The Mountain Times

°F Sat, April 19, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper


I've just passed the one-year mark in my Facebook membership, and still I have only 136 friends. This is a pitiful sum - really, a source of ceaseless embarrassment - so if any of you readers out there want to 'friend' me and make me look more popular, please do so; I'm accepting all requests, as long as you're not a family member.

Having possessed a Facebook account for an entire year (I felt comfortable enough to join only after it had become completely, utterly uncool), I believe I'm able to reflect more accurately on the website's merits and flaws than I was three and a half years ago, when I wrote - somewhat scornfully and stupidly - about the Facebook phenomenon without actually possessing an account. (I also described last year the experience of giving in and finally signing up for Facebook, so despite holding out for so long, I obviously am, for some reason, more obsessed than the average person with Zuckerberg's creation.)

I've already complained about the new Facebook Ticker, whose idiocy was so wonderfully summed up by that "Pimp My Ride" graphic with Xzibit ("Yo dawg, I herd you like Facebook, so we put a Facebook in the upper right of yo Facebook so you can Facebook while u Facebook"); all in all, the site seems significantly worse than it was when I joined it.

For instance, Facebook has recently begun to assume that, if you post a photo album, you must be in every picture.

Here's what I mean: let's say you're named Sarah Smith, and your husband is Bill Smith, and you two go on vacation. Bill takes a lovely photo of you standing in front of a waterfall, posts it, and tags you. Even though it's Bill's photo, Bill himself is not in the picture, yet when you click on it, the caption below will read "Bill Smith with Sarah Smith." Facebook used to identify simply who had posted the image and who had been tagged, no preposition; it didn't automatically shove the subject and the photographer together, making the photo's viewers wonder where, exactly, Bill is hiding in that picture.

I also think the new picture-viewer is ugly - a gray pop-up frame. Ever since it appeared, I haven't been able to find the backward arrow that ought to show up to the left of every photo. I see the forward arrow to the right, so while I'm able to use my mouse to go to the next image in an album, I can't use it to go to the previous one - I wonder how annoying this is on an iPad, where keyboard-arrow scrolling really isn't an option.

Facebook and Google are the most popular websites in the world, so it's amazing how glitchy they can be (a couple months ago on Facebook, a post on my wall disappeared for a few days and then reappeared with the correct timestamp and all) and how silly their changes often are. Google, for example, recently altered its Search so that, if you enter a term on the basic Web engine and then switch to the News tab, you have to reenter the term, whereas it used to carry over automatically, letting you pursue your query in whatever area you liked; now, your input will remain when you switch to certain tabs (Images, Blogs, Books), while others, like Maps, will randomly force you start anew.

Yet Google Search, obviously, is necessary, and Facebook, too, has come to seem necessary to me. I find myself glancing at my News Feed more often than I should - when I'm writing, I do it once every 10 seconds or so. This, despite being very common, is sort of weird, since I've never, ever seen anything on my News Feed that I would call "interesting."

My theory is that the pleasure - or whatever it is - that we get from our News Feeds is the same pleasure we get from "small talk" in real life.

How much of our lives have we spent making empty conversation with people at parties, people at bars, people on elevators? It serves a purpose sometimes - to squash an uncomfortable silence, or to announce our good intentions at the start of a necessary social encounter - but just as often it's completely gratuitous, and we do it anyway. In the same way, I suppose, that in a room full of objects, we'll occasionally reach out and touch one: even though we already know how it'll feel, we want to make sure that it's really there.

At the moment, I have a part-time job at a movie theater, and sometimes, when business is slow at the snack counter, customers will come up to me and start talking about movies, or something else, or nothing much. I kind of enjoy this, but some of my coworkers abhor it: why would they be interested in the useless chatter of strangers?

I think I envy these coworkers for their logical, unlonely core, their unsentimental feeling that, in situations where meaningful human connections are impossible to make, we needn't clutter the air with compensatory, inconsequential verbal interactions.

These are the same people, I think, who mock trivial Status Updates and Tweets: why would anyone care about this stuff?

In the past, I believed I myself possessed such an attitude; now, as I read and reread my News Feed, I know I don't. Don't those situations - the ones where meaningful contact is somehow impossible - constitute nearly the whole of life? Aren't most people, in some essential way, unreachable anyway? Facebook populates the world for us - not with what we want, maybe, but with what's really there. When you're alone, you can reach out and touch a hundred inanities.

Tagged: Gen Y, generation y