Victoria HamiltonCultural Hybridity, CCTP 725Final Wiki

To Construct an Authentic Self

Since launching in 2004, Facebook has become a way of life for many. Claiming more than 800 million active users, with active users described as those who have logged on in the last 30 days and with reportedly 50% users of logging on at least once a day. (Facebook) Their monthly exponential growth is an estimated 10 million new users per month.(Facebook) With growth at this level it has been projected that by 2017 there will be 3 billion users. 75% of current users access the site from outside the United States and do so in more than 70 languages. The biggest reported markets of growth among new users are now in Latin America and Asia. (Wortham)There are more than 250 million photos uploaded on any given day and are in turn accessed by the 500 million users who connect to the site via a phone or mobile device. (Facebook) Much like the slogan Visa once famously touted, Facebook may not be only everywhere you want to be yet; but it is desperately trying to make itself available everywhere you are or possibly will be. My final Wiki entry will explore issues inherent in an interface like Facebook and the cultural implications.

800 Million Friends
The official history of Facebook is littered with dubious details and is a tale filled with intrigue. It has the makings of a Hollywood screenplay and accordingly, last fall The Social Network was released and reportedly brought the story of Facebook’s creation of to the fore.

The Social Network Trailer

According to Wikipedia, Facebook was started in 2004 at Harvard by then-Sophomore Mark Zuckerberg. As a computer programmer and techie Zuckerberg was able to hack into dormitory databases at Harvard and obtain student ID photographs for a program he wrote that was originally called FaceMash.(Wikipedia) The intent was to compare students on the basis of looks. Although wildly popular generating 22,000 views by 450 students in its first hours online, it was swiftly shut down by the administration at Harvard on the basis of egregious breaches of privacy. Is it any wonder that if Facebook as it came to be known, was built on questionable privacy practices that privacy would still be a point of ambivalence for many users and detractors at present?

According to Maneesha Mithal, the associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s division of privacy and identity protection, technology that exacerbates issues of privacy and accessibility has evolved far too dramatically for the government to act as quickly as the public would prefer. Ms. Mithal laments “the only real option to protect information going backwards would be to delete your Facebook account.”(Bilton)

The Creation of an ‘Authentic’ Self
In his book Postmodernism and Consumer Culture, Frederic Jameson argues that "the modernist aesthetic is in some way organically linked to the conception of a unique self and private identity: a unique personality and individuality, which can be expected to generate its own unique version of the world and to forge its own, unmistakable style" (Jameson).

How does one forge a unique personality in the midst of 800 million users? A very good point to ponder. However, when considering that unlike many other early social networking sites built on an imagined sense of self or anonymity, Facebook admonishes its users to use their real names and is meant to forge ties. There is no need to be anyone else. You can just be you; you’re among “friends.”Although, to some, myself included, this is far too naïve. Unlike the legendary Diana Ross and her 1970 hit, in reality, you don’t really want to reach out and touch everybody’s hand.

Diana Ross, Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand, 1970

For some, Facebook is simply a collection of experiences, articles and photographs. For many others it has become an escape, a portal, a window into other people’s lives and an escape from their own. Facebook is a means of remaining connected yes, but also a way to escape the mundane. Much like Mikhail Bahtkin’s dialogism called for “a creative, quantum history, seen from the perspective of a constituent rather than a monarch, the formulation of language and creative discourse opening the door for an understanding of marginalized voices.” (Wikipedia, Dialogisim) Even if you’re only one drop in the ocean of Facebook, “you are master of your fate and captain of your soul.” (Henley)

In my opinion there are even a few archetypes for the kinds of people you willprobably find on Facebook: Older people: Women aged 55 and older are in fact the largest demographic on Facebook. (CNN) Perhaps this can be attributed to many of them nearing the age when their children will provide them grandchildren and despite whatever distance there may be separating them, they will be able to have instant access to said grandchildren. People with a false sense of self, those who are hoping to escape their true identities. “Many people want to create an online existence that is equal to or greater than their real life. People who use Facebook as a literal extension of their lives, a mere medium of expression to somehow augment or compliment their lives…” (Felder) One might argue that the majority of the Facebook population falls into this final category. I mean, that’s what’s Facebook’s for, right?

