9/6/10

In Your Face(book)

It's early morning.  You log onto Facebook, perhaps not yet completely coffeed up.  Wham--you are immediately assailed.  There, in front of you, in a relentless scroll, are the announcements, thoughts, recommendations and photos from dozens (or hundreds) of your friends and acquaintances.  The sudden influx of status updates almost make you squint.

You remind yourself that Facebook is a wonderful thing.  It's really such a miracle--like having your friends stashed inside your personal computer waiting for you.  But on the other hand, yikes! All your friends are inside your computer waiting for you. It can be daunting, overwhelming—complete social overload.  Almost against your will, you are shown  evidence of the luxuriousness of your friends' vacations, the accomplishments of their kids, the beauty of their homes.  You are treated to images of dinner parties, concerts and picnics (to which you may or may not have been invited).  And you are bombarded with a million provocative personal causes and interests:  “Joan B. likes this page.”  “You absolutely must read this article posted by Rick H.”  “Tom S. has commented on the link that you commented on.”  The videos are particularly “in your face.”  It's hard not to click on a You Tube a friend has posted.  (The younger generation? Drunken pictures from the college dorms--in your face.)  People's politics are in your face, their lifestyles are in your face, their achievements are in your face.  And their seemingly seamless happiness is in your face. 

One of the most annoying in-your-face aspects of Facebook is the tendency to be incessantly cheerful. There is after all an imperative to show your best, your most positive self.  But at what point does sharing good news become just bragging?  “Just saw the greatest sunset in the WORLD!  LOVING LIFE!”  “I just got back from yoga and I am so glad to be alive!”  Before social networking we were never expected to witness every achievement of everyone we knew, as it unfolded.  And we must be interesting when we post!  There is pressure to perform on social networking sites: You've got to be fun, got to be smart, got to entertain.  You've got to promote something, even if it is only your recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich.  (Believe me, I am not one to criticize anyone else for self-promotion.  God knows Miss Mingle is all up in your face(book), all the time.)

Anyway,  it's supposed to be this way.  It is, after all, what Facebook is--a public forum, a hyper-linked hyper-community.  It's been called Orwellian; it's been touted as the end of privacy as we know it, something that devours our time and our souls.  You turn it on in the morning and it is just lurking there the whole day.  It may not yet be a huge interactive totalitarian wallscreen; so far, it is only your friends watching you, not Big Brother (well okay, we all know that Google is probably watching.)  Still, it is, without a doubt, pervasive.

Facebook itself has its own “in your face” practices, such as the niggling ads on the right hand side of the page, and all the helpful FB notifications: “Joe Johnson is friends with Frank Smith and 6 OTHER PEOPLE.” (OMG, it's in-your-face friend-making!  Better get off your duff and catch up with Joe Johnson, Jeanne.)  Or “Jeanne, try Facebook friend-finder.”  And “Jeanne, you have 3 friends with birthdays this week.”  “Jeanne, you have 2 unanswered events.”  "Jeanne, you have 4 page suggestions, 3 cause invitations and 1 donation invitation.”  “Jeanne, who's on Facebook?”  “Who's not on Facebook?”  “Who is here because of you?”  (How does every thing you are seeing on this screen relate to you, Jeanne?)  Facebook is in our face continuously. 

But in the end how can I justify complaining?  I signed up for Facebook willingly and I check it many times a day.  Like its 500 million other members, I guess I actually do like having people in my face(book). 

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