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I’ve been using Facebook since 2006. I remember eagerly awaiting my college email address so I could make an account, because I had seen a sample account before and it looked like a set dinner table, with all of the silverware and plates and tablecloth carefully laid out. At the time, I just had a clunky, awful Myspace account, which had turned into some overgrown tangle of weeds replete with parasites and viruses, a lumbering beast of spam and pop-ups. Every time I wanted to look at someone else’s page, it was like a freaking jungle safari and the cursor was my machete.
Unfortunately, my newfound VIP access to Facebook was short-lived, because that was the same year that it opened to the rest of the world and any old peasant with a gmail account and the urge to show all of their friends, acquaintances, and strangers their slide-by-slide biography.
When people originally got their Facebooks, there was an unprecedented level of use, but I think it’s boiled down to three different categories nowadays. And here they are:
1. The Utilitarian.
Utilitarian Facebook users are the vast majority of older users, and people who are generally busy. By default, college students are rarely utilitarians. But, basically, utilitarians use Facebook like they would an email account, periodically checking for wall posts, tagged photos, and other tidbits that are sent from their friends.
Utilitarians don’t spend a half-hour gazing at a stranger’s photographic journey through Spain, they use Facebook to quickly schedule a hangout or send a Facebook message, because that’s a little less personal than a text but way more personal than an email.
Facebook is a great way to stay connected to people who you may want to contact at some point in the future. Utilitarians acknowledge this fact, but rarely actually contact the people if they aren’t geographically relevant. Still, many Utilitarians will also – during a long weekend or on a Sunday when they have a hangover – become the second kind Face of Facebook:
2. The Voyeur.
I have a friend who designed a specific group for hot girls, so that he could click it and see exclusive updates from them and them alone. When he was bored, he would click through that group and look for new photos. He called it “I Just Want To Look At You” and when he originally created the group, he panicked, because the message said something like “Your New Category Has Been Created With the Following…” He had thought that each girl in the group had just been notified that they had been added to his “I Just Want To Look At You” group.
That made me wonder about how amazing it is, that we now have a program where we can virtually peep into not only people’s bathrooms where they often pout in front of mirrors in dimly lit lighting and scandalous clothing at strange angles, but also follow alongside them as they constantly look their best, always aware that the picture being taken of them has a 95% chance of being shown to their friends.
More than once, I’ve heard the complaint that there’s no filtering function so that only photos at the beach will show up.
This kind of omnipresent camera has inspired a lot more people to assault you if they think that a picture of them was bad. Unless they were drunk, because then that shows how much fun they were having, especially if they were crouched next to a toilet, making a funny face, giving the camera the middle finger, or kissing someone.
Voyeurs also use Facebook to make sure that no one is doing better than them. They look at recent photographs and information and wall posts so that they can secretly sneer to themseves and shake their heads in pity about a person’s lack of accomplishments. Or at least their lack of Facebook updates.
We all want to show our friends, acquaintances, and strangers we accidentally Friend our “best side.” Actually, no, we want to show them who we wish we were, whether that means party maniac, responsible American family member, or sensitive artistic whiner (I think that covers everyone). In a sense, we all become politicians.
So that makes me wonder why we bother posting things at all. But it’s because sometimes, almost all of us turn into the third Face of Facebook:
3. The Self-Promoter.
Self-Promoters habitually update their statuses to show that they have an active life and an active mind. They tinker away at Facebook apps to beat high scores that don’t matter to more than five of their Facebook Friends. They also continually update their quotes, information, relationship status, and notes just to reflect their private philosophies and guiding life purposes – which are now transparent for all to see.
Which begs the question: do we become our Facebook or does it become us?
If we’re so conscious that our most intimate thoughts and moments are just a few taps of a smartphone away – and we’re Self-Promoters – does that mean that everything becomes staged? Parties, vacations, relationships have to be photo ops.
Self-Promoters will often scramble to assemble the latest photo album or status update to show people all of their latest adventures, competing with everyone else. They need to be having the most fun, the most enlightened, newest possible journey through life.
Self-Promoters can use their powers for good or for evil. One person recently told me that her friend’s boyfriend dumped her, so she started using Facebook pictures to falsify an identity. She did this by having an attractive male friend hover in each new picture taken of her – whether they were laughing distantly in the background, whether his shoulder was touching hers, or they were sitting together in a booth. So, basically a collage of perceived betrayal. And the ex-boyfriend came back.
I went to Scotland my Junior year for one semester. I constantly uploaded new albums of my exploits. When I got back and tried to tell my friends stories about, they waved away my narratives. “Yeah, I saw that on Facebook,” they would tell me. And I didn’t know whether to be flattered or pissed that I had put the pictures up, some objective account of the trip that I no longer owned, because they had already interpreted everything for themselves.
A lot of people will dash to their computers have meeting someone new and try to look through their Facebook pictures to see what they’re like. They have no power of it. We make our own judgments about how they represent themselves on Facebook.
When it comes down to it, does all of that sharing connect us more with each other – with friends and family accompanying us to the other end of the country or world with just a click – or does it make experiences so inclusive that nothing can really be your own, because it’s already everyone else’s, too?