It seems that most urban sophisticates these days, from politicians and celebrities to coworkers, have a profile on Facebook, the social networking Web site. The C.I.A., I.R.S., Time Inc., even MySpace, Facebook’s ostensible competition, have job networks there. To the site’s enthusiasts—and there are many; the site has 60 million users so far, with 200 million projected by the end of the year—there is no reason not to partake.
But not all of us are signing up: clicking on that grassy-green button that allows one to join a so-called “exclusive club” in which one may receive pertinent updates of some “friend’s” baby pictures, a new veggie burger someone tried last night, and who is slinging electronic “poo” at whose profile.
“I don’t know why New Yorkers need this,” Michael Dougherty, 31, an editor at Gotham magazine, who lives on the Upper East Side, said scornfully. “I feel like New Yorkers are always being out, going out—you’re constantly meeting people. You don’t need an online site in order to meet someone. Half the time, if you’re at a party or even out on the street, you don’t even want them to talk to you, but you’ll meet people. The cabbie starts talking to you or the person on the subway starts screaming at you about religion, whatever.”
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Cary Goldstein, 33, the director of publicity at Twelve books, is another proud Facebook holdout. “I don’t see how having hundreds or thousands of ‘friends’ is leading to any kind of substantive friendships,” he said. “The whole thing seems so weird to me. Now you really have to turn off your computer and just go out to live real life and make real connections with people that way. I don’t think it’s healthy.”
Darcy Stockton, 26, a fashion stylist who has dressed celebrities including Rosario Dawson (who, incidentally, has three Facebook profiles, all “unofficial”), also disdains the site. “I don’t think those sites are a professional way to keep up with people I find desirable to work with,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It’s about building connections and relationships the old fashioned way—word of mouth, through agents, art directors, Web sites and e-mails.” (Yes, folks—Web sites and e-mails are now considered “old-fashioned”.)
“If you have time to network through a site like that, you aren’t working enough.” Ms. Stockton said. “I just don’t have the time or the ability to keep up with yet another social networking site in my free time. I feel there’s other things and real experiences I could be having in real life instead of wasting my free time on Facebook.”
‘A HUGE PAIN IN THE *SS’
Indeed, Facebook might be the ultimate procrastination tool. Lunch hours, Sunday nights, entire weekends can be spent searching for new “friends” or tweaking a profile to portray oneself at one’s coolest.
The earliest incarnation of the site, Facemash, was created three years ago by one Mark Zuckerberg, 23, then a baby-faced Harvard sophomore, originally as a kind of Ivy League version of the once-popular Web destination Hot or Not. It featured pairings of photos of two randomly selected undergraduates, along with the suggestion that visitors vote for which one was “hotter.” Within its first four hours online, the site was visited by 450 people.
Later, Mr. Zuckerberg was brought before the college’s Administrative Board for breaching security and violating copyrights and individuals’ privacy by using students’ online photos without permission. He subsequently created the more decorous thefacebook.com, which enabled young collegians to “poke” crushes and trade tidbits about their favorite books and movies. “My goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a Sept. 8, 2006 blog entry. “I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with.”
The site now has an open log-in and is the sixth-most-trafficked in the United States, according to a report by comScore Media Matrix, a Web tracking firm, published in the November 2007 issue of Fast Company. The same article reported that Facebook had three million users age 25 to 34, and 380,000 who were 35 to 44 (and these users are well familiar with the unsettling situation of finding out one’s middle-aged aunt is onboard). Mr. Zuckerberg, who dropped out of college, is now reportedly worth $3 billion. But the rest of us are, arguably, infinitely poorer.