Day 23 Shut the box

Here’s a nice little bit of misogyny for the weekend. Some no-mark survey comes out that says how women piss each other off on Facebook by fitting into an annoying stereotype. It comes with a lovely Guess Who? graphic, and for a minute you can have fun (only if you are a girl though) working out which one you are and which one all your (only female) friends are on Facebook. Of course we dismiss this stuff don’t we, because it’s just a bit of puff to get the company noticed, and we know, don’t we, that these stereotypes are just more grist to the mill for the haters out there who want to shove us in a box and shut the lid to shut us up.

But it got me thinking about the boxes that I put my Facebook friends into. As you know, the first box, and the biggest, was the upper limit of 100 friends, which I now question given how parochially limiting that was. But the other thing it gave me – and this is embarrassing to admit – was power. It was great to be the doorman on my own private club deciding who could and couldn’t come in. And admit it, whether you have a free-for-all open house or do as I did, that friend request box top left is thrilling isn’t it? Because as grown-ups that no longer happens. When we were on the playground it was common for a kid to say “will you be friends with me?” Later at the disco it was “will you dance with me?” at the party “will you snog me” and the next day (hopefully) “will you go out with me?” But as we age those questions disappear. Requests for intimacy drift into the implicit and friendship development becomes gradual.

On Facebook, once we have accepted our friends and started to live our social networking life, we begin to sort them into groups. I don’t know about you, but I did a big cull about half way through being on Facebook. I was spending so much time swearing at my newsfeed that I went through all my friends, studied their posts and then hid a massive bunch of them. This was less of a power trip and more of sanity saver as I sorted the interesting wheat from the Farmville/location, location/sachharin chaff. However, those shoved in the boring box didn’t get a second chance because of the nature of Facebook ie once in it they couldn’t get out. So there was never a time where I could be notified that they had suddenly become interesting.

Finally, I was left with the friends I considered worthy of my attention, and for the most part, you lived up to my expectations. Now that I am away from it I have some strong impressions remaining about you. Each of you lives in a box that has your profile pic stamped on the top, each of you has a persona that seems emblematic of your essence. But is that all that you were? Do we all, in fact, limit ourselves on Facebook? Build our own boxes? Is the nature of Facebook such that you cannot fail but to corale your personality, curtail your activity, curb your enthusiasm? The template it provides with all its inherent limitations has to mean that we are dumbing down our complicated multivariate selves to fit its silicon simplified code. We can post photos, links, music but how much of ourselves can we put up? And is it right to voluntarily shoehorn ourselves into Zuckerberg’s business model?

I said on my podcast once that I would never share on Facebook what I was really feeling. And remembering back to my friends, I don’t think any of you did either. But if Facebook becomes the default setting for our socialising are we never going to tell each other about our interior lives. Is Facebook just a party where we put on our best togs, flash our best smile and make sure we have the coolest music in our hand ready to wow the crowd with our brilliance. And if Facebook isn’t the place to really be ourselves where is?

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