Friday, July 31, 2009

The Next Facebook

Pete has asked a very valid question via stupidTwittergoddamnit: what is the next facebook that everyone's parents aren't on? Although neither of us would ever post anything to facebook that wasn't for general consumption, and both of us keep our pages private anyway, it's still mildly troubling that when a friend posts something profoundly stupid or grotesque, the older adults in my life can just bop on over to my page and check it out. Perhaps I shouldn't have friended them, but how cruel would it be to say to your mother, the woman who gave you life, "No, I'm worried you'll find my friends' fart jokes offensive. Or asinine. And then you won't want me to be friends with them." Okay, so this is not a literal issue for me. My friends don't tell fart jokes (at least not on facebook) and my mom wouldn't care (or notice) if they did. She has better things to do with her time and is a fully licensed and bonded member of the On-Line Community. But I think about other people's moms. If I comment on someone's picture that looks like they're getting a bj from a pirate statue, will their mom read it and think, "Oh my lands! mah baaaaby!" (All other people's moms sound like southern ladies from old Bugs Bunny cartoons in my head.)

Pete thinks they should just be generationally separated somehow. Maybe by reunion decade. All the people between grad and 10 years can see each other, but not those between 10 and 20. Or if you have kids who are old enough to understand what facebook is. My 15-year old cousin friended everyone in the family and we're all weirded out by it. Not because he isn't great (he is!), but because we lead completely different, non-intersecting-except-that-we're-related-and-see-each-other-at-holidays lives. I'm not in high school. He's not pondering how to advance his career, buy a house and start a family. It doesn't mean I don't love him or that I'm not interested in what he's up to; it just means I don't want to see his quiz results in my news feed (but which muppet is he?? and how does he even know what a muppet is! Jim Henson had been dead for almost four years by the time he was born!) and I don't want him to see my comments on people's crap on his (I guess I'm a balloon full of mayonnaise? whatever that means; I wanted to be a chair).

The thing is, facebook is the It thing right now, but remember when MySpace was all the rage? I kept hearing about it, but looking at one of those things feels like being hit in the face with epilepsy, so I was never personally interested. And now all the parents are getting into stupidTwittergoddamnit, so that we can all know when they've eaten a sandwich or if it's hot today or whatever it is that people tweet about. (When I investigated stupidTwittergoddamnit in grad school, lo these many (3) years ago, it seemed like all the posts were "I'm eating a ham sandwich" or "Home from work. TGIF, lol!" I have not seen any convincing evidence that things have changed much since then. And yes, I've seen Shaq's feed.) But that too shall pass. The truth of the matter is, in my opinion, our parents are always going to join new social networking stuff online because we'll always talk about it. Or people they work with will.

Ultimately, the best policy is the one drilled into you in kindergarten: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. The internet is not the free-for-all, anything-goes, anonymity that many would like to believe it is. Everything can be traced back to its progenitor (or 4-Chan, but those are often one and the same) and eventually that fat guy at work is going to find out you refer to him as Muffin Stuffer "in your facebook"; your dad's brother-in-law is going to stumble upon that picture of him tripping over his own ridiculous lawn ornament on Fail Blog; and your grandmother is going to be horrified to discover that you're an atheist. Typing without thinking, editing, carefully weighing each potential misunderstanding, profits no one, and yet everyone does it everyday. Me, I'm trying to keep putting my foot in my mouth the old-fashioned way, by not thinking before I speak. (Yes, a superior at work actually said to me yesterday, "That's Dr. Dude to you," and for that, I thank her. It's good to be reminded that being friendly, that liking someone professionally, does not mean you're friends. Not in the fullest sense of the word, anyway.)

1 comment:

Joe said...

The question of what will replace Facebook is a pretty good one. It probably hasn't been invented yet, or maybe it will grow out of Facebook, but it will happen. (Apparently Orkut has some limited popularity, though.)

You're right about the internet being a glass house, though. More and more it lends itself to a certain anti-anonymity, and one has to realize that the online forum is just like the classical forum: A large, public space where everyone can see and hear you.

But a personal anecdote: My dad has read my blog for some time now, and I find it oddly relieving. On my blog, I write rather freely (read: in an utterly unedited fashion) about whatever I'm thinking about at the time. I am myself. As someone who always tried to comport himself in a certain way at family gatherings to conform to strict expectations and standards, it's been great having a forum where my family can see me as I am with my friends. I know that this would not work for everyone, and that this would cause a great deal of stress for a lot of people, but I find it sort of freeing.

(Not that I'm going to take my distant relatives off of a separate list on Facebook. They don't get to see pictures of me drunk, wearing weird costumes, fellating toy guns. That would just be weird.)