This I Believe

Anna - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Entered on October 5, 2006

I am an average Facebook user: a wanderer, an exhibitionist, a flagrant joiner. I belong to such groups as “I eat carbs,” “I built forts as a child” and “Civilized People Against Torture.” I check Facebook twice a day. Because of habits more frequent than mine, Facebook is the third most visited site on the Internet. I believe I am standing on the precipice of something new. I’m talking about not just Facebook, but how we approach social networking as a culture and all the things that come with it. Like anything new, I doubt it can be inherently good or bad. I have not yet decided how to treat this new creature that sleeps at my feet.

Recently Facebook creators turned on a news feed feature that shows all updates occurring within a user’s network. It was turned on in the middle of the night. I logged in the next morning and was freaked out. Before I even left my home screen, I was aware of every change that had been made during the night. A friend of mine ended a long relationship with her ex on Facebook thinking it was a private act (finalized in the click of the ‘cancel relationship’ button), meant to be noticed by anyone in her network the next time they checked her profile. The change unsettled me and 642,565 other members of the Facebook group called “Students Against Facebook News Feed,” which I joined right away. I felt the news feed cutting at something intimate. That is, Facebook was a place I went to check on people; to say ‘hi’ anytime without the rudeness of banging on someone’s window in the middle of the night. As a Facebook user, I know distance. When I stand face-to-face with someone else, I know boundaries. But the boundaries are re-drawn with the news feed, and I become more aware of my position within a network.

I believe in the miracle of coherence. Like most Facebook users, not only am I one of the last generations to remember life before September 11, I am also one of the last generations to remember life before AOL. For me, each piece of information I leave is a choice. I join the groups and support the causes that amuse me or fire me up.

I believe in the miracle of coherence combined with the possibility of good. Brought up a Unitarian Universalist, I am taught to believe in the interconnectedness of all beings. I guess this is a pretty simple principle, consistent with modern science and the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Like most UUs, I look to the interconnectedness of a food chain, the firing of brain synapses and the complications of human relationships for inspiration.

Like most UUs I was introduced to Emerson through his essay on Nature:

“Without electricity the air would rot, and without this violence of direction which men and women have, without a spice of bigot and fanatic, no excitement, no efficiency. We aim above the mark, to hit the mark.”

I live by telling stories and understanding them. I live by full, active participation and by putting the pieces together. I have the cognitive ability to ignore the static of spaces between details in order to gather fuller meaning. In this way I can supersede disappointments and accidents with narrative, which provides relief. I require involvement with every detail that surrounds me to build such a narrative.

All this is why I am thinking about Facebook. My curiosity in everyone, my selfish desire to create myself over and over: these are the factors that keeps me returning daily. I am infatuated with the push and pull of my sense of control against my lack of control. I am absorbed in the details of others. Establishing selfhood, making the choices I believe in carefully and making them visible within a network, this requires a coherent belief structure. Establishing selfhood is a violent act made visible in a public forum: that is the potential of Facebook.

The live, active social network: we are standing at the precipice of something new, and I believe we’d damned well better get it right this time.