Love in the Time of Facebook

Posted: January 27, 2009 in dystopia, Jeff Holland, The Internet
Tags: , , , ,

internet-3Like most people, I’m on Facebook.

And like most people, I am frustrated by/wary of it, and also immediately suspicious of anyone who’s not on it.

The feature I enjoy most – the constant stream of updates – is also the one that makes me the most paranoid. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to it until I realized I knew a friend of mine had started a new job recently, without having spoken to her for months.

It’s like having a very limited ESP, based entirely on the things other people are willing to tell the massive fog (or series of tubes, if you will) of the internet about internet-2themselves.

Now, I have a pathetic memory, so ready access to a large database of basic information about my friends comes in handy. Particularly a database that emails me if I should know or be reminded of any notable changes or events in their lives.

Hell, half the time I know when people get new girlfriends as fast as I learn they’ve broken up with the old one. Without physically talking to anyone involved.

I don’t need to know anyone’s birthday anymore. Facebook texts it to my phone. And thanks to a recent phone upgrade, I’m now networked wherever I go. I send pictures directly from the phone to Facebook. I can use it to update Twitter, too.

The quasi-telepathy even extends to its rings: I know who’s calling before I ever pull the phone from my pocket, because I know what song represents them (for instance, I hear Warren Zevon howl out “Send Lawyers! Guns! And Money!” when Chris calls).

What’s wild: I’m connected via pretty rudimentary equipment (no iPhone just yet). A few years from now, this will all sound pretty antiquated. The next iteration of all of this will be more fluid, immediate, and instinctive. It will be a lot like having a secondary brain online, doing all the pesky data-searching/storage while my “onboard” brain takes care of the important stuff.

So what’s the downside to living with a secondary brain? Well…I am, by most accounts, a reasonably sane human being who can interact with the world online in a reasonable, sane way.

This is not always the case.

A few months back, a woman was arrested for digitally “murdering” her ex-husband on an online RPG, and I thought, “Well that’s what the future looks like, right there.” Our online lives are enough of an extension of our own reality that we can actually murder each other’s avatars – and face legal consequences.

 Of course reality, self-loathing bastard that it is, always needs to one-up itself, so eventually I heard about a man who killed his estranged wife when she changed internet-1her status to “single” on Facebook

 People – like, oh, say, the pope – decry social networks for limiting real human interaction, and woe is the state of humanity when we isolate ourselves and only socialize via the internet. But these two stories tell you it doesn’t matter how we communicate.

In the end, people are no better or worse than they ever were.

They still feel the same senses of love and need, hate and rejection that they always have and always will. The world around them is just finding new ways to interact with those feelings.

And that’s why the future will never be what you hope for.

  1. Adam L says:

    I agree that our culture of pervasive information, be it requested or (as is the vastly more frequent case) thrust upon us, leaves ever more bare the essence of what it is to be human by its sheer volume. I like to think of observing human social evolution like weather prediction – the tools become more sophisticated over time but the underlying systems grind and change just as they have for millennia (citations: Aristophanes, Dante, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Steel…). I don’t know about you, but with one exception all of the people I have on my Friends page I have physically seen and spent time with at one point or other. I think it still feels somewhat unnatural and uncomfortable garnering relations with people who are, for all intents and purposes, purely virtual. Until our brains are extricated from our bodies at birth and put into wired tanks of conductive fluid, our internet selves will remain auxiliary.

    But yeah, the birthday notification thing definitely makes me a marginally better friend.

  2. Braak says:

    Oh, man, I have Facebook friends that I have definitely never met in life. I guess this is unnatural, technically, in the sense that it would be impossible without some kind of technological interference, but by that standard “pants” are unnatural, too.

    But is this so weird? Hasn’t the instinct for this kind of thing been around a long time? People had pen pals in the old days, people had long correspondences with friends that they never met in real life. Sure, those were often lengthy letters, full of insight and drama, and now we read them like we would read books.

    Of course, they also came in an era when only a handful of people had the time, ability, and inclination to write, so it was pretty much a given that they’d want to write something significant.

    Facebook, by making ready communication available to everyone, has just revealed how little average people have to say to each other.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    God, I hate pants.

  4. Lisa says:

    am i the friend?

  5. Adam L says:

    But pants are at least material. Who is to say that virtual friends aren’t just semi-conscious computer simulations that are some transient coalescence of electrons? Though I guess, technically, living humans too are mostly transient coalescences of electrons. And so are pants.

    Sometimes I wonder: what was really wrong with the caveman way of life? With a truly global perspective in mind, I think there really was more right about it than wrong. Just killing things and nookie. A world full of hairy hollywood blockbusters, that is.

    So Facebook: Ubiquitously Democratizing Mediocrity? Ok ok, not mediocrity, but ‘Averageness’? Depends on your point of view, I suppose.

  6. Braak says:

    Well, does it matter? If you can’t tell the difference, then by definition there’s nothing that you’re missing from a relationship with virtual people than a relationship with real people.

    The caveman life has merit, I’ll admit. Though I don’t think I’m going to mourn not having to worry about getting eaten by leopards any time soon.

  7. Adam L says:

    There is certainly a difference. It becomes an epistemological question: do any of your virtual friends have bad breath? Perhaps, if that is something they decide to comment on to you or the world. But how do you KNOW? Bad breath is endearing in its realness (if only in that way). Someone should market ‘Real Packs’ that are designed to capture the real aspects of people to pair with their virtual personas. Hand picked human experiences without the annoyance of actually having to spend time with people. Now THAT’S something to hope for.

    Only average cavemen got eaten by leopards. The pen pal letter writing variety is what evolved into us. Maybe Facebook needs more leopards.

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    Why yes, Lisa, you are the friend!

    Well, not THE friend. I have many friends (no really! Shut up!). But you’re the one in question.

  9. Braak says:

    I do not find bad breath endearing due to any quality. There are, indeed, people that I know in real life whom I would prefer to know virtually, precisely so that I can avoid their bad breath.

    But I don’t mean whether there is a qualitative difference between a virtual friend and a real friend–I mean is there a qualitative difference between the relationship with a virtual friend and a real friend. And, of course, there are many manifest differences–but are these essential properties of the relationship? If a relationship with friends is meant to satisfy A, B, and C needs, and a person finds their A, B, and C needs satisfied by a virtually relationship, doesn’t that only mean that the qualities that distinguish between a real relationship and a virtual relationship are unessential add-ons to the process? That, essentially, the fact that people can have fulfilling virtual relationships is not indicative of some danger of losing human contact in our society, but actually proof that actual contact wasn’t that important in the first place?

  10. Bookie says:

    One feature of virtual friends (i.e. friends one knows only from reading text they choose to post) involves self-editing. One only knows what they choose to tell or unconsciously reveal about their _real_ personality. “On the internet, no one knows I’m a dog.”

    “Real” friends are selected mostly by chance, proximity, common location or common mutual acquaintance. Internet friends are selected by common interests. So there’s a strong probability that internet friends can actually make stronger connections than one’s “friends” from the office, where the bonding is mostly over gripes about the boss or bets on sports teams.

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