Facebook and The Death of Mystery
I received an email recently notifying me that I was “tagged” in a facebook entry called “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” from an old friend. We actually went on a few dates many many years ago and I haven’t seen him in about three years, but we’ve remained friends. Curious, I clicked on the link and learned twenty five things about him I never knew, like the rest of his four hundred friends. He’s a very witty guy, so it wasn’t quite like “I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” but in another way, it was oddly close. By tagging me he was requesting, or essentially daring me, along with the other nine friends he had tagged, to do the same thing. I impulsively started to do it and then never posted anything
My facebook life started off about a year and a half ago with friends and people I know closely, then my family started dribbling in, and the next thing I knew my friends included that person from a job I had ten years ago, students I’ve taught at art school, that really weird guy from high school, and an old roommate in college… and on and on it continued. That was the first sign of “friend leakage”, where I had expanded beyond the scope of intimate friends and was venturing into people outside of my circle, but usually by only a few degrees — at least I knew them.
Then things started getting out of hand. It started with a friend who is a supreme animal rights crusader with a very sexy, come-hither thumbnail picture. I haven’t seen her in years but she wrote a book and is semi-famous for the cause, so because of her, I have about one hundred extra friends. I know this because when someone requests that they be my friend in Facebook, I can see all the friends we have in common. I kept seeing this one friend, and then I realized I had become a part of the save the animals movement because our mutual friends kept including the friends I had met through her. Honestly, I started to get a little loose about whom I would “friend”– that’s right, Facebook made me feel promiscuous– I would wait then say, “Oh what the hell, after all, we have mutual friends.” It was then when I truly appreciated the fractal component of the friending process.
“The Facebook Friending Process” (Illustration courtesy of Mandelbrot)
When I joined initially, I saw in Facebook something that resembled the early days of AOL when people were giddy about first sending emails and buddy lists and instant messaging were all the rage. Unlike many other people, who put videos of their kid’s first step, pictures from their recent barbecue and the details of their love life (options are “single”, “in a relationship”, “married” and “it’s complicated”), I try not to reveal too much — at least I don’t think I do — but even that’s getting blurry. At some point I must have made the decision that because I am an artist, my work is something I want and need to share, and I think of Facebook as one of many tools to do that. I’ve also come to consider one’s digital footprint to be, in a sense, another form of existence outside of the physical body. And it’s scope and appearance needs to be tended to so that it compositionally represents the portrait you want to present to the outside world.
But what struck me as so odd about the request for 25 secret things about me was I instantly envisioned that I could be creating a white paper on my entire spiritual, intellectual and life DNA. Imagine getting friended by someone who you’ve been set up with on a date, and he goes on your site to read what would ordinarily be doled out like pearls rolling down a pillow after an intimate evening over months or years of getting to know each other. If you fully fill out the profile questionnaire, you could let someone know every movie or favorite song you like, your favorite hobby and, along with your photos, video and baby pictures, it would read like a map of your very essence.
Kimberly Brooks. Detail from “Delivery” Oil on Panel. 2004
Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that Amazon would close Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, along with countless other independent bookstores; that I’d see a “going out of business” sign at the Tower Records down the hill; that bloggers and aggregators would somehow supplant (usurp?) journalists for news sources and that the New York Times (The New York Times!) would mortgage it’s building to stay alive.
I cannot help but to cast my mind forward. My ten year old son started a blog while we were at a dinner party. Now he wants to spend hours gathering cool content for it to show his friends. When he’s not begging me for a phone, it’s for me to blog about his blog so he can get a bigger audience. I wonder what they will call the generation who grows up with all this. I believe Time Magazine called mine “X” because it was right after the baby boomers and we hadn’t defined ourselves yet (well, we showed them). Then came “Generation Y” because it was after us. I would rename this one Generation “E” for “Exhibitionist”, (we can throw in “Exposure” and “Electronic” while we’re at it.) These social networking applications are grafted onto their gray matter and perhaps they might never know what mystery is. They’ll google or “friend” every classmate, teacher, co-worker, boss and know everything there is to know about that person. There will be no more boundary between “personal” and “professional”. Everyone will engage in wanton fractal friending and be connected with each other and Kevin Bacon. Maybe, if everybody becomes friends, this is how we will achieve Peace on Earth!
My husband is not on Facebook. I’m kind of jealous. He talks to a small group of people one-on-one via email. Because at the end of the day, and I mean that quite literally, Facebook has become another inbox for me to check. Maybe it’s because I always want to be mysterious or that as an artist, like Greta Garbo, “I just vant to be alone.”