What is Facebook?

The greatest draw to my attempt at studying economics here at UNC is my fascination with thinking about how people interact.  It blows my mind to drive through town and see all the people doing different things that further their self interest and that further the interest of their families and to recognize that all of that individual action fits together like a puzzle to create a (hopefully) free economy.

For example, I work for an hourly wage during the summer.  Let’s say I make $10/hour.  Last summer I had a hankering for Fitzgerald so I went to the bookstore to buy a collection of Fitzgerald’s short stories.  The bookstore had copies sufficient to the demand so I bought the book for twenty dollars or so.  In other words, I traded two hours of my time for the book, the company I work for traded twenty dollars of their budget for my work, and the bookstore owner chanced his ability to pay his bills on his ability to sell a collection of Fitzgerald’s short stories for $20.

All I had to do was drive five minutes from my house and in order to purchase a book written over eighty years ago.  It’s crazy!  I feel like a king or something.

Anyway, I say that to try and explain my interest in understanding Facebook.  I didn’t have a Facebook account when I came to college and I didn’t want one.  I got one my freshman year, however, and enjoyed talking to people I had lost contact with, but was initially very confused.  Soon, though, I mastered it’s usefulness.

Last year my understanding of how interconnected our society is grew when I learned that thousands of people were planning to have raves and parties and things.  Thousands of people who didn’t know each other from Adam got together to consent to do something.  It blew my mind.  And, honestly, scared me.

I finally deactivated my Facebook account last semester because the impersonal irreality of it was getting to me.  And I mean it.  It got on my nerves.  I felt as if I were living in a virtual world where I was pretending to be friends with hundreds of other people.

On the other hand, the argument that Facebook is nothing less than a continuation of the technological advances that have aided interpersonal communication over the past couple of centuries is compelling.  For example, the smoke signal came before the telegraph, the telegraph before the telephone, the telephone before the computer etc.  Obviously that argument has a point.  But, to me, Facebook (and other social networking sites) is different in that it marries the fantasy of the media with triviality as never before.

The glue that keeps it popular, I think, is the modern obsession with fame.  There is a sense, I think, among my genearation that if one is not known one is not worthy.  Honestly, I am reminded of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis.  “And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”

To make a final point, Facebook facilitates two seemingly contradictory illusions: it provides both the illusion of friendship all the while reinforcing the notion that individuality for individuality’s sake is a good.  In other words, the mentality involved vindicates a weird pluralism (i.e. sexuality preference options) while simultaneously embodying a  made-up, unfulfilling sense of what it means to have community.

In conclusion, Facebook is not healthy for our society.  I do not deny either its usefulness or that it can be used for good (i.e. a Facebook group promoting prayer for an injured loved one).  I simply posit that the benefits do not outweigh the negatives.

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