Sunday, July 01, 2007

Away Isn't Always (or Big Ol' Glass House)


Before you read this somewhat guarded defense of Facebook, you might want to see how the concept goes astray, from time to time - the journalist in question is a good friend of mine and is greatly amused by the publicity, but children will be children (even if they're frat boys) so anyone approaching Facebook should beware; for some, High School (or even Grade School) never quite ends...


I don't want to dislike Post Secret. According to its founder, it was never intended to be the notes-left-in-your-locker-free-floating-pity-party that it's become, but was originally something along the lines of installation art; an exhibition of secrets told through a visual medium given to brevity. I can buy the concept as an artistic statement of one kind or another. And founder Frank Warren supports the HopeLine suicide prevention hotline in the US, which strikes me as good, humane, and genuinely needed.

That said, three minutes on Post Secret makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I start to feel dirty at the level of self-indulgence in that kind of concentrated peek-a-boo-confession. I cringe in the same way that I'll tune out the blubbering drunk at the party once I've been able to guess what topic they're going to bring up next. And if you want to point out the glass house I'm living in while keeping a blog and whipping rocks at Post Secret types, be my guest, I suppose I've got it coming. Gotta learn to live with what you can't rise above.

There's a level of juvenille one-upmanship in the cards that multiplies through the kind of crowds who really want to see their card on Post Secret and would never have considered that level of introspection before. Somebody blurting out 'I can be more brusque and ironic than that in a heartbeat,' while pulling out the sharpie and cutting out photos from back issues of Maxim.

The postcard-conceit has been lept upon by those who consider a pithy t-shirt or bumper sticker to be legitimate and thoughtful discourse, that it's alright to write 'Life Sucks' on a postcard and call it art, confession, statement and examination/explanation of self. For my part, I prefer to read a few paragraphs pointing out the details of why the aforementioned life has reached a vacuum, it's more engaging than a shrug and a sulk.

I visit Post Secret and feel that it's eating itself, a haven for people who say things like I'm not afraid to bare my soul and show my ass in public if it gets things done, to which I am compelled to reply Yeah, but what if it's just because you like to show everyone your ass? Is that a factor?Hmm? And why aren't you speaking to me anymore...?
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Let me shine up the windows of my wee glass house from above and also confess that I don't - I really don't - want to like and enjoy Facebook, although I'm a faithful user. I consider it a different beast than Post Secret, although the shout-outs to the universe are not always unalike. I don't even know if I can write about it coherently, let alone explain it. Alice produced a far more concise and biting take than I could put together if I tried; "And yet somehow, despite my own complete disdain for this totally useless platform, I can't quite turn away."

In the end, Facebook is both an exhibit of one's self and yet another networking tool favoured by 14yr olds who are convinced their lives need to be documented (and lord knows I went that route at the time), or 40yr olds who want to see who remembers who and where and when. And if Post Secret is sitting through somebody else's bad day or being compelled to read their yearbook comments with an elbow pressed into your ribs saying "That's GREAT, isn't it?" than what the hell is Facebook, where you literally can find yearbook comments?

Perhaps I've got more patience for context, for the recognition of stories out of your contacts. It's a pretty low-impact form of conversation- you can literally leave it at the 'glad you're well' level or go have a cup of coffee and consider what you had in common back in the day (whether 'the day' is years ago or simply last season). I'm fascinated by the synapses that it triggers through its friends lists, even if the level of contact is literally just to say 'Hi, how's life?'

I've been lucky in that I genuinely like the people I've connected/reconnected with through Facebook. And if you want out of the pond, delete your membership when you've found enough people worth finding, or there's the block function (deeply blessed and already put into effect once or twice by me). It's all (for want of a much better word) kinda poetic. You offer up snippets of contact, description, context to the universe. Occasionally you get the snippets back. Take them or leave them from the safety of your CPU.

Facebook is somewhat anticeptic. It's low impact. It's often trivial and ridiculous. It appeals to base sentimental impulses at worst and overly-merchantile impulses at best. It features few redeeming qualities and contributes to the already shut-in nature of the computer age. It lets you know that somebody's out there and they'd like to chat. It's a time waster of epic proportions. On top of all this, it's a lot of fun when you find the right groove. I highly recommend it.

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