fakebook generation

From the New York Times, this piece about Facebook.

The author, Alice Mathias, is a “2007 graduate of Dartmouth”.  Congrats!

Some choice bits, and comments:

Facebook administrators have since exiled at least the flagrantly fake profiles, the Greta Garbos and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butters, in an effort to have the site grow up from a farce into the serious social networking tool promised to its new adult users, who earnestly type in their actual personal information and precisely label everyone they know as former co-workers or current colleagues, family members or former lovers.

But does this more reverent incarnation of Facebook actually enrich adult relationships? What do these constellations of work colleagues and long-lost friends amount to? An online office mixer? A reunion with that one other guy from your high school who has a Facebook profile? Oh! You get to see pictures of your former college sweetheart’s family! (Only depressing possibilities are coming to mind for some reason.)

Well, who says there’s an obligation to “enrich adult relationships”?  Mathias writes about Facebook in conflicting terms, here describing her undergraduate peers’ behavior on FB as “a farce,” but as we’ll see later, a farce she prizes very highly.  I’m less concerned about schizophrenic response to FB than on the underlying assumption that FB can only be one–serious social networking tool–or the other–farce.  Why can’t it do both–and at the same time, no less.  That points t another thing that sort of annoyed me about Mathias’s essay–her easy divide between “The Facebook Generation” and the presumed professional-automata of the site’s “new adult users”.  I think of myself as an adult user, and while I do think of FB as a networking tool for my profession (given how much in my profession depends on networking), I don’t think of FB as an application that is all-business or all-party either.  If I’m wrong, then there must be a lot more theory being done on “Vampires Vs. Werewolves” apps than I thought.

Facebook purports to be a place for human connectivity, but it’s made us more wary of real human confrontation. When I was in college, people always warned against the dangers of “Facebook stalking” at a library computer — the person whose profile you’re perusing might be right behind you. Dwelling online is a cowardly and utterly enjoyable alternative to real interaction.

A maddening paragraph.  While I appreciate Mathias’s newfound appreciation for contradiction in the last sentence, she otherwise here has simply relied on the old trope that technology will separate humans from one another.  Well, it hasn’t yet.  And, as for myself, I think FB has not made me “wary of real human confrontation”.  Another thought: why does FB not count as “real interaction”?  I guess I’m just faking it.

For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.

I guess only young people (which I may or may not be depending on one’s definition) are the only people who need escapism.  Good to know.  And “new adult users” never “make believe” on FB either.  (I guess Jeff really did want to buy a monkey, escape from prison, and have Dan Rather as a houseguest.)  And those last two sentences: what are we to make of that?  On one hand, Mathias seems to reconcile herself to entertaining a paradox she seemed wary of earlier in the essay–but here there’s almost an implication that “younger people” using FB are stickin’ to the stodgy old man who wants to turn their cool new toy into something “legitimate” and uncool.  What is Mathias really trying to argue?  She admits to some measure of online paranoia (interestingly, at precisely those moments online interaction becomes “real” interaction), but finally wants to maintain a place for her “younger” generation to keep up the laughs on FB.  Earlier in the essay, Mathias argues that FB became popular because “it’s entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library”.  I’ll not quibble with the content, but I think she’s making an error is saying that FB should remain only “fun” because that’s how it started.  Well, the Internet was a way for physics researchers to share project information, but I’m sure glad it’s not restricted to that use only.



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