Thirty Thousand Streets

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Consider the following face related phrases:

"Cutting off your nose to spite your face"

"saving face"

"cliff face"

"Face from The A-Team"

Faces are clearly important to us humans.. after all.. we all have them! Some of us have books too. And now, as if this wasn't enough, we have Facebook.

It seems I'd only just rolled the badly designed corpse of Myspace off the end of the metaphorical pier of my life, than Facebook sauntered up, smiling, to replace one piece of social networking apparatus with another.

From having barely heard of it six months ago, it's stock has risen quickly, to the point that it impinges more upon my waking life far more than Myspace ever did. I signed up when an ex-housemate invited me to join and I wanted to see what her hairstyle looked like. And simultaneous to me joining, so seemingly did the rest of the population of the UK.

There have been times recently when, freelancing within a company, I've glanced around to see all the computer screens in my line of sight tuned to channel Facebook, like it was some kind of proprietory desktop software; or the company was under siege from a War Games style viral attack. In at least one instance one of the participants was the studio manager.
I read the other day that certain employers are now making pissing about on Facebook a sackable offence, and to be honest, I'm not entirely surprised. I know with some certainty that Facebook's cost to the UK advertising industry in terms of wasted man hours exceeds the GDP of certain small African countries, and compared to which the less addictive evils of alcohol and cocaine binges are as krill to the sperm whale in terms of orders of magnitude.

Everyone's talking about Facebook (including me, now, obviously). Facebook is the biggest 'water-cooler' topic since the invention of water-coolers. In fact, Facebook is itself a kind of giant digital water cooler, around whom people convene to talk about, well, very little actually. Probably Facebook, oh recursive of recursive ironies.

I'm not quite sure why Facebook has managed to beguile everyone to the degree that it has though. What you've got is basically a far less irritating Myspace that doesn't automatically look like a fridge door, but this is in itself contingent on the account holder not plastering it with all the assorted novelty doohickeys available, as many feel compelled to do. Aquarium? Check. Garden? Check. Novelty lunar vista? Check. In fact, once you burrow beneath the veneer of gimcrack concealing Facebook, there's actually precious little left over, and certainly nothing that didn't exist in some other form previously.

As a means of communication I find it irritatingly circuitous. I'm regularly sent an email telling me I have a Facebook message, when the email itself would have done. Especially when the message is usually along the lines of: "Hi! You alright?!" (yes, I'm bored, I was actually hoping you had something interesting to say). I think the main reason people use it so much is the option to write messages in full view of everyone else, wherein communication becomes conspicuous and ritual, and actual content atrophies. It's the digital equivalent of a mutually congratulatory backslap in the middle of a crowded club. When it comes to chat, Facebook is small-talk embodied.

But, wait a minute, it's a social networking site. I'd forgotten.. The problem here is that at least for me, it's usually confined to the handful of genuine friends I have and a wall of faces from my past I'd already mentally consigned to the out-tray.. which is to say I don't necessarily want them gurning out at me every time I log in. Admittedly I joined to re-establish contact with an old pal, but it's yet to result in anything as radical as actually meeting up in person, perish the thought. At best the rekindling of these kind of acquaintances represents a certain sentimental nostalgia for what might have been; at worst it's delusional. Facebook is like Christmas Eve in the pub back home every night, which is not an institution that merits increased frequency, in spite of what Brummie rockers Slade might have to say.

In one case recently, I got added as a friend by an ex-housemate from uni, who was a bit of a loner. Thing is.. I saw him in a club I was DJing in a few years back, and when I went up to talk to him.. he walked off with a drunken sneer. Possibly he hated my music. But now, he wants to reacquaint.. on Facebook.. like, fuck real life, let's do this through the internet, it's so much more now..

As for it being a personal profile space on the internet? Well fine, I suppose, only as with anything on the web (this blog included) people attempt to massage into life these avatars of themselves that are crazy with a capital K – usually by documenting hedonistic nights out in an unflattering photographic journal. And I am all for partying, but I'm also easily bored by bad flash photography of drunk people (especially when I'm one of them). I've heard various cautionary tales recently of prospective employers rejecting potential employees because of ill-advised Facebook press releases, but really I suppose I find it kind of odd that people are so eager to upload these fairly banal representations of themselves for all and sundry to see. Indeed, what are Facebook photo libraries but the modern equivalent of the fabled holiday slideshow of yesteryear, only with a potentially far vaster audience.

Ok so I'm a miserable git.. and probably not sufficiently 'down wiv the kids' enough to get this crap now I've turned thirty. And of course, blogging is itself probably the most emo thing anyone can do second to wearing eyeliner and self-harming. But really, it's the triviality of it all that gets me. Here they all are, the people from your past and present, friends, family members, colleagues, lovers, spouses, exes, crushes, all assembled in one place like some surreal drowning montage and what do they want to do? They want to 'invite you to be a pirate...' (sigh) And it has to be said, there is something fairly unwholesome about squinting at thumbnail pictures of your sundry acquaintances on a glowing screen, even as a substitute in their absence. As bizarrely compelling as it may seem, I struggle to see what value surveilling in this manner adds to a relationship.

No doubt if Jean Baudrillard was still alive he'd be having a field day with this shit.. The neccessity of 'demonstrating' communication with the reultant degradation in content, the re-forging of counterfeit friendships.. hyper-real mate innit. Unfortunately he's dead and you've got me.

I must concede however, in spite of my gripes, Facebook is probably here to stay in my life, at least until some other emergent web-fad sidles up to elbow it out of the way. Some very good friends seem to use it almost exclusively as a mode of contact, and I'm just about pragmatic enough to accept that. And just today, my cousin, who I've not seen since her wedding, eleven years ago, got in touch.. So it it is good for something, though I don't really, in fairness, anticipate seeing her in person anytime soon.


Peter Gasston said...

The new AOL, the new Geocities, the new MySpace... I just don't see the benefit in closed, proprietary areas of the internet.

Ade said...

The senior art director of the company I'm working at today is clicking around Facebook right now.

<<< Right next to me.

Hyo-Jin said...

I completely agree. It's an effort with the repetition of emails to tell you that you have a bloody email. Far out, what's the point? And, the loser from uni getting in touch on facebook, it's a bloody lie. They want to add you onto their stupid consumerist list of mates that they don't care about.
So, Baudrillard would just know the panoptican is in place. My worst nightmare is to become a stalkerbook VOYEUR!! Also, what is with the losers who have a profile but don't have a profile, it's purely for stalker reasons, right?
Selfish, you have to put out to get some! I might put your blog link onto my facebook wall, that okay? Luv ya Tomo!

Hyo-Jin said...

Sorry had a bit of a syntax error, meant losers who have a profile but put absolutