Genuine criticism of the world’s cultural detritus is often dismissed as deranged hysteria, but it’s becoming clear that Facebook’s hegemony over our hearts and minds is making us crumble and implode, like a poorly baked pie.
Facebook is a place for ranting, raving lunacy in all of its forms, from righteous commie manifestos, to self-righteous reactionary screeds, to incomplete sequences of barely comprehensible complaints written in textspeak. Facebook is a place for us to air out popularity contests, to brag and to bully, and for people to show off pictures of their new-born babies. Or it’s a place for us to sneakily peek at snaps of other peoples’ expensive gap years in formerly far-flung nations. The tracks our friends walk down are, no doubt, well-beaten these days, the internet having stripped them of their real sense of mystery, but those sun-smooched bikini pics are often still worth a lusty gaze, right?
Facebook is the place for us to air our declarations of love, to rigorously document our break-ups and make-ups, or to announce our engagement so that all of our cyberfriends might look and click the Like button. But, then again, if we dare to show off our dirty laundry, announcing that we are single, or suddenly reattached, divorced, or just willing to announce that our arrangements are complicated or unconventional, won’t we, then, come out smelling of mildew?
Facebook is a symptom of the increasing degradation of human communication. Language is here reduced to a medium for expressing everyday mundanity in a purely functional way. But wasn’t this precisely the sort of mundanity that people used to keep to themselves? Didn’t people — you know, ordinary people — used to log their thoughts privately in journals or diaries? They probably did, and just think of how many diaries have been kept throughout human history that were never found or never read, and didn’t belong to famous diarists, regardless of whether that fame was “achieved” posthumously or not (you know, like Samuel Pepys or, er, Anne Frank). It’s almost as if, once upon a time, human beings weren’t constantly in pursuit of instant fame or recognition.
On Facebook, meaning is reduced to an accident. The meaning of things flashes up, as if the paparazzi were invading our cognitive processes, during our exposure to adverts for potato-based smacks in the mouth, or for gut fizz, or for business school.
On Facebook, recognition is reduced to brand identity. The products that companies try to sell to you soothe and relax you. They make your days at work less stressful, and they make your evenings off more relaxing. They replace our mother’s loving smile as the remembered source that makes us smile when we are sad.
On Facebook, social activity is reduced to brand presence, or omnipresence. It’s as if that soft-drink that we’re thinking of buying was spilled somewhere in cyberspace, and now it’s all gooey, stuck to the right-side of our screen.
Facebook turns us into the sum of our photos, our activities, our hobbies, our interests, our musical, cinematic, and literary tastes. It tries to make us forget that all we are doing here is reducing ourselves to an isolated bit of data, projecting and throwing ourselves out there into a nasty, brutish, short, cyberworld as a mere image among millions of other mere images. Our image on Facebook is, yes, just how we would like to see ourselves, so that we might seem funny and fashionable and fulfilled — happy citizens, unworried by a gloomy future, with good jobs, and loads of money, living out a fairytale of blameless bourgeois domesticity.
But, of course, this is not how we really are. It is just a way of branding ourselves in the same way that all those things we think we want are branded. We attach a personality to our branded version of ourselves, and, in the process, we forget who we really are. It’s just like when we think about buying a product in a store. Our purchase is informed by wanting to appear to be in touch with how the rest of the world sees us, so that it might seem to say the right things about us. But, really, it’s as if we’d given these objects mouths so that they might scream out all of our secrets in public.
Facebook works just like this, and the fact that we continue to participate in it (even though we know that this is going on) means that we are happily exposing ourselves to its weird magic. Facebook extends the logic by which we are alienated from ourselves into a grim parody of human society. It’s an endless session of show and tell, where you can never really impress anyone, where all the applause seems too slow and too sarcastic, and where everyone thinks that they have better toys and treasures than you anyway.
Facebook has just been valued at $104 billion.
But if I’m really that concerned by it, I could always stop using it, or delete my profile, couldn’t I?