Just this past week I signed up for a Facebook account. I’m perennially and purposefully behind on these things, mostly out of stubbornness. The account isn’t for me, but for a website I run that up until about three weeks ago was my main outlet. A promotional tool. Needless to say, I’m not looking up people I went to high school with.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is going to be one of those “Things are new and I don’t like them because they’re different from what I’m used to” rants, like I’m some dime-store Andy Rooney, sitting in front of my Mac bitching that it’s iTunes not Windows Media Player and calling it the downfall of society. That’s not what I’m after. The truth is, while I’m repelled by the idea of social networking, I’m also incredibly fascinated by it.
It all plays into the idea of the self as celebrity. I’ll give an example:
In the long ago days of yesteryear, you would see people at shows with cameras, and you knew those people were at the show to take pictures of the bands playing. They wanted to capture a moment in time on film and have it for posterity, maybe to develop and stick in a scrapbook, maybe just to leave lying around on their floor.
When you see someone with a camera at a show now, they’re taking pictures of themselves. “Remember that time we got drunk on eight-dollar Budweiser at that club? I’ve got pictures!” And the photos, inevitably, end up on some social network, be it Facebook, MySpace (which I’m convinced nobody uses anymore except bands), Twitter, or whathaveyou, like an advertisement for the active, wonderful life you’re leading posted in an ever-expanding cyberspace big enough to hold your unchecked ego.
Effectively what’s happening is the mythos once created for those we admired, the artists, musicians, actors, political figures, and so on, we’re creating now for ourselves. The self as celebrity. It’s all bullshit, of course, but it always was anyway, so the only thing that’s really changed is now the bullshit is about us. We’ve literally turned the cameras around.
And again, I’m not going to sit here and say this is the end of the world. People wanting to be famous, wanting to be known, wanting the blanket approval of their peers and of strangers, is nothing new. It’s just interesting. All that’s different is the means by which they get it. Do you “Like” this? Do you want to be this person’s “Friend?”
The basic fact of the matter is that if the world was going to end from this kind of crap, if it is—as the curmudgeonly contingent of social commentators would have you believe—the death-knell of American culture, it would have happened already. If American hypocrisy (and that’s really what we’re trying to “save”) can survive two World Wars, the sexual revolution and the loss of the Soviet threat, I think it can stand up to Facebook. And I don’t care what anyone tells you, no culture that puts Danny Trejo in a starring role as an ex-Federale hell-bent on revenge is dead. Man, Machete looks awesome.
You could make an argument that all this stuff distracts people from activity of real value: work, learning, charity, self-improvement of sundry kinds and shapes, but let’s be honest, if it wasn’t social networking, it would be something else. If I had a genuine interest in making myself a better person, I’d do it regardless of whether or not I had Friend Requests that needed a response. And so would you. Drinking and being lazy is easier and more fun. Life is short.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be wanted. Actually, scratch that. I think it’s weak, but I think we’re all weak in the same way, which if nothing else, helps unite us as a species. As Facebook inevitably gives way to the next thing (anyone seen Diaspora yet?), that’s not going to change, and while I might not be interested in that brand of socializing—or most others—the central impulse is there in everyone. To deny it is to be either foolish or a liar.
So yeah, I’ll do the Facebook thing for a while and take it for all it’s worth to me, then slowly, sluggishly, move onto whatever comes after. But I’ll also keep the camera pointed the other way, knowing some mugs are best left unadvertised.
OMG LOLZ and so forth,