Wed, Nov 23, 2011 10:18 AM
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
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
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
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.