Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Walt Whitman
Steve Cheney recently posted on Facebook’s effects on personal authenticity. Because Facebook is everywhere, despite check-ins and the like, those on Facebook are essentially nowhere. Not the real people.
I read the article with one of my G11 classes. The responses were mixed.
One student commented he wasn’t worried about Facebook hindering his sense of self, “My Facebook page says I like naked skydiving, Satan worship and smoking crack.” Certainly, this student and the one student in the class who admitted to not having a Facebook page are safe from what Cheney points out as Facebook’s attempt to tie people to one identity across the web.
Another student commented on the trouble of his Facebook status interrupting his real life. In a moment of impulse he posted some misogynistic lyrics to a song he was listening to as his status without citing them.
Moments later, his aunt started commenting and criticizing what he was saying about women. Not long after, his aunt told the student’s mother and she jumped in to the commenting fray. Three-quarters of the way into the story, I yelled, “Oh, yeah!”
The student shot me a questioning look. “I remember watching that happen on my feed,” I explained.
I had, in fact, seen the initial status update. I was ready to comment when I saw his aunt’s reply. From there, I sat back and watched as this student’s teachable moment played out very publicly online.
While the whole thing was no more than a virtual version of eavesdropping as a child is disciplined in a department store, I’m troubled by something else dressed up as innocuous but is potentially more menacing.
Considering the online purchase of a sweatshirt a few weeks ago, I noticed the option to “Like” the sweatshirt at the bottom of the picture along with an encouraging, “Be the first of your friends to like this.”
Facebook was open in none of my browser tabs, but there it was, lurking as I shopped, collecting more and more data on where I’ve been looking around the Internet.
Thing is, if I like that sweatshirt, I’ll send the link to a friend or two with the message, “What do you think?” That’s it.
Facebook wants me to like it in front of 807 of my closest and most tacitly connected friends.
It’s a hoodie.
No one should be subjected to that kind of information about my life.
Not only does Facebook want to spread my business, it wants to use me as a tool of the man. If any of my friends should happen upon this same hoodie in their own browsing, Facebook also wants to use my “Like” as peer pressure to encourage any of those 807 a little closer to buying the shirt as well.
Cheney remains optimistic on the chances of our humanity winning out over the full adoption of Facebook-rooted inauthentic identities:
People yearn to be individuals. They want to be authentic. They have numerous different groups of real-life friends. They stylize conversations. They are emotional and have an innate need to connect on different levels with different people. This is because humans are born with an instinctual desire to understand the broader context of their surroundings and build rapport, a social awareness often called emotional intelligence.
While there are moments my online spaces have allotted me the capabilities to make smaller, stylized connections to various groups, Facebook and its ilk are not the spaces in which to do that. They never were.
If I wouldn’t reveal it to a stranger at a dinner party, it’s not meant for Facebook.