My dad recently got on Facebook. My mom’s helping him build up his profile. She sent him a number of family photos. So far four have made it on to his site. One is of my college graduation. I’m wearing the cap and gown and appear to be gazing at something off in the distance, possibly a mountain peak. He’s even begun “friending” my friends. The situation is dire.
In other disturbing Facebook news, on Jan. 14 I was informed that one of my peers who has a nasty habit of updating his Facebook “status”—now he’s “watching Project Runway”; uh-oh, he “forgot to shave”!—recently made his 992nd Facebook friend. To lucky number 1,000, he’s offering a warm meal and his own flesh-and-blood company. Look out!
These developments and others, including the fact that much of Hollywood, in the dark days of the strike, is communicating via the far-reaching social networking site—beg the question: What does it all mean?
The site, which seems to recently have achieved a Starbucksian mainstream presence, has its dangers. Foremost among them: the predictable conversations about its regrettable social implications.
At lunch recently, a friend raised the Facebook Holdout’s party line: It is destroying authentic human interaction, reducing us all to contrived and overly personal ‘profiles,’ laying waste to all that’s left of privacy and intimacy in this world. What was to become of real friendship in light of all this ludicrous Facebook ‘friending’?!
Again I was taken back to that noble mountain university, where one time a guy chained himself to a Borders bookstore on opening day. He was sure that the corporate behemoth was going to snuff out the nearby cozy little mom-and-pop bookshop, an opinion made clear by the sign around his neck and his hollering about it to passersby on the street. My feeling was that he should shut the hell up and go buy some books at the mom-and-pop place. Borders ain’t going anywhere. There is a similarly annoying futility to Facebook holdouts. These sites are here to stay. You don’t dig it? Keep rocking all your human interactions face to face.
Oh, but it’s so pervasive, moans the holdout. Oh, the pressure to join. Oh, please! This gives the site more value than it merits.
From the perspective of an occasional user, Facebook is merely a more efficient version of its predecessors—MySpace, Friendster, SmallWorld, etc. This one simply puts you in touch with a wider range of people, allows you to communicate with them more easily. The site has a practical value for many people, hence its popularity. I recently got in touch with an old friend who dropped out of society and currently spends his days in Vermont, writing poetry and picking twigs and berries and whatnot. I thought he was lost to me, until he found me on Facebook.
On the other hand, the practical value of whining about what Facebook is doing to us and our precious society is nugatory—save for exercising the lungs. Facebook is not going anywhere. Intimacy and privacy are not dead, but they are changing. The negative impact of Facebook soapboxing, however, is palpable: You’re giving me a headache.
Not joining Facebook is no crime; it’s also not much to talk about. I can avoid a status update about how a “friend” is currently clipping his nails by logging off the site. Unfortunately, I can’t turn you off when you’re blathering in my ear.
In the meantime, I’ve found a way to deal with my beloved but pesky father: I un-friended him.