more facebook thoughts – part one

Very recently i’ve come to more conclusions about the use of facebook, both my usage of it and the site overall.

When i first joined, i had a healthy degree of skepticism as to what it was all about and what sort of people i wanted to have access to the information that i posted on it. At some point, i changed that philosophy and started allowing everyone and anyone to be my facebook friend regardless of their context to see what sort of effect that would have on me and the sort of interactions i have and people have with me.

What i think i’ve discovered after now having over 600 friends and two or so years of facebook interactions is that the interaction level on facebook feels like the equivalent of “people window shopping”. In my head i break it down into some rough subcategories: on the first tier, you’re skimming past someone’s status update or quiz result and while you may acknowledge that that stuff has passed by, once it passes by you don’t give it another thought. On the second tier, you may “glance at something interesting in the window” because a particular status or photo or whatnot catches your eye. And that might spurn a “like” or a comment or something similar. On the third tier, you may actually “walk into the store” either because something resonates with you or the person that posts it may be close enough to you as an actual Friend that it warrants you becoming more invested in it.

The analogy is far from perfect, but it hits upon my main point which is that in all of that process in shopping, you’re not actually committing yourself to anything concrete, you’re not making an actual purchase. Facebook equivalent interactions can seem to me to be similarly unreal, usually nothing more than a sophisticated version of giving a passing “hello” when you see a stranger or a casual friend on the street, or judging an entire song by the iTunes 20 second preview before you buy. Not that more meaningful interactions or friendships *can’t* exist on facebook, but the facebook paradigm doesn’t lend itself to doing that very well; most deeper level interactions on facebook happen outside of the facebook context.

Compare this to Livejournal or blogging networks in general where there are several people who i met first on livejournal and can now state “i love you” to even though i still have yet to meet some of them in person, how many people i care about enough that i would drop anything to help them out if they needed me.

Not that this is anything mind-blowingly new. My previous facebook ramblings concluded no differently that facebook functions merely as a touchpoint of greater human interaction rather than be the end of it. But the degree of that mentality needs to be retracted some, because my criticism of facebook and my promotion of livejournal is too black and white. Livejournal serves as a better tool for getting into someone’s head, but a) an LJer may decide to not treat it that way because even behind a friends lock, a journal can be too public, and b) with as many people and communities that i try to keep up with on a daily basis, i fall victim to skimming through entries as opposed to properly reading them which turns any potential deeper level interaction into nothing different than a facebook interaction.

On the flipside of this, i have to also acknowledge in facebook’s defense that depending on the user, a continual flurry of status updates/commentary/notes can give you at least enough of a surface-level bigger picture of what a person is to have the potential (if all parties are willing) to be that spark that leads to a deeper level of interaction that could turn into something more meaningful and permanent. I never would have imagined that there i would meet people on facebook that i would learn to care about in the way that i care about people, and while it’s rare, it’s definitely present.

All of this introspection leads to to a more established stabilization to my particular approach to facebook both as an observer and a contributor. A lot of it has to do with shaping my use of facebook in a way that best serves my purpose, and keeping perspective about what sorts of interactions hold what degree of value.

From an observer perspective, what this means is that i do my best to minimize the amount of pollution and unnecessary distraction that facebook offers and focus my energies on the aspects of facebook that are important to me. So i use no applications other than photos and notes; occasionally the Biggest Brain and Prolific out of nostalgia. I never turn on facebook chat because i stopped IMing a long time ago and have no desire to ever return to it with a few notable exceptions.

In reality, what i care about the most is status updates (and to a lesser degree photos and notes), and in this regard, the newest facebook app on the iPhone shines over because unlike, you can filter the news feed on the iPhone app to show just status updates and nothing else with no effort or complicated app blocking, &c.

Granted, the problem that can arise with status updates is that i as an observer don’t control how people choose to use status updates, and thus i can get a lot of information that i don’t want. What i care about the most has more to do with what the actual People are about, whether it’s their daily life stuff or what goes through their head. What i don’t care about is getting a sports update or a celebrity update or other similar sorts of things that i could get on my own if i wanted to. Not that i don’t appreciate the enthusiasm because there are certain things that i can get that Fandom about, but once i understand someone’s enthusiasm for it once or twice which adds to the picture of who they are, i’m not interested in it anymore unless there’s something more personal about it (such as photos of going to see the game live or a unique perspective).

Additionally, celebrity gossip/lives is something i care nothing about and used to stay blissfully ignorant of, but facebook has now made that pretty impossible. Very recently there seemed to be some sort of controversy surrounding Kanye West and the VMA awards (ATM machine? TUMB Marching Band?). I have no idea what actually happened (nor do i care to know), but it still bothers me that i know about it at all due to facebook statuses being a conduit for public reaction.

But i take the bad with the good and i can’t begrudge individuals for using their facebook in this way because it’s stuff that they care about or feel like reacting to, and that’s exactly what facebook is designed for. And so long as i have a medium in which i can get some bigger picture of what some people are all about, that still has some value, yes?

The potential problem/danger with that comes out when we shift the discussion to me as a contributor versus an observer and brings back the surface-level bigger picture versus deeper-level bigger picture discussion. As i was recently thinking more about how i choose to divulge information on facebook, i realized how i generally attempt to filter what i post to have nothing to do with (for lack of a better term) my soul, not necessarily because of facebook itself, but because of just how public facebook is. I have potentailly over 600 people looking at the stuff i write on facebook and that ranges from acquaintances, peers, close friends, students, teachers, superiors, subordinates, both past and present and future. put that way, it’s obvious how stupid it is to share anything that i deem as Truly Personal, and as that realization became more clear, i made a recent conscious choice to filter my contributions to facebook even further, and not ever post anything that truly defines my inner self. I went so far as to remove my “relationship status” and my “political views” from my profile as a personal stance against that sort of information having any play in my facebook universe. That doesn’t mean that facebook puts out a false impression of who i am; what i post on facebook is still Me, but only a particular facet of me, one that i carefully control.

(Tangentially, coming to this realization made me think that this must be what celebrities feel like all of the time, and that gave me a small epiphany that maybe that’s a part of the facebook appeal; in a way, it makes everyone a celebrity in their own context, and is thus a platform for people to feel like they have a high degree of importance. Which isn’t necessarily untrue; that’s a discussion for a future post.)

Now, i say that this is a *potential* problem/danger because i feel that it only arises based on individual perception. Surely a majority of facebook users employ a similar philosophy to their facebook usage whether consciously or sub-consciously, so as long as people grok that and don’t misconstrue certain kinds of interactions or lack of interactions as having any Real Meaning, then there’s no problem, right?

Except that this then brings up another level of a discussion: a) how much more of that surface level interaction we’re exposed to versus the pre-myspace/facebook/twitter era, and b) the attitude that can arise from the support of the facebook paradigm that this level of interaction is enough to clear a moral social conscience.

more on that in part two.

originally posted on darkblog resonate. i prefer any commentary or thoughts there.

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