Patrick Metzger, my fellow Torontoista, posted this recently on Facebook (presumably because Patrick is the very model of irony personified), and I thought it deserved wider distribution than his circle of Facebook friends.
Facebook, the bloom is off the rose. A few months back I gushed like a schoolgirl about the Internet phenom that’s turned millions into social trivia junkies, but the blinders are starting to come off.
Facebook doesn’t really do anything useful. No news, weather, not even sports updates, and certainly no learning. It’s not a gathering place for discussion, but narcissism central, a place for people to show off the person they want others to think they are. Here are my books, my music, my beliefs. Look at me, my attractive friends, my kids, my pets, my hip-hop group, my sports car, the places I’ve traveled, the movies I’ve watched. Here’s how I’m feeling right now. And now. And now. Do you like me? Want to be like me? It’s a conversation between 40 million drunks, each one shouting over the others to tell their story.
Facebook groups illustrate this self-congratulatory ethos. They rarely have a real-world function, but serve as popularity contests for ego-thespians to promote their latest low-budget film project or idiot political agenda, or joinable bumper sticker philosophies intended to demonstrate wit, wealth, non-conformity or some other personal attribute that members want to be seen as possessing. There are more than 500 groups with the word “crazy” in them, ditto for “sexy”, “drunk”, “boobs”, “bling”, and “Porsche”, not to mention “faith”, “hope”, and “charity”. Even more than individual profiles, groups are brand building gone wild – this is me, my mottos, my logos, my ideas! Love me! The addition of new advertising functionality to link people to genuine dollars and cents brands is a logical consequence of this mad rush to label ourselves online. Everyone knows Nike; by attaching myself to it I get an instant identity that millions of people can see instantly.
Still, in the meat world we all wear brands. We all project an image that we hope others will buy. What makes Facebook more harmful than the day-to-day self-promotion in which we all engage? Because for all its interactivity, it’s really a one-way conversation, where disinterest is easily mistaken for approval. On Facebook, there’s no one to tell you to shut up.
I like the piece, although Patrick fails to also include all those goddamned zombie/werewolf/vampire “games” that are little more than desperate cries for attention – here’s a hint, people who create those games, tag works as a game because you get to run around a lot, not because the tagging dynamic is that interesting.
That having been said, I think Patrick undervalues the importance of the personal representation that Facebook can generate. Being able to say “this is who I am and this is what I believe,” and then being able to aggregate those beliefs simply to show critical mass of opinion – what this amounts to is opinion polling not generated by the media elite, and I think that’s potentially invaluable. Would the push to save the Sam The Record Man storefront have been successful without people spontaneously using Facebook to demonstrate that a whole lot of Torontonians really wanted to keep the giant records on Yonge Street? Heck, a copycat campaign to save the truck coming out of the CityTV building was referred to by CP24 when they decided to keep the truck (which is the most wonderful kind of eyesore) exactly where it was.
This sort of independent issue-campaigning works because it makes clear to those in power – even when the power they’re in isn’t that massive or significant – where the interests and priorities of ordinary folks really lie. I think that’s worth a lot of annoying zombie games.