In Defense of Facebook

"Facebook: so you can see what your friends are up to without actually talking to's kinda like stalking but you have good intentions though, y'know?" -Bobby F. (Gould)

As a prime example of intertextuality, Facebook became the fodder of intertextuality in April 2010 with the “You have 0 Friends” episode of South Park from the fourth season of the show. The episode parodies issues of ‘friending’ and ‘friending the wrong person on Facebook’ and the dire consequences.

Although Nicolas Borriaud’s comments are in reference to art and digital media his insights can also be extrapolated for social media as well, “In early civilization, the trader or the merchant was always bringing things from outside culture, from other cultures, into the market at the center of the city. Traders disrupted things; they brought disharmony, difference, new objects and ideas. It's no coincidence that art is dealing with this complex at this point. We have a global culture, dominated by exchange. The problem arises when the market becomes abstract, when you feel that you can have no control over it... (ArtForum, April 2001)

According to Borriaud, we have all become willing and able merchants of varying degrees of information that is of importance to others. Perhaps our true gratification is in knowing that we are able to share important news with a simple click. Wedding announcements, photos, and even invitations (although the jury is still out as to how socially acceptable Miss Post might find them.)

"Culture as communication" is a long-standing idea from social anthropology, cybernetics, and semiotics. Culture is always a mediating set of relations- Bennett Simpson (ArtForum, April 2001) Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Facebook is the ability to see the mutual friends you share in common with users. You can often infer a person’s social standing, interests and propensities by the company they keep, making some, ‘guilty by association,’ and others ‘fully exonerated’ in a sense.

In another sense, much like the cliché, “You are what you eat.” Many Facebook users ‘Are or become what we post.” If you work on Capitol Hill and your primary responsibility is to draft healthcare policy legislation, chances are that you might share information that relates to “Obamacare,” response videos, parodies and pastiche in the form of Colbert, CSPAN, CNN, MSNBC reports you do or spend the majority of your time focused on, perhaps not. I myself, am an artist, I am inspired by beauty as much as tragedy; at either end of that spectrum I can find inspiration, so, accordingly I make posts that relate to who I am, or rather who I would like to be seen as. The beauty of Facebook is that with the exception of errant friends posting the occasional embarrassing or unflattering photo, I control my public perception. I can create the persona I want. I can be the party girl, or the studious bookworm who only shares status updates about the books I read or the essays I’m writing.

Facebook Fatigue
Much like its mission and aim as espoused by founder, Mark Zuckerberg, “Facebook is meant to build closer ties among friends and colleagues.” (Wortham) Often, however mission and reality can be quite different. Many users or former users like Ashleigh Elser felt, “I wasn’t calling my friends anymore, I was just seeing their pictures and updates and felt like that was really connecting to them.” (Wortham)
Although, for some the issue may not be inaccessibility or lack of interaction but instead, quite the opposite, overexposure, infidelity and a new portal of connecting, reconnecting and rekindling of old flames. Although Facebook certainly didn’t start the fire; it just merely gave desperate housewives and philandering lotharios a new platform for their behavior. According to the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2010, 81% of ‘top divorce attorneys’ have seen “significant increases’ in divorce cases citing social networking as primary evidence since 2005. In such cases, Facebook was cited as the primary source of such evidence. (AAML) It is little wonder that photographs, status updates and recently added friends would be utilized in proceedings. However instead of blaming Facebook for ‘making them cheat’ or making it ‘easier to cheat’ perhaps the unfaithful should chalk up the demise of their marriages to laziness. Unless, you must disclose personal log on information such as passwords, as some are being required to do, trails can be covered and messages, pictures and records of newly added friends can be deleted from public view. In such cases, one might assume that some people either just don’t care or simply feel invincible.

Is Facebook to Blame for Your Divorce?:

"While it might be tempting to presume that there’s some “silent majority” out there that cares about this, [public information and privacy settings] I think it’s likelier that there’s a not-particularly-internet-savvy group of people who misunderstand the issues at hand and only think they care because they’ve been led to equate online openness with identity theft. For people who’ve been online for a while, the real issue is that it’s simultaneously becoming less socially acceptable and less practically possible to maintain separate online and offline selves." (Gould)


False Memories and Partially Constructed Remembrances of Acquaintance
Facebook creates and relies on a simulacrum of acquaintance. You may feel as though you’ve met the person walking toward you down the street because after all, you were at their birthday party, when they went skydiving, you commiserated with them after their dog died and celebrated when their nephew was born. Or did you? You are not Facebook friends through mutual acquaintances and lax privacy settings you can see all of their latest updates, adding to a false sense of memory.

