The following will almost certainly cause my already paltry list of Facebook friends -- I created an account a few months ago out of sheer, morbid curiosity -- to essentially vanish. So be it, but before rounding up a posse and proceeding to burn me at the stake, it should be noted that not one of my Facebook contacts has been referenced below, as they are exempt from and immune to any type of criticism regarding their use of the website.
Life Before Facebook:
What did we as a society do prior to the existence of Facebook? How did we cope from day-to-day? How did we share pictures of last weekend's drunken escapades with such a disparate mix of individuals as: our best friends, our boss, and a complete stranger who wouldn't be recognizable even if he just slapped you in the face with a wet fish (if anyone is perplexed: by virtue of acquiring an additional friend, such a relationship with an unknown fish-slapper is acceptable and encouraged under Facebook etiquette -- because you can never have too many friends)?
Where did we alert the masses to our each and every ailment, from a headache to a hemorrhoid, in overly descriptive detail? How could we possibly express our feelings on the food currently sitting on the plate directly in front of us (which we will proceed to photograph with our cell phone and disseminate to our girlfriend, grandmother, and everyone in between)? Did we previously put into writing on a Monday the fact that Friday is now one day closer than yesterday? Is anyone actually interested in our position on Splenda versus Nutrasweet, or the current state of our bowel movements? If the prevalence of Facebook is any indication, the answer is a resounding 'yes'.
Nevertheless, I feel I may have been locked in a closet prior to joining Facebook, as I don't recall having conversations with friends concerning such mundane frivolity. But now that there is no immediate obligation for a response on the part of friends (as Facebook is primarily a passive medium) interpersonal communication has undergone a bit of a transformation. One no longer has to fret about staying up nights with a weeping pal recently dumped by yet another "soulmate." Instead, they can simply type out a line or two of customary condolences and call it a day. Hence, many seem all-too-eager to divulge their every waking moment (be it sitting at home on a Friday night, eating bonbons and watching reruns of The Biggest Loser or the extensive rodent infestation in one's apartment) in an effort to garner a bit of sympathy. Consequently, it's absolutely acceptable and almost expected that we now share such information. And I, for one, find it to be sheer bliss and more entertaining than watching a bunch of tourists flopping and twitching on the streets of Pamplona during the running of the bulls.
The Purposelessness of Privacy:
The concept of privacy is now archaic and seemingly defunct. Prior to Facebook's existence, one might have deliberated over the decision to alert friends to a stout case of foot fungus, a recent trip to the grocery store that included a sale on Dijon mustard, or a burning anticipation for an online order of knee socks to finally arrive. Not the case with Facebook, as virtually every thought that enters our minds is now fair game for public distribution and consumption.
At first glance, an outsider might conclude every Facebooker is stuck in a prison with a Wi-Fi connection, being forced against their will to divulge such information as a two-decade long membership in the Wham! fan club. But such dramatics are not necessary, as everyone seems overly eager to shout this stuff to the mountains. Information you may have once wondered, but didn't ask for the sake of not being uncouth, is now readily available. You don't even have to inquire, as such info is often posted before the thought can even enter one's mind. And everything disclosed easily surpasses any question potentially concocted via my limited imagination, so it's really quite terrific.
Having recurring thoughts of killing someone? Tell it to Facebook! Overeating again? Let the world know that despite consuming 3500 calories in one sitting, you're still hungry! Just got lucky? Do not hesitate to post the venue (be it on a fire escape or the kitchen table) of that latest instance of fornication. And why not, considering that a lack of such information constitutes a travesty of ignorance, especially for friends? Perhaps one day posting soft-core pornography (starring you and whomever) will become as commonplace as birthdates or favorite movies. Let's say a collective prayer for that!
Farms and Gangs and Other Means of Virtual Reality Fun:
If there is an aspect of Facebook that is completely baffling (and a touch insufferable) it has to be the virtual reality games. I'll admit to a lack of complete understanding regarding the Farmville and Mafia subcultures. I'm not privy to the intricacies, but I gather that they provide an opportunity to raise a herd of virtual cattle, cultivate an imaginary garden, or pretend to be Tony Soprano without fear of prosecution, all from a recliner in Wichita while donning nothing but a pair of quaggish. Truly, it's nearly impossible to summon a personal fantasy that does not pale by comparison. Therefore, the fascination with that particular aspect of the game is crystal clear.
But it's difficult to comprehend the concept of a friend providing assistance to one's virtual cow that recently escaped from its stockade and is now on the lam (although I have always been a bit of a slow learner). And I don't find the act of tending to a friend's virtual garden to be all that noble of a deed (but again, this may be a learning disability at work). Moreover, why in the hell anyone would care about a make believe world filled with gardens and cows and gangsters, as their real life world proceeds to spiral out of control and into the abyss, I'll never have the privilege knowing. Perhaps now would be the appropriate time to reevaluate one's priorities.
But if you're hooked on the virtual reality world, a game that you might appreciate is something I like to call "Doctorville" where Facebookers can post their maladies and friends can either provide perfunctory sympathy or their own personal diagnosis and instruction for achieving a cure. Those providing accurate medicinal know-how could earn points and climb the proverbial ladder by graduating from nurse, to doctor, to surgeon and so on. Take a moment to imagine the possibilities: You could accumulate regular patients or volunteer for a virtual medical experiment (imagine the potential wave of sympathy for such pain and suffering!). You could acquire virtual health insurance without giving up luxuries like food. Likewise, you could have a virtual stay in the hospital and not incur a lifetime of literal debt. And you could have a virtual child, regardless of fertility and without the need of that darn "requisite" egg or seed. How does such a brilliant idea for a game not already exist? I already have the patent, so don't even think of thieving it.
Finally, the myriad personal quizzes available through Facebook are always enlightening and often riveting. Where else can I get a straight answer on "which Beatle I am" or learn my proficiency in Gilligan's Island trivia? Non-Facebookers might find it hard to imagine inflicting such painfully insipid information on either friends or enemies. Keep in mind, however, that you will never come to know your true identity by neglecting such scientifically based questionnaires. And your life will not be fulfilled until each quiz is completed (imagine if you died tomorrow and didn't know whether you were Ringo or George?).
With a Little Help From Your Friends:
GQ Magazine recently published an article entitled "Eighteen People You're Scared of on Facebook." The piece was truly hilarious, but it could have easily been extended by a hundred or so examples (self included, undoubtedly). But the three examples in the article that seem quite universal include: 1. The pedestrian detail publisher: "I have a stain on my shirt and have no idea of its origin, somebody help me!" 2. The misery lady/guy: "say a prayer for me, I'm out of my manic depression medication" and 3. The human incarnation of joke-a-day Ziggy calendar: "it's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes." One person not mentioned is what I call 'the inanimate object conversationalist': "three light-bulbs in my house burnt out today! Not on a Monday, light bulbs! Why light bulbs, why?" or "Would someone please tell my computer that if it loses one more file I'll be taking it out back and shooting it? We're not on speaking terms today."
Is Facebook ruining our relationships and ensuring our interpersonal communication becomes increasingly rudimentary? Perhaps. Does anyone have a gun to our heads, forcing us to sign up for Facebook or suffer the consequences of a shot to the face? Not in my neighborhood. Perhaps given the latter, per usual, what we reap is what we sow. But I do long for the day when we revert back to communicating through grunting and the beating of our chests rather than texting and "poking" via Facebook.
Follow Jason Kitchen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jasonkitchen