Get Off My Lawn: Get Off Facebook, or, Shame: Underrated?

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07/15/2008 9:00 AM |

“There are potentially hundreds of images (plenty of them unflattering) of every person between the ages of 18 and 30 floating around the Internet — including your future congressman, city councilman or president.”

Thank you, editors of IvyGate, for articulating something that has been sorta bugging me for a while, although I had been thinking more about it in terms of writing, and how writers used to be able to suppress their juvenilia until after they were comfortably deceased at the very least, and how now, not so much. On the plus side, it will, In The Future, be rather harder for people to bury unsavory bits of their past all Paul de Man-style; on the negative side… I dunno, there is a lot to be said for having one’s awkward adolescence in private. (I refer partly to, like, choosing to have a LiveJournal, which I have never had; and also to working with a post quota, which I have.)

And yes, the IvyGate editors are fairly reasonable in their assumption that yeah, we will all be rather forgiving of future presidential candidates if a photo of them stupid drunk at a frat party once got tagged on Facebook. And this is progress — the fact that “it could have been any of us”, and how much more easy Facebook will make remembering that fact, is a helpful bit of perspective and will hopefully cut down on moralizing hypocrisy. Facebook being a glass house that we’re all living in, and all that.

But still, I wonder if we are not missing a larger point, namely, how alarming it is that people don’t really have a sense of what in their lives is public and what is private.

Believe it or not, I do understand the impulse towards oversharing and putting as much of oneself out in public as possible, as anyone who went to high school with me can surely attest. It is plainly obvious why we do things like document in the entirety of our lives on the internet, or for that matter watch or go on reality television — we do these things because we know that we will someday die.

I mean, more or less, that we structure our lives into narratives to negate the nagging sense that our lives lack cohesion and significance (we tell ourselves stories in order to live). And narratives have audiences. So in making ourselves stories constantly told to a wide audience we are in some way giving ourselves a continuity lacking in the actual facts of our biography and, indeed, physiology.

This is understandable if anything is. The desire to make one’s story heard, or make oneself a prominent actor in society’s story, has motivated at least as much good art as reprehensible famewhoring, give or take, over the last few centuries.

But, you know, still. The (often literal) nakedness with which people seem to be embracing this opportunity for self-display is kind of depressing. (Especially if you know why they are embracing it?) I refer partly to the public glorification, as opposed to private celebration, of irresponsible behavior — it is great fun and will someday make for great memories, but we desire to be and to act and perhaps to influence as responsible and productive people so no I do not find it hypocritical to be conscious of the public image one puts forth while letting one’s guard down only around people whom one knows well — but mostly to the general tendency towards putting oneself fully out there, always.

And no I will not blame the internet for doing anything other than enabling our worst tendencies, which is the middle ground we all ended up on the last time I tried to blame the internet for something (or possibly everything). No, this is what we want: to gaze upon our navels and describe their contents in minute detail, as if they are of great and universal interest.

They are not. This assumption is rather presumptuous (and I would suggest that paying too much attention to oneself also limits one’s capacity for empathy). Your words and pictures — the things you think and the things you do — are pretty much yours; given the whole discontinuity thing I am very much in favor of taking and being in as many pictures as possible (but not all of yourself, you narcissist) so you will remember your life later, and even of telling strangers things about yourself that could help them in any way, but some self-editing is called for here.

I am bored with your exploits, and stuck being embarrassed for the both of us, Passed-Out Drunk Friend Of Mine On Facebook. When you awaken, please be so kind as to get off my lawn, take a piece of chalk, and write, on the blackboard I have conveniently positioned on the sidewalk adjacent to my lawn, “People care about the intimate details of my life because they care about me, not the other way around”, over and over again until you believe it.

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