we could all use a bit of victory.