Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who will write the Book of Face?

A wise friend of mine once pondered the idea of writing a book about Instant Messenger conversations. It would cover the do's and don'ts, the pitfalls and the conveniences of rapid, typed communication. Alas, this friend has yet to complete this work. And it's probably out there in some form of another.

That's moot. What I need some clarification on Facebook.

Ever heard of it?

That site is my social portal to people I know very well, people I should know better, people I knew way back when and some I've never heard of before. Because of Facebook, I can tell if some random person from high school is married or what job he/she has or where he/she lives and whether he/she is depressed or happy. I can tell what kind of Dunkin' Donuts product he/she purchased that morning. I can know if "Life sux." It's the classifieds of my social circle. Heck, I find out stuff about my own family through Facebook.

Of course, many old farts have pondered this phenomenon at the New York Times or The Economist. How will Facebook and other social websites affect society and the way people interact blah blah blah. As an old fart myself, I figure I should chime in. I work for a huge media conglomerate, too. Here are some important questions/critiques/complaints/random observations.

1. Birthday wishes: This is a tricky one. Essentially, what's the cut off period for wishing happy birthday to someone you haven't seen in a long time? A year? Five years? Will I come off as creepy for wishing someone a happy birthday if the Spice Girls were popular the last time we spoke to each other?

Also, I feel a certain pressure to come up with something witty. The person's wall will be littered with "Happy Birthday!" messages and you know I just can't be like any ordinary schlub. So I'll make an age joke. Maybe a sex joke. Something different. It takes work though. It really does.

2. Status comments: What's more pathetic? 1. Someone who posts a comment on a certain person's every status message/note/link. 2. That I notice when someone posts on everything even if they're not commenting on mine? To protect the innocent, I won't use names, but I noticed the above a few weeks ago and it started to grate on me. Every time I scrolled through the news feed, I saw this one person commenting on everything.

Some people are Facebook-aholics. They post 15 status messages a day and comment on 15,000 others. I, for one, don't think we need the running commentary. Everything in moderation.

But am I a Facebook-aholic just for noticing this? Or does that just make me a keen observer of my surroundings? You decide.

3. Do I know you? I'll accept anyone who friends me. I have "friends" on Facebook from England -- people who thought I was the Steve Sears from Berkshire. I'm friends with people from high school who I never talked to, not once. I want as many friends as possible, OK?

When the "People You May Know" tool came out, I went through a few of them, but I always wondered, "Is this weird? I haven't seen X since 2001." I just couldn't stand the same three people in the toolbar at the side. Facebook was literally begging me to friend those people and I gave in. The people that are left now are either complete strangers or ones that I just can't justify friending because we spoke once during 10th grade Chemistry. There's one kid now who I thought was a complete jackass in high school. I won't friend him. Yet Facebook will dangle his face in front of me for all eternity.

The big question is: Where's the line between being a semi-stalker or just an old acquaintance looking to reconnect in a very superficial way?

4. Wahhhhh: Remember when Facebook redesigned a year or so ago? People howled about their privacy. They set up online petitions. What they didn't get is that THEY JOINED FACEBOOK. That's what the site's for, letting friends know what you're up to. If you want privacy, move to Wyoming and read books. When a free social site makes it easier to be social, I think holding a Internet Tea Party is an over-reaction.

I've seen some complaining about the new homepage, which doesn't seem much different that the old. Again, the site's free. No one forced you to join. Now go complain about more important things, like Julio Lugo being employed by a major league baseball team.

In conclusion, despite the over-abundance of applications and under-abundance of anything really important, Facebook is cool.

And someone should write a book about it.


  1. You mean you're not the Steve Sears from Berkshire?

    Facebook should - nay, must - be destroyed, for the betterment of mankind. Although I guess we're all going to have computers in our brains in like 10 years anyway, so I suppose the Good Book is helping us get ready for that grim day.

  2. From Wunderluster, dated January 10, 2008.

    "When I first moved to college in 2K1, I threw around a few revolutionary ideas, as one does at such an intellectual bastion as Northwester…I mean, Northeastern. One idea was a book about how we could really misunderstand tone and context in online convos – like Instant Messaging. Yeah, I am that smart. Get over it."

    Wait, is this where I say in a condescending pseudo-slacker voice "just sayin . . ."?

    Oh, wait, that's my cue.

    Just sayin . . .