Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why I'm Agro Today: Facebook Edition...

Recently, Good Day LA (Fox 11's morning news in Los Angeles) reported a story that with the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, today's teenagers' attention spans are decreasing in length. The report cited the "instant gratification" of sites like Facebook for the fault here, much like how MTV and their fast-paced editing in music videos was blamed for a similar epidemic in the eighties and nineties. The reasoning here is that teenagers are spending inordinate amounts of time in front of their computer screens on such sites, opting to communicate through Wall posts and "Super Pokes" instead of natural, one-one-one, in-person interaction. Now, admittedly, Good Day LA's report seemed to be only looking for the negatives, but it definitely got me thinking: for as much as I'm on Facebook during the day, there are quite a few features to it that bug the hell out of me!

It has been quite a few years since I was a teenager, so I don't exactly fall into the demographic of those profiled on Good Day LA's report, but seeing as how when Facebook was first created, it was a social network for those in college (one had to use an email address at an accredited .edu in order to sign up for a profile, which I do admit is actually quite annoying for me now that I am years past graduation but still have to display on my profile, as well as use to log in, a now-defunct web address), this inundation of "kids" seems to be straying from Facebook's original purpose in general anyway. Now just about everyone and anyone (including some of my friends' parents! and some of my friends' kids!) have a profile and can connect to you through it. Even if you have your profile set to private, long-lost friends, exes, and family members (maybe ones you lost along the way on purpose) can enter your name into a search and click Add As A Friend. Suddenly you're faced with a dilemma: do you hit Ignore, because this is someone maybe you had no desire to ever see or talk to again, or do you choose Confirm and simply hope that granting them access to your profile is enough and they'll never actually message you or want anything more out of this new development to your "relationship?"

More often than not, though, once you add a new friend, you start to receive dozens of messages from said person who has "thrown a sheep at you," "challenged you to an 80s Movie" or "One Hint Wonder Music Lyric quiz" or requested you add the Lil' Green Patch application. And if you click ignore on those once, that is never the end of it, as your new "friend" will not get discouraged and instead just send the same message again a little later. There is a certain courage that the computer grants many people: hiding behind a screen allows them to say and do things that maybe they are too shy or tactful to do in person. Social etiquette does not really apply there!

There are degrees to friendship on Facebook. There are the people who you went to school with years and years ago and with whom you may have reconnected recently; Facebook, therefore, allows you to catch up whenever you deem fit, rather than waiting around for a five or ten or twenty year reunion to arise. There are the people you work with, and perhaps even your clients, creating a one-stop shop to send mass messages about what it is you're working on now (great for artists, writers, actors, etc). There are your close friends, who presumably you hang out with all of the time, and can be filtered into a "Top Friends" rating box on the side of your profile, if you're so inclined and exclusionary. There are even the celebrities-- though some profiles are obviously fake-- who you can stay up to date with simply by becoming their fan. Facebook allows instant access to just about anyone, though, which is paradise for a stalker but can be quite upsetting for the Average Joe who likes to keep his or her friends separate ("worlds are colliding!") and some other aspects private from everyone.

Facebook allows for as much privacy as you want, despite it being a very public forum. You can disable the Google Searchable function of your profile, and you never have to update your status with anything that you don't want people to know. But most people don't think that way: most people (or at least my FB "friends") update their statuses liberally, at least once or twice a day, creating a News Feed that is never ending and quite frankly not all that news worthy. I have to sift through tons of annoying "Jane is eating cereal for dinner" and then later "Jane's cereal did not fill her up-- is now looking for cookie dough" messages to get to the one or two "stories" that might actually interest me. In this way, Facebook statuses seem to have been the crash-test dummy to allow for Twitter, and really, that in and of itself is quite annoying!

Really, though, none of these less-than-perfect features are truly Facebook's fault but instead the fault of the Facebook users. After all, everyone has a choice to send a message instead of posting on a wall, but most opt to send their thoughts the public way, treating any subsequent commentary they are garnered from it as the tiniest amount of fame and validation that they, and what they have to say, matters. At least for a fleeting moment until a dozen new photos you have been tagged in flood your wall, bumping their comment to the very bottom. And don't even get me started on those tagged photos; sometimes we have days we want to forget, and our so-called "friends" decide to share them out in cyber space where Facebook can do whatever they want with them forever and in perpetuity!

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