By Melissa Swanepoel, Staff Writer Facebook started as a networking tool, a social connection facilitator. It has become so much more — with each step the site has taken, it has broadened its reach, and therefore its impact. It had 901 million monthly active users at the end of March 2012. It currently has other insane numbers of people using it on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, on different platforms, in different countries, in different languages. It has become a social sandbox where people come, as Facebook puts it, to “stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” But this cannot be a one-way street. If you use Facebook to connect to others and share what matters to you, then you are by default opening yourself to what matters to those with whom you are connecting.
This is an accurate depiction of Facebook, right down to that corner where all the kids pee.
You are, whether you agree or disagree with their opinions, find artistic or repulsive their content, opening your mind to the ideas, images, and perspectives of those you ‘friend’ and ‘like’ on Facebook. There is another device/platform that shares this. Television. Or to be more precise, reality TV. You see, TV in and of itself is not an accurate metaphor. It has news channels, education channels, as well as channels that cannot be taken too seriously (History Channel on blast here). It is, therefore, like the Internet. There is information out there, some good, some bad, a lot of it entertaining. Then, there is reality TV. It is full of people we vaguely know from somewhere, or who are new to us, but with whom we will soon be far too familiar. There is a lot of drama here. This is sounding more and more like Facebook. Think of it like this: your friends on Facebook are shows you watch. I am not talking about your actual, real-life friends here, but your friends as they present themselves on Facebook. These Facebook presentations seem real enough, but they are HIGHLY scripted. More often than not, highlights and low points in a person’s day are the main focus of status updates. These are like episodes. Some episodes contain photos, links to cool/sad/funny/bizarre articles, videos, etc..
MEMES: Coming to a facebook near you!
When you read these updates, you have watched that episode. Then you do something important: you rate the content. By ‘liking’ or commenting on certain updates, you have giving that show, which is a highly-scripted and stylized version of somebody which is maintained by a real person, positive feedback. Even if your feedback was negative. By causing you to respond, communicate, or have any kind of measurable reaction, that show has succeeded in two things: first, in verifying that you watch that show; and two, in verifying that the show is having an impact on you. The content provider (real person) will then base subsequent posts on the feedback they receive – not based on whether or not it’s good, but on whether or not it’s there. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people complaining about the entertainment atrocity that is Jersey Shore. But the mere fact that they keep complaining means they keep watching, and shows like this will thus continue). Think of your own habits concerning Facebook. Which posts/pics would you share first? The exciting ones that depict the interesting extremes of your life? Or that bland filler called ‘real life’ that no one particularly cares about?
This says it all.
Eventually, it’s not enough to make decisions between the interesting and not-so-interesting events of your life. Eventually, it becomes about living a more interesting life — choosing to go to a drama-filled party instead of vacuuming the cat hair off your drab carpets, choosing to experience and then produce the content that keeps your viewers coming back for more and validating your online presence and persona with their responses.
You, too, could be a reality star!
Like TV, Facebook has commercials. They keep track of interests, so the content you provide and the commercials associated reach a doubly-targeted audience. Facebook also has fan pages. You don’t have to be famous to have a fan page. But, generate the right content, and with enough likes, with enough connections, with enough ‘viewers’, you can achieve a kind of fame. This is beginning to sound more and more like reality TV. The implications of all this are kind of serious (but then again not, because it’s not like it’s real, right?) Think of how much television you watch. Your brain spends that time in a sort of passive receptive state, formulating its views of what reality and normalcy are. Now think of how much time you spend on Facebook. Now you are in an active receptive state, seeking out the stylized and drama-tastic online versions of your friends, friends who already have an effect on the normalcy spectrum your brain produces.
Poor brain, it has no idea…
On Facebook, just like on TV, everyone is falling from one crisis to another, rocketing from one highpoint to the next. The pendulum swings, but we only see the endpoints, which trains us to discount the events and hard work that lead to those extremes. This symptom is being noticed and reported elsewhere already; in 9 Ways Twentysomethings Screw Up Their Lives, the author mentions Facebook and reality TV negatively, construing them as limiting factors for behavioral and personal growth. Am I saying Facebook is evil? No. Am I saying reality TV is bad for you? No yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that Facebook has an impact on our lives. We choose it as a way to connect with those around us, but it’s becoming more than that — we spend time on Facebook. We craft our digital selves there and partake of those already created. We experience by proxy, we react, we respond. It enthralls us. It entertains us. And if it entertains us, it is more than simply entertaining. It is entertainment.