Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Facebook Can Only Disappoint

I check my Facebook much more often than I am willing to admit to. I reach for it in idle moments, in a spirit that isn't quite boredom, and is not noble enough to be labeled curiosity. Usually when I do this I experience a vague sensation of restless disappoint.

What Facebook offers is an experience of community. Whether you believe in God or you are an atheist or agnostic (so this includes everyone), you know that humans are built for community. We don't do well and flourish by ourselves. Human flourishing can only come in the context of community. So Facebook gives us that, and that is why it is brilliant, and that is why it will not go away.

The only problem with it is that it is a very shitty version of community. We put forth our highly tailored best versions of ourselves to interact electronically with others. We share very shallow things and everyone criticizes us behind our back for it. We share very personal things and then everyone REALLY criticizes us behind our back. It is not possible to replicate the experience that is a face to face conversation. Speaking on the phone comes close, but we get frustrated because we can't see the non-verbals, we can't say something with our eyes, we can't reach out and punch the other, if the need should arise. If that is the case with the phone, how much more distant is the dream of conversation if it has to flow through our fingers? We have a microphone to the masses, but mostly we talk about sports, bitch about traffic and post pictures of cute and/or funny things.

If Facebook is such a shallow version of community, why are we constantly drawn to it?

Facebook is addicting only in direct proportion to how easy it is. If I can sit on my couch, in my jammies, and look at your family photos and read your post on how you feel about your latest haircut, then, sure, I'll take 76 seconds to do that. But if I have to get up, shower, dress decently, make an appetizer and buy a bottle of wine, drive to your house, eat dinner with you, and then and only then will you break out your photo album so I can see those same pictures...well, I might not get around to that as quickly. Maybe I'll do that with a small handful of my friends in any given year, but all 266 of my Facebook friends? Not likely.

Facebook is the McDonald's of community. McDonald's is a poor excuse for food, but it is very convenient and it is very cheap. If McDonald's charged $18.95 for a Big Mac and you had to dress up and drive downtown to get it, would you do it? We eat McDonald's only because, like a prostitute, she makes herself so available and easy. It's an unfortunate fact of the human experience that whenever something is easy and available you can be sure it's not good for you (wild mushrooms, jobs in coffee shops, community college).

Facebook scratches the itch that community creates. It's just that it is a microscopic scratch. And when you scratch weakly, what happens?

It makes the itch worse.

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