Thoughts On Facebook

Ken AshfordPopular Culture1 Comment

First, a critique:

The reason to hate Facebook is because of the stultifying mind-numbing inanity of it all, the sheer boredom. If Facebook helps put together streakers with voyeurs, the streakers, for the most part, after shedding their trench coats, seem to be running around not with taut and tanned hard-bodies, but in stained granny panties with dark socks. They have a reality-show star's unquenchable thirst for broadcasting all the details of their lives, no matter how unexceptional those details are. They do so in the steady, Chinese-water-torture drip of status updates. The very fact that they are on the air (or rather, on Facebook) has convinced them that every facet of their life must be inherently interesting enough to alert everyone to its importance.

These are all actual status updates (with name changes): "Maria is eating Girl Scout cookies. … Tom is glad it's the weekend. … Jacinda is longing for some sleep, pillow come to momma! … Dan is going to get something to eat. … Anne is taking Tyler to daycare. … Amber loves to dip. I can dip almost any food in blue cheese, ranch dressing, honey mustard, sour cream, mayonnaise, ketchup. Well, I think you get the point." Yes. Uncle. Please make it stop. For the love of God, we get the point.

Then, of course, there is the crushing anticlimax of people re-entering your life who might've fallen away into your past, because in each other's past is where you mutually belong. Perhaps you haven't seen them in 20 years. Perhaps she was the cheerleader whose shapely legs fired your imagination in geometry class, whose smile could heat the gymnasium, whose jojoba-enriched hair you smelled when you broke into her locker and pulled some strands from her brush, dropping it in a Ziplock baggie, taking it home to fashion an effigy for your hair-doll shrine.

Now you're left on Facebook, desperately trying to recapture the magic by paging through photos of her freckly kids at Busch Gardens, stalking her like some kind of weirdo. She's 15 pounds heavier now. But that's okay, next to her husband, a red-faced orb who used to be a hale three-sport athlete, whose only physical exertion now appears to be curling gin-and-tonics and power carb-loading. But her words are still a caress, as even pixels carry the melodious lilt of a voice that perfumes the air like April birdsong, when she status-updates you and 738 of her closest friends, with: "Madison ate bad clams last night. Boy, does her tummy hurt!!! :-("

I can only speak for myself.  Yes, reading the status updates of all your friends can be mind-numbingly inane.  But unlike the author of this piece, I never fell into that trap of overpopulating my "friends" list with people I don't know.  Yes, that's right — I reject friendships all the time, simply because I don't know who the f**k is attempting to befriend me (or why)! 

Sure, I can see why some people measure their self-worth by the number of Facebook friends they have ("Yay! I'm a 437!"), but the truth is that I don't really want that many friends.  For one thing, it makes Christmas cards an onerous task (okay, I don't do Christmas cards either, but you get the point).  But mostly, I have little use for faux friends, or friends-in-name-only. 

In fact, as a culture, we've now come up with a new nomenclature for a specific type of relation: the "Facebook friend".  That phrase refers to someone who is not really a friend, but someone you knew either in passing or a long time ago in another life.  And the most ugly thing about the phrase "Facebook friend", is that in common parlance, you often find it preceded by the belittling words "just a…".  As in "Oh, her?  She's just a Facebook friend."  It's kind of a "fuck you".  Come on, you know I'm right.

Now, I'll cop to having a certain number of Facebook friends, but I think the key was never to add friends simply so I could up my friends number in some pathetic attempt to feel popular.

As such, I'm not inundated with "boring" status messages.

And even if I was, I don't see status messages as a source of entertainment in the first place.  They are not meant to delight me (although some are rather amusing).  They are news bites, like the chyron that scrolls at the bottom of CNN.  Except they are about people you know and (for the most part) care about.   I don't make my life about Facebook status messages — it's just the chyron that scrolls along the bottom of my life.  I can take it, or leave it.  But it is nice to have that option to do either.

Sure, I can certainly live without knowing that Stephen Serieka, who I haven't talked to since high school, is going to the gym this afternoon.  But on the other hand, the fact that I get his status message — which only takes one second of my time — lets me know that Stephen Serieka is, well, alive.  And that's good enough for me.

Twitter, on the other hand, I have difficulty warming up to.  My sense of it is that people twitter several times a day, whereas with Facebook, it might be once a day (if that much).  And no, to be honest, I don't need a blow-by-blow account of the hourly movements of my friends.  I just need to know if they're alright… or, more importantly, if they're not alright.  Facebook provides me with the ability to know these things, with minimal effort on their part, and minimal obstrusiveness on mine.

And as for the high school crush who is now fat and toting around freckly kids?  Unlike the author of the excerpt above, I have no problem with learning that she's a real person.  In fact, I have no problem when any of my friends (or "Facebook friends") get real through their status messages.  It serves as a reminder that we're all in the same boat — sometimes clinging the side, sometimes wanting to jump overboard, or sometimes standing at the bow shouting "I'm king of the world!".  But we're all there, inane as it might be.  And isn't that the appeal of a social networking site?