The existential network

By Eddie Hand

Courtesy academic.scranton.edu
Courtesy academic.scranton.edu
Daniela just got back from drill. She’d been there since Friday. Several of her friends told her they missed her and she was excited to be home. Kristen was in San Diego from Thursday till Tuesday. Her nose got sunburned. Blake dropped his phone in a margarita, and now he needs a new one. June lost her phone too. So did Chris. I have to look up Chris to figure out how I know him; I know eight Chris’s.

I can’t remember the last time I talked to these people, yet I know where they are going to be and what they’ve been doing.

I know this because Facebook knows this. If you don’t have one at this point, you’re either lying or within my dad’s age group. My mom has one. My sister’s dog has one. There are pages for everything from fictional characters to pickles.

The first thing you do when someone becomes your Facebook friend is scout out their information section. What are their interests? What music do they like? Are they in a relationship? This information is important. Sometimes this is a person you met in a class. Maybe it’s a girl from a party. Maybe it’s someone you went to grade school with; on a much rarer occasion, it’s someone you have a real relationship with.

Brad came out of the closet. So did Ron. How do I know them again?

I have 527 friends. I know all of them but I have regular interaction with maybe 50 of them at most. On Facebook, you get something called the “live feed,” which gives you updates of what other people are doing. If anybody does anything, Facebook will tell you.

Facebook encourages stalking.

It doesn’t make a difference to me whether or not Morgan goes to the frat party tonight -she hasn’t decided – and I really don’t care that Nick has changed his interests – he’s become a fan of ACDC. I haven’t spoken to these people since high school. I don’t really know these people, but I’m not going to delete them off my friend list. I don’t want to lose touch with them.

Debbie just became a fan of “Overweight Cats.” I don’t need to know this, but I am procrastinating, and this is like watching a reality show with a cast of hundreds. I can pick and choose who I’m following. This is legitimate entertainment.

Maddy and Ashley just became friends. I momentarily wonder how they know each other.

Facebook is a lot like reality TV. This means no one on Facebook is real, just figments of collective perspective. If someone goes to a party and pictures get taken of them drinking, the pictures will be uploaded because the person wants the world to see what an outgoing fun lover they are, or they will remain private. Sharing this information is based entirely on how the potential subject believes viewers will react to them. On “American Idol,” the contestants pick their styles and reveal traits about themselves in the exact same way. It’s real, but it isn’t; it’s selective reality.

Self presentation is a basic part of being human. We want other people to see us in a good light and we change the way we behave in different groups to accomplish this. I’ll act one way around the guys and another with my mother. Facebook levels the playing field. It’s a place where all of these people you know, all of these different circumstances, overlap.

What do you do? Do you censor yourself? Is it a glorified cyber-rolodex? Or do you just say “screw it” and write whatever you want?

On my profile, I list “Venture Brothers,” “King of the Hill” and “Blind Date” as my favorite shows. I neglect to mention any of the Japanese animation I like because there’s a certain conception of what its viewers are like and I don’t want that to be the first impression people have of me. The alternative is to remain anonymous, but I like people knowing things about me. I like the appearance of being cool. Who doesn’t? It’s not like I’m lying, I really do like all those shows; I’m just being selective.

If you don’t think this is important, you’re wrong. People are going to judge you based on what you reveal. They won’t know you any better than a stranger on a plane, but they’re still going to come away with an impression.

For all of its flaws and all of its weirdness, it’s still a great networking tool. Just remember that, for better or worse, Facebook is all show.

Edward Hand is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]