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Love and Friendship in the Age of Facebook

Love and Friendship in the Age of Facebook

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Published by Lethe
On the surface, Facebook is a narcissistic distraction from daily life. It provides a cross between the mindless absorption of the TV set and the obsessive self-involvement of the bathroom mirror. It also provides a voyeur with enough material to last a lifetime. The minutia of status updates, pictures, videos, top ten lists, interest groups, invitations, and games, this is the white noise of Facebook constantly buzzing; a social hive for restless young (and mid-life) Americans to retreat to; a place where, at least momentarily, we feel less alone and more connected.

On the surface, Facebook is a narcissistic distraction from daily life. It provides a cross between the mindless absorption of the TV set and the obsessive self-involvement of the bathroom mirror. It also provides a voyeur with enough material to last a lifetime. The minutia of status updates, pictures, videos, top ten lists, interest groups, invitations, and games, this is the white noise of Facebook constantly buzzing; a social hive for restless young (and mid-life) Americans to retreat to; a place where, at least momentarily, we feel less alone and more connected.

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Published by: Lethe on Mar 26, 2009
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07/28/2010

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I’ve been on Facebook for a little over five years
. I joined whenyou had to be part of a college network, although at the time I was outof college. I joined the nearest college network to my town, IllinoisState University, using a friend’s email address. My friend happened tobe a professor and graduate student at ISU.For a couple days, I seemed to enjoy the privilege of having access tothousands of coed profiles. I was single, living in a college town, andthe technology of Facebook lured me into the fantasy that if I couldchat with these college girls then maybe they would want to go outwith me. After all, I wasn’t that old—just four years out of college.But this misuse of social technology was bound to catch up with me. Inless than two weeks, some of the students in my friend’s class wereasking him why he was “poking” them, a feature on Facebook thatinvites the multiple connotations of flirting, getting someone’sattention, and an overt sexual act.More than once, my friend blushed in front of his freshman classes.“You’re on Facebook,” his students announced. “What? No, I’m not,” hereplied.Suffice it to say I’d been conducting my nefarious social mingling underhis real name. That night he gave me direct instructions to take hisname off the profile. He said he could lose his job if the English facultythought he was flirting with undergraduates.After a couple pointless dates with college coeds, I gave up thepathetic and futile quest to find love (or something like it) overFacebook’s channels. I went on a Facebook hiatus and lived in the realworld, oblivious to the improvements and expansions in socialtechnology. Meanwhile Facebook was opening up its doors tocompanies, organizations, the United States as a whole, and finally,most of Europe and Asia.I’m still part of the Illinois State University network, even though I’venever gone to school there. My connection to ISU is thus purelycoincidental. I’ve changed the email address and put my name on theaccount. I’ve chosen a pseudonym for my profile (because I’m a writerand I like pen names), but people can search for me under my realname. I’ve also dutifully filled in the blanks about myself, adding myfavorite bands, movies and television shows.
 
On the surface, Facebook is a narcissistic distraction from dailylife
. It provides a cross between the mindless absorption of the TV setand the obsessive self-involvement of the bathroom mirror. It alsoprovides a voyeur with enough material to last a lifetime. The minutiaof status updates, pictures, videos, top ten lists, interest groups,invitations, and games, this is the white noise of Facebook constantlybuzzing; a social hive for restless young (and mid-life) Americans toretreat to; a place where, at least momentarily, we feel less alone andmore connected.Over the years, the lost figures of my past, lovers, classmates,fraternity brothers, even downright enemies, have slowly accumulatedonto my friend list. From kindergarten on, these lost figures werecoming out of the cyber woodwork to greet me. My typical Facebookreunion is one of unanticipated glee or terror, depending on thememories and the length of the conversation.High school acquaintances, girls I befriended at summer camps, oldteachers, some of my parents’ friends and a couple odd relatives havefound their way to my profile; the friend list grows over time, formingan interesting social mosaic.Of course, these people are my friends only according to the looseFacebook taxonomy. Some of them I haven’t even met before. Someare in fact strangers. Others I’ve met and known for vast chunks of time, but honestly, I never really cared for them. And finally, a largegroup of my Facebook friends seem to fit the term, but only partially. Yes, we were once friends. But for last ten or fifteen years we haven’tsaid a word to each other much less knew the other person stillexisted.What about my real-life friends? Ironically, most of them are not onFacebook! They refuse the technology like children refusing treatmentin a dentist’s office.So I’m keeping up with a handful of people whom I call my “friends”and who fit the bill better than anyone else on the list. We’recommunicating to each other every five or six months on the weakestpossible thread—doing a sort of call and response to the most generalof questions, “How’s life?” or “What are you up to?”
I ask myself: Could I live without these exchanges?
Could I livewithout the photo updates? Do I really need to know what my ex-girlfriend’s husband looks like?
 
 This is not the past. Nor is it the present. It is the past interpenetratingthe present. The people I once knew in high school or college have onlya faint resemblance to their former selves. They may look the same,but there is something different about them. Marked by the passage of time, they are different people.I could never really know these people, could I? A sporadicconversation through a private message board can only yield so muchinformation. Nonetheless, I’m drawn to this virtual carnival of friendship as I indolently peruse the photo albums of old classmatesand acquaintances. Their personal pages tell me so very little and yetthat seems to be part of the fascination, the little colored fragmentshere and there which allow me to construct a fable of their separatelives. There is activity everywhere. The buzzing of status updates,comments, and wall posts gives the impression of life behind theprofiles. Located on my homepage, front and center, is the “friendfeed”, a social ticker tape that informs me of everyone’s doings. Newfriendships are announced, as are modifications to profiles and newphotos or videos.Facebook didn’t really make a difference to me until I actually met oneof these lost figures from my past. That is, I could have easily existedwithout the technology. It was an odd curiosity to glimpse through thephoto albums of my old classmates, but not a necessity for social well-being.After I broke up with my girlfriend, I found myself—once again—indolently browsing the pages of my “friend’s” profiles. One picture inparticular caught my attention—my childhood best friend, Brad Dolin,and another childhood friend, Emily Crement, are standing together ona gymnasium floor, smiling for the camera.

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