Friday, July 20, 2007

Hyperreality In Facebook


The following is an email exchange I had with a friend today. It started with my commentary regarding a mutual acquaintance, and expanded to a larger discussion of Facebook and the hyperreality it creates for some (most?) of its users. Identities have been removed to protect the (not so) innocent.


Me: While I anxiously await your next email-with-government-story (similar to how I anxiously await Prince's "Planet Earth" release on July 24th), I feel the need to comment on *Mutual Friend*, as she is possibly the most interesting (and loathsome) mutual acquaintance we posses. I say most interesting because when I first read your email I firmly doubted (and laughed as a result) that she would even know what Ayn Rand's philosophy is called (Objectivism) let alone its principles, despite the fact that The Fountainhead is one of her favorite books on Facebook. Anyway, this led me to realize that she probably knows next to nothing about anything in her Facebook profile, and further that her profile is simply the manifestation of post-modern popular culture (or at the very least a very specific subset thereof). An amateur deconstruction of her profile reveals that her Facebook personality is the farthest thing from individualistic (a further irony with her self-association with Ayn Rand), and that it is just a repeating crawl of things other people like and/or that culture in general (whether it is Miami culture or pop-culture at large) has deemed are "cool" or even better "niche cool" (with "niche cool" being defined as relatively unknown things that make a person cool just for knowing they exist) . The conclusion I have come to (and here is the fascinating part about her) is that I believe that an actual "Mutual Friend" is non-existent. Instead, the entity we call *Mutual Friend* is in fact a manifestation in human form of the environment in which she is placed (I believe we have discussed this before but I am finalizing this theory now). The "person" she is is the result of an obsessive way of maintaining relavence by acting, in any situation, the exact way popular culture (or her version/interpretation thereof) would dictate. So really, "she" does not exist, and she instead is very simply the manifestation of every person she comes in contact with. In other word's, she is Smith from the second Matrix (where he absorbs every Matrix person he comes in contact with). Your thoughts?


Bob: I whole-heartedly agree. But there aren't many people who aren't like that. I just fucking despise niche-coolness, especially in music. But then again I really despise most people, because I am an elitist.


Me: I agree that each of us has elements of projecting an image we think is cool to others (its a basic element of survival), but I would emphasize that for most of us that is an "element" of our personality, where for *Mutual Friend* that is all there is (and all she has become), which is why I find her so fascinating. She has no element of a unique, singular personality. While most people's personalities are molded by a myriad of factors (culture, values, experiences, environment), I believe her's is solely shaped by what she perceives to be "cool", and nothing else. She would [do anything] if enough people/magazines/popular personalities convinced her it was cool. She has no taboos, no restraint. There is nothing she won't do/say/post on her Facebook profile under the "right" cirumstances and/or influence. She is the definition of " I support anything trendy".


Bob: This is what I find interesting. Facebook allows for something completely new. It allows for a hyper-self. Someone more "you" than you. It aides in creating your own identity, apart from the one you currently possess. And in the process, everything is assigned a hidden yet meaningful connotation. For instance, Ayn Rand shows that, whereas you are a fucking idiot, most people would see The Fountainhead in a profile and automatically assume intelligence. Just as Hunter S. Thompson is assigned coolness and Catcher in the Rye has the connotation that one went to high school.The same can be applied to music. Where the niche coolness now has its own application with ilike and last.fm. These are used soley to try to show that you have discarded the old "clear-channel corporate scene " for a music choice that has yet to sell out (make money and eat). Interests are the same, and groups to a greater extent. You have "cyber friends" with "cyber realities" and they interact with your cyber reality in the form of posting pictures and one liners. But, if you dont like a picture, erase it. Only the beautiful can stay. The amazing thing about Facebook is that there are very few ugly people or losers. Even the alternative have their own coolness. But none of it is real. I would love to spend a day as my facebook profile. And have everyone else do the same. Sadly in some cases this happens. *Mutual Friend* is drifting through life as her profile. As a pre-determined entity, with which she identifies herself. One can only hope the same fate doesn't apply to all of us.


Me: Your thoughts pose a further interesting question, and one I think can be used to separate the *Mutual Friend*s from the Bobbys of the Facebook world. If you ask someone what they want to accomplish with his/her profile I think you will get one of two answers. People like you and me would (I think) respond with something like, "to allow people to know more about me" or simpler put to "enhance knowledge", meaning that people who look at our profiles have a general knowledge of who we are and what we are about, but they can get added insight through looking at our profile. For example, I see my profile as a way for me to communicate things about myself that people wouldn't necessarily know just by interacting with me on a daily, or semi-daily, basis. Unless you are one of my closest friends, you might not know that I am obsessed with thug-shit rap (my "Favorite Music" section) or that I dislike aggressive people who are prone to picking fights (the "About Me" section). Putting this info on Facebook allows my profile's viewers to gain added insight as to who I am, and, armed with this information, think more or less of me as a person, and possibly engage in some of the similar interest I and said viewer have. To a person like *Mutual Friend*, I think the answer to the question would be something like "to allow people to know me" or simpler to "create knowledge". Whereas I associate with something (say the Wu-Tang Clan) and then put it on my profile, the other end of the spectrum puts something on their profile (Ayn Rand) and THEN associates with it. It's backwards! Person 1 (me) creates a profile while Person 2 (*Mutual Friend*) lets the profile create her. It's two separate realities or ways of defining the self. Its either you are yourself and that defines your profile, or you are your profile and it defines yourself.

17 comments:

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Tom Williams said...

Absolutely brilliant. I have always considered Facebook a hyperreality and that some users (much like your *mutual friend*) create a simulacrum. It is amusing/irritating when people 'like' niche subjects or use "cool" modern phrases in their status updates!

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