Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saving Face

A friend's fondness for Facebook--which I summarily sniffed at in a post a week ago--prompts me to reflect again. If the modality were good for nothing else at all, it is a superb email directory, and I've enjoyed hearing from all kinds of people I hadn't seen in years (in terms of getting looked up, it doesn't hurt to have a first/last name combination that is unique in the world so far as I've been able to discover--thanks Mom and Dad).

The weakness of Facebook as I see it comprises the Friend system and the way it complicates, despite controls, natural impulses to compartmentalize and modulate contact. If a delight of Facebook is hearing from old acquaintances, a downside is...hearing from old acquaintances; after all, there will always be some one is pleased to hear from, whereas in the case of others...not so much. After all, high school reunions happen only every five to ten years for a reason.

Obviously countless people have noted the way in which the Friend system encourages lame popularity contests, such that one would hardly turn down an offer of "Friendship" if the name were recognizable and not a subject of frank enmity. But in my case, it seems that the frequency and interest of posts by "Friends" is inversely proportional to the actual quality of real-life friendship. With an exception or two, the people I'm close to rarely post (if they have something to say, they'll call or email), whereas a relative by marriage (for now) posts countless quasi-delusional anti-Obama posts daily, and people I haven't seen in a quarter century keep me up-to-date on their momentary experiences.

And once someone is a "Friend," it seems a bit over-the-top to Unfriend him unless some specific or alienating incident has occurred. I haven't tried the Blocking feature yet--is this really distinct from Unfriending, and is it really unknown to the "victim?" Only a consummate snob, I'm sure, would amass vast numbers of "Friends" only to block all but those he really wanted to keep in touch with.

In a great Seinfeld episode George becomes distraught when his "worlds collide," that is, the parallel realities of friends and girlfriend commingle, blowing his mind. Facebook is like assembling all your friends and family over a lifetime in one great room, which sounds charming, except that it would be dreadful. Most of these people would have nothing in common apart from having known you, and would have nothing to say to one another (and in many cases, not so much to say to you either).

I think Facebook is great for keeping up with family pictures and major life events (some of which I won't be publicizing there however), and for my purposes, it would be enjoyable if there were a critical mass of actual friends who used Facebook enough to have stimulating discussions about politics or whatever. But beyond that it remains a curiosity.


Anonymous said...

Exactly what weddings are like: a pot pourri of decidely unaromatic tensions and confluences existing for the mere random fact of two decidely magnetised individuals spinning in delirious tandem with one another creating a whirlwind of centrifigal forces that produce an awkward stratification of uncoordinatable kin and friends, along with the obligatory unavoidable scum which tends to rise to the surface of such occasions.

Actually, your analogy of Facebook as a lifetime worth of friends and family in one great room reminds of one imagined afterlife described by David Eagleman in his great collection of tiny fictions 'Forty Tales From The Afterlives': the afterlife is populated by all the people you've ever encountered and remember in life - significant and insignificant; so it's as empty/full/inane/fulfulling/dull/exceptional as your actual life was...what an idea!

fraise said...

Yes, blocking is very distinct from unfriending. When you unfriend someone, your "link" is cut but you can still see each other everywhere, and a friend request can always be remade. Whereas if you block someone, neither of you will see anything at all about each other. And yes, it is really invisible to the person blocked. How are they going to know you're blocking them if they can't even see your existence on Facebook? :) It was designed for the situations of stalkers and abusive types -- it's not something meant "just" for someone you want to avoid. (Why is it that you don't mention that possibility and only talk about an immature situation of snobs blocking people?)

I guess I'm lucky in that I do have a critical mass of friends who carry on stimulating discussions regularly, it's really enjoyable. As a matter of fact, friends from different circles *have* interacted with one another, and positively.

Anonymous said...

Another option is simply to "hide" the status updates of the friends that post too often for your tastes. You can do that by clicking the link to the right of each status update on your home page. This is also a private situation somewhat akin to choosing to screen your calls. It will not remove or block your friend, just hide their status updates from your stream.

Don't want to know what your sister in law ate for breakfast...and lunch...and dinner? Hide her updates.

Anonymous said...

I have felt it's always as if one
were going to a frat party 40 years
after ones college days.
In any event I stay on FB as we have several artists in my field with the same name as me,something on the web has to separate our work to the masses and in a seconds flash one
sees my work and not of my namemates.