The Social Network is a strange and elusive film. I am still processing it. Like Sorkin and Fincher, I am fascinated by Facebook and I refuse to sigh about it saying: what is the internet doing to our good-old, private, human existence. The movie gives out clues about the peculiarity of Facebook: we don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it can be. We only know that it is cool. Zuckerberg imagines that the quality of sociality that creates tiny barriers everytime it trickles through brick and mortar of society, will pull folks towards Facebook. You can’t get anywhere if no one adds you as a friend. This is not very difficult. Chances are the guy who lives down the hall from you, and says a shy hi every morning, will accept you as a friend. Even though you hardly know him. And this is where sociality starts, the acknowledgement of two beings having a tiny, tiny intersection in respective social worlds. If he is clever, he will put you in his list of Limited Profiles. So you can see his wall, but not his photos, or something like that. If he is even cleverer and Facebook-savvy, he will have carefully tailored levels of technological distance to apply on you, depending on how he grades the social distance between the two of you.
If he is a very private person, he will probably not have a Wall. Then you will know, he is an aloof kinda guy. If he changes his profile photo too often, you will know he is a bit attention-seeking. If he has too many sepia photos of forgotten monuments, he is the artsy guy who is kind of not yet got There. If he has too many party photos, and he pouts in a coupla those, he might be… you know… So Facebook does something very efficient – it offers you a text to read about a person whose interiority is not readily available to you, like you read the plaque in front of a charming heap of historic ruins. It’s not good enough to just be charmed right? You’ve got to know what the ruins were about – you can’t go home merely being charmed. A Facebook profile is a quick-n-dirty window into what a person wants the world to see them as. With cracks in it. Through which often Facebook betrays what the person seeks to hide.
Trouble is - which one of us is really, truly private. We secretly enjoy texts circulating about us in the real world- gossip, folklore, blurbs, praise, criticism. We couldn’t just be. If we wanted to just be, we’d like it, if in our absence, a friend said: she just wants to be. The discourse is important to us. Facebook simply offers an attractive portal in which to generate that discourse. Zuckerberg says in the movie: People want to see their friends on the internet. If only snazzy pictures would satisfy us, we would be content with celebrity gossip blogs. But we want stories about a real, identifiable person. With whom, then we can get our own stories. Even if the connection consists only of a hall-smile. The elaborate privacy apparatus that Facebook offers is testimony to the fact that it’s crucial that the being of private be performed in public. The public viewing of one’s walled off quarters in FB, with a keyhole view in, or nook or a crevice - is crucial to the making of Facebook personalities. Much like being on a chat portal, and having a busy or do-not-disturb status message. My fear is with all this text, is simply that things are getting too literal. Soon enough, we might forget how to read subtle social messages. Or start being offended at people for not liking our posts often enough. And maybe, such like-angsts will become normal at some point, and I will fall in, or become obsolete.
What remains is the generation argument. That Facebook is for Generation Why. Not for those that live sociality out of old family photo albums. Mothers and fathers, often, write on their kids’ walls, in an anxious attempt to become ‘friends’ with their offspring, who are oceans away, and threatening to drift apart. I know of middle-aged housewives who check their cool friends’ holiday photos daily. Are they obsessive stalkers? Well, that is one explanation. The other simply being that they are very very lonely – not for want of real human relationships, but for being left out of the speed-wars of our time, and entrapped in lives of pitifully slow pace.
Pace is a frighteningly seductive thing. Even as comments fly back and forth on every bad movie and murky political move. The remarkably original matt-blue livens up on your screen, in an inebriation of pace, every other week, as it asks you to define your social place, and then re-define it in a week, and then again, and then again.
November 2, 2010
A friend mentioned, in a somewhat provoked and inebriated moment the other day, that most men don't really seem to like the women they are with - they are somewhat carrying along, hmm-ing and hawww-ing. I protested saying I felt loved and cherished. After a while, with the influence of intoxicants having worn off, i thought of the marketplace of sexual and emotional production and consumption. And felt, maybe Jim Scott and E. P. Thompson's 'moral economy' is being nicely practiced in the cliches of 'girls who are finding partners very quickly to seal the deal'. The market offers a range of possibility for those who enter the market historically equipped with stranger-sociability, cosmopolitanism and sex drive. Women complaining about men staring at them on crossroads, making cheesy conversations and wearing tight sweaters betraying their considerable bellies - are all talking about a market. Where they control natural resources, mass communication mechanisms, bureaucracies. The level-playing field is, hence, level on their side. And then they get eyebags and love-handles and the economic recession comes around and they want 'security'. The 'moral economy' is here evoked. Resource base to be protected for survival, and older indulgences of flourish to be abandoned. Much like the farmer's risk-hedging techniques. Profit-motive substituted for survival-motive. A pot belly with a secure credit card, and regularly rationed affection is traded for an eyepatch and a canoe and a talking parrot. Self-interest governing both scenarios. Sombre morality chanted in the latter ritual, guffawing drunkenness of power in the former. And the talking parrot dies, and along with him the ironic testimony to games of love.