Last weekend, after reflecting on the fact that I talk about it all the time with students regardless of what class I am teaching, I decided to take the plunge and get a Facebook account. According to the fascinating Wired article, “How Mark Zuckerberg Turned Facebook Into the Web’s Hottest Platform,” I was 1 of 1 million new users in the last week, and among the fastest growing user population:
As for those concerns that Facebook’s membership had peaked? Well, now
it’s signing up nearly 1 million new users a week. By the end of August
there were 36 million of them. And these aren’t just the tweens or
college kids you might suspect; the fastest-growing segment of Facebook
users is over 35, a group that represents 11 percent of all site users.
Total registrations have more than quadrupled over the previous year.
The number of employees has tripled, as has revenue. And venture
capitalists say that if Facebook were to go public today, investors
would value it at more than $5 billion — five times what Yahoo had been
prepared to pay.
To say that I have found Facebook intoxicating would be an understatement. I am addicted.
I check it all the time–from work, from home, from my phone–and I have moved my Facebook widget to the top of my Netvibes ecosystem, sandwiched between my to-do list (which mostly consists mostly cfp due dates) and the weather, and to the right of my Google mail and calendar widgets. I have connected with old friends, one of whom, a high school friend I have not seen since 1990, I am setting up with an old college buddy. I have added the following application widgets: last.fm; goodreads; scrabulous (based on scrabble–I’m currently beating my sister, but losing badly to an old friend); cities I’ve visited (so far, 163 in 12 countries, which pales in comparison to a college ER friend who has been to 400 cities in 31 countries, many in which he was doing medical relief work); and the Ricky Bobby bobblehead (which screams out “Shake and Bake, Hal! Shake and Bake!), among others. I am a member of the following groups (which I just discovered I can link to from outside of Facebook):
Last.fm ▪ New Media ▪ I Bet I Can Find 1,000,000 People Who Just Want Peace ▪ Thomas J. Watson Fellowship ▪ Teaching & Learning with Facebook ▪ Unlike 99.99% of the Facebook population, I was born in the 70s. ▪ This American Life groupies ▪ Holga Photography ▪ Holga Fans
Though the Wired article states that Zuckerman “designed Facebook to re-create online what he calls the “social graph” — the web of people’s real-world relationships,” the name of the application and the fact that it initially targeted college students suggests something else, as well: a remediation of the old college Meet Books (or, as some referred to them, Meat Books):
These books contained 1×2 inch photographs of all members of an incoming freshman class, along with their name and address. We see remnants of this remediation in the remediation of the heading, “Hometown,” which suggests to most people who’s profile I have seen that they are to list the name of the town/city/village where they grew up.
No longer confined to the spaces of a bound book, Facebook has become a space that has the very real potential to be an accurate textual and visual remediation of one’s identity. The article notes something so obvious that some might overlook its significance: “Facebook also emphasizes honesty: Because users typically can view profiles only of people they’re linked to, and they can’t link to them unless both partners confirm the relationship, there’s little point in creating a fake identity.” How different this space is to the MOOs and MUDs described Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” and Turkle’s “Who Am We?”
This is most certainly true: I can’t recall a space (online, in print, or during conversation) where I have listed in one place so much of myself–and, yet, there is a huge part of my life that the forcing functions of that Facebook application has kept me from adding: my status as separated from my wife. Consider the pull-down menu within the Relationship tab in the Facebook Profile:
My situation is, according to Facebook, unclassifiable. If I select “It’s Complicated,” the word “with” appears to the right and a text field appears below where I am, I suppose, to write the name with whom things have become complicated. The structure of the phase, however, does not encourage explanation of the complicating aspects of the relationship: “It’s Complicated with Aimee Wolff.” But why? How so? I suspect that the goal of adding the name of the other person is to be able to link to that person’s Facebook page (just as it does with people who list their relationship partner). Further, though certainly upsetting and discouraging to be separated after a decade-long relationship, the situation itself is not complicated at all: I am here, she is there, and that is it. The only thing I can see that is keeping Facebook (for me at least) from having the potential to be one of the most honest media applications developed to date is the formal structures of the application itself. This, I suspect will change over time.
More later on the rhetoric of divorce in online dating sites.
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