The Guilty Pleasures of Facebook, cont.

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16 March 2009

Follow-up to March 8 post….

It’s over-stating to use the word “sin” in regards to Facebook, of course — but the notion of Facebook (as a symbolic stand-in for social networking in general) as a social “good” going “bad,” in a way that calls for a break — a veritable spiritual cleansing — gives one pause.

(Another FB friend reports “taking a break from the Internet” in her Facebook status update. “Call me,” she writes.)

In the NYTimes Sunday Mag this week, Peggy Orenstein writes about the generational  dynamics of Facebook.  For 30-and-40-and 50-somethings, Facebook has become a way of  reconnecting — for better or for worse — with past selves, via old friends and acquaintances from youth.  For today’s youth, Facebook might end up being the way in which one never loses touch with that self — or those youth-associated relations — in the first place.  Facebook’s “most profound impact,” she writes,

“may be to alter, even obliterate, conventional notions of the past, to change the way young people become adults… college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self?”

My guess is that for us older folk, the novelty of Facebook wears off after the initial surge of participation — exploring features, finding old friends, satiating that hunger for instant social gratification.  Hence the need for a “break.”  A bit of binge-and-purge, then hopefully a leveling off to a more reasonable and managed and individualized participation.  

One of the great and profound hallmarks of adulthood is the capacity to both pursue and experience “difficult pleasures” — reading a book that requires some intellectual effort, for example.  The concern might be that Facebook, for the younger generations, would encourage perpetual adolescence; that instead of serving as a kind of fun side-story to a fully-realized adult life, it will in fact supplant adult life, will become the very architecture of a life, and preclude the possibilities of more difficult pleasures.

Today, I’m going with an optimistic outlook (spring is in the air, after all).  Social networking is evolving so quickly (remember Friendster? Orenstein writes), it’s certainly possible that Facebook will simply “grow up” along side its users.  Interestingly, the status update has just recently changed from the default “Mary is…” (What are you doing right now?) to a blank box with a new header question: 

“What’s on your mind?”

Be thoughtful human beings, the Facebook people seem to be saying.  Take a moment to think about what you want to report.

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2 Responses to “The Guilty Pleasures of Facebook, cont.”

  1. skb Says:

    Another great and profound hallmark of adulthood is to have finally purged all of the relationships that we never really wanted out of our lives. It was hard enough the first time, damned if I have it in me to do it again!

    That said, another persuasive (and amusing) Facebook piece by Lev Grossman:
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1879169,00.html

  2. sonyachung Says:

    I really don’t understand Twitter. But maybe it will evolve to lure the old fogeys… this is what the market is all about, right? And who’s not still bitter about high school? (Oops, did I say that out loud…)


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