“Tyson Balcomb quit Facebook after a chance encounter on an elevator. He found himself standing next to a woman he had never met – yet through Facebook he knew what her older brother looked like, that was she was from a tiny island off the coast of Washington and that she had recently visited the Space Needle in Seattle. I knew all these things about her but I’d never even talked to her,” said Mr. Balcomb, a pre-med student in Oregon who had some real-life friends in common with the woman. “At that point I thought, maybe this is a little unhealthy.” (Wortham)

Instances such as these are those that bring into question whether those on Facebook are modern day Cyber exhibitionists and those who go in search, or stumble across such intimate, albeit publicly available details voyeurs? However in a digital society and an economy in the midst a recession, many Americans no longer see the importance of physical wedding invitations, baby announcements or ‘Save-the-Dates.’ A sore spot among many who have “unplugged” themselves from the Facebook machine. There must be a balance between the two. We cannot allow ourselves to get sucked in by technology that we forget to connect with people in the real world every now and then. For those in search of an easy way to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out,’ often undetected Facebook may be the way to go.

"For people who came of age online, keeping a username or avatar or online persona – “SmileyGirl323” “BigJimDorito,” etc. – separate from one’s meatspace self long ago began to seem natural. Well, sorry, Smileyetc, but now it’s time for those divided personality-halves to merge. It’s time to stop letting our online selves get away with things our “real selves” would never do. It’s time to stop posting photos we wouldn’t want everyone to see and typing things we wouldn’t want everyone to know we’ve said. If you want to keep a nasty thought or embarrassing anecdote private, there’s an easy, 100% guaranteed safe way to do that, and it’s not a new app or functionality — it’s Internet abstinence. If you’re not comfortable letting the world see what you’re really like, you shouldn’t be online at all." (Gould, Online Self)

You Say You Want a Revolution?
"People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented," the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell opined on February 2, 2011. A few weeks later, The Financial Times' Gideon Rachman reminded us that "the French managed to storm the Bastille without the help of Twitter -- and the Bolsheviks took the Winter Palace without pausing to post photos of each other on Facebook." (Taylor) While Gladwell may be correct with regard to issues of self-importance, he falls short on the actual importance of this ubiquitous social media giant. Although the Bastille was stormed pre-Twitter and governments were brought to their knees before timelines and newsfeeds, had these tools been in existence, I do not doubt that they would have been artfully and thoughtfully employed then, as they are now.

As a means of easily connecting with old friends, new friends, loved ones around the world or across the room, Facebook is a blessing for many. But there are many who feel the pressure of having to maintain that aura of invincibility for their several hundred Facebook “friends” We don’t post pictures for ourselves, we post to interact and illicit a reaction out of others. There those who feel as though, after having constructed an online self, their IRL (In Real Life) self pales in comparison).

I recently interviewed Joshua Felder, a recently laid off former NASA employee about Facebook. He had this to say, “If I create a picture album called, “I’m a Big Deal in DC,” then I have provided evidence and no one could refute my claim. Wth ‘no one’ being the Facebook community at large.” To which I asked Mr. Felder, “Do you mean the Facebook community at large or did you mean your “friends”? Unless the record or physical evidence, the aura of the photographic testament you’ve provided can be inferred as ‘inherently lame,’ if there’s nothing superfluous or decadent, nothing that’s any different than what you were doing before, why do people care? Do they really care? Why should they? Or most importantly, should it even matter anymore?” Felder’s response was the following, “Well it did [matter] when I lost my job. I felt like I didn’t add anything of any value. You can post whatever you want, but how well are you REALLY doing in life? Based on my pics, I’m living it up, But I’d rather focus on the reality of my situation. Fabricating some virtual life will only hurt the betterment of my real life. I don’t need to worry if anyone liked my status or poked me or whatever. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s not real. It’s not relevant to my existence.” (Felder)

In conclusion, just as Mr. Felder intimated, Facebook is a simulacrum, nothing more. It isn’t real life. It’s a play on real life. Every now and again, we must unplug ourselves from it and allow ourselves to experience life while it is happening and not just Tweet about it or post it on Facebook. If Twitter were to crash tomorrow and Facebook lost all of your data, the only thing anyone would have left anyway would be memories.

Police Slog Through 40,000 Insipid Party Pics To Find Cause Of Dorm Fire

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