keyholeye.jpgFacebook. It’s gone from noun to verb – as in “I facebooked him” — in record time, even faster than “google” became an action, not just a search engine.  

I resisted facebook for a long time but finally gave in when a friend asked why, if I’m blogging about my life, would I be hesitant about revealing myself on facebook. Which is not an unreasonable question.

Now, a short month later, I’m hooked. It’s a socially sanctioned peep-show: everyone becomes a voyeur, seeing only tiny slices of other lives – lives that we might not interact with in any other way, outside of the facebook fishbowl.

We all know the facebook lore about rediscovering friends from elementary school, re-connecting with ex-lovers, tracking down once-close friends who moved away… All these people can become “friends” on facebook and we see them in the photos they post at parties on the other side of the country with friends we don’t know and will probably never meet; or we get cryptic status reports (so-and-so thinks the tattoo hurts, for example; or such-and-such thinks the mullet was a mistake).  Unless these people are friends in real life, rather than just virtual life, we may never know what the tattoo looks like (or if the pain is caused by someone else’s hideous tat); we may never see the offensive mullet (which is probably okay, given that no one can wear a mullet well).

I can’t even imagine what facebook does to someone who is 14, 15, 16, 17…reams of ink (both real and virtual) have been spilled trying to explore and explain the implications of growing up online – I know that my students are IMing (another lightning swift noun-to-verb shift) constantly, and updating their FB status equally often, with almost laughable results: Jane is walking to class, Jane is in class, Jane is bored by class, Jane is not taking notes, Jane IS taking notes, Jane is… well, let’s just say that occasionally Jane is busted by a facebooking professor, but that’s a story for another day. Sometimes, kids, those privacy settings DON’T WORK.

What will happen to the generation growing up with the belief that everyone is interested in their every breath, every thought, every action? Facebook sort of reinforces that childhood narcissim: on facebook, it seems as if you ARE, in fact, at the center of the universe. Will this generation ever be disabused of that fact? What’s going to happen to us, their doddering parents? Will our facebook friends take care of us in our dotage, when our digital children can’t be bothered, when we’re drooling with alzheimer’s and want to update our status – but can’t remember what it is? I shudder to think.

But in the meantime, given that I’ve got at least a few years before I have to throw myself on the mercy of my digitally hyper-literate children, I amuse myself with The Lists.

If you’re on facebook, you’ve probably gotten at least one of these lists, these compilations of twenty-five random things about someone’s life, and if you’re like me, you find them weirdly compelling reading.  When I was first “tagged” by one of these list-makers and told that I was supposed to now make my own list, I resisted. Too public. Too much information (Yeah, yeah, see above on “but don’t you write a blog? so who the hell are you to talk about too public?” What can I say. It felt weird to make a list).

Then Jeanellen explained that I could make the list but screen who gets to see it. (There’s your shout-out, Jeanellen!) So I made a list, tagged other readers, and kept reading lists.

Now the first question I have about these facebook lists – and other facebook fads – is where do they start? Is there some omphalos of faddism somewhere, buried in a bunker in Golden, Colorado near a missile silo? Some cackling mad scientist sitting in front of a mammoth computer screen, sending out “lil’ green patches” and “shite gifts for academics” and “bumper-stickers” and other assorted facebook crap?

The second question I have, about these lists in particular, is why I find them so fascinating.  It’s that peep-show analogy again: when you watch a peep-show, the fiction is that the person you’re watching doesn’t know you’re watching – but of course, it’s a performance, and the performer knows exactly what you’re doing. So The Lists are intimate – private oddities and quirks – and yet not at
all intimate, because they’re shared with at least twenty-five people and probably more. 

What would a future world think of these lists, if they were saved and shoved into a time capsule? According to my non-scientific sampling, we are a society who loves porn, play-doh, pedicures, our partners if we’ve got ’em (or at least, we feel compelled by the public list to say that we love them), stupid television, pets and children (in about equal measure), food, sports, books, Barack, and that very few of us grew up to be what we wanted to be when we were children.

I don’t know – does that seem representative of a certain swath of US culture? Will these lists of random things become the 21st century version of The Pillow Book, a wonderful collection of lists and observations written by a 10th century Japanese woman? Among her lists are “items that give a clean feeling: the inside of a copper bowl…” and “things that are beautiful: cherry blossoms, a new kimono…”

Who knows – maybe all this facebookin’ (sung to the same tune as that old song, “barefootin'”) does bring us closer together and that as a result we’ll become a more tolerant and compassionate society. Or maybe it’s going to make us all unable to communicate in any face-to-face fashion: after all, it’s really easy to delete people from your “friends” list and you never have to say a word. Just click and poof! it’s all over between you, with nary a word of confrontation or explanation needed. Are we really friends with all these “friends”? What if you had a party for your facebook friends and…no one showed up?

These are big questions for the digital age, my friends, and I’d love to ponder further. But I just got a pop-up that there’s a new facebook message waiting for me – another List beckons.

And no. I will not include my own list here. Too public. But if you friend me, maybe I’ll share.