Posted by: fullandbye | May 10, 2010

the captives

Is it bad that I use this blog to publicly ponder random things going on in my head as much or more than I use it to provide a glimpse into the exotic and titillating life of a Peace Corps volunteer? I promise I will write more about Jamaica. But right now I want to post a thought about social media sites.

A recent slew of wall posts on my facebook account led a friend to observe that we now have the choice to either reveal almost nothing to acquaintances, or to reveal a whole lot more than perhaps should be revealed in one fell swoop with people we are just getting to know.

It is an interesting point. On the one hand, I doubt if my close friends could learn much by poring over the details of my facebook profile. But I also frequently “friend” people who I have just met but who I very much want to stay in contact with. In a few minutes examining my facebook profile, these people can learn lots of trivial things about me, and a handful of not trivial things about me. Before facebook, these trivial and non trivial things used to be revealed to a new friend slowly through the process of dialogue and mutual inquiry.

I guess the question is whether or not this really matters. I think it does. For all the poo-pooing that smalltalk gets, I think that smalltalk is actually kind of important in the process of making friends: You meet someone, you smalltalk. After you smalltalk a little, you move into bigger and more substantive topics of conversation, and after you know someone a while longer you might feel comfortable getting into the lengthy sorts of dialogues that reveal some really complex facet of your being. Isn’t this the process of making friends? I wonder if we interact with people differently now that we can largely circumvent that process of discovery. I no longer need to engage in a series of conversations with a new friend to discover what their taste in music or art is, or how they like to spend their freetime, or even how they feel about divisive political issues. Shit, I can even see if they are married, single, or in an “it’s complicated” situation.

In speaking with this friend it dawned upon me that maybe we have lost something really valuable to facebook. Have we lost the process of discovery? Have we lost an essential element of the process of making friends? I am reminded of the series of scupltures in the Michaelangelo museum in Florence. As you approach the statue of “David”, on either side of the corridor are some studies that Michaelangelo never finished. They are haunting and beautiful, these forms forever trapped in the marble. But isn’t the process of making a friend in large part the process of mutually chipping away at each other’s exteriors until you reveal and let yourself be revealed? Isn’t this what dialogue is, really? And isn’t dialogue the root of friendship?

I worry that facebook has made public identity too cartesian, too reductionistic. There is really nothing on my facebook that I consider very private at all, but I still think that something of human interaction is lost when we can get by with learning the details of someones life through an itemized list without going through the process of asking questions and exchanging bits of information to reveal the form underneath the formless exterior.


  1. i agree. a lot. facebook (and the internet, in general) is a riskless venture into faux-relationships.

  2. I don't know if the relationships are faux-relationships. I need to cull my facebook friend list (there are a handful of people on there I would have a rough time picking out of a lineup) but for the most part, I would say that I have some sort of relationship with pretty much everyone in my friends list. The problem is when I start to think of what sort of relationship I have with them. People I took a class with 5 years ago can look at my profile and learn more trivial details about me in ten minutes than they learned in ten weeks of class together. Does this make them know me better? Do these details matter? I brought up the statues comparison because in a way I think that any little bit of information we post on our facebook profile is like one little facet of the statue of ourselves we present to the world. But statues are not beings. They are objects. It takes almost zero effort to post some random fact about myself on FB, so anything that I present in that medium is risk-free and is therefore window dressing. When it comes down to it, who we are and what we believe can only be measured against the risk and the effort required to externalize those beliefs and this requires action and encounter and engagement. Not just window dressing. Statues can be lovely. But they are still window dressing. I think that the danger with FB is not that we skip the process of carving understanding of mutual identity (making friends) because we all present ourselves as statues for all to see, but rather that we might come to see each other and ourselves as statues rather than as beings. Now I am thinking about the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. I might write another blog post, but I don't really want to go into some huge diatribe about renaissance art and classical mythology. This blog has become pedantic enough.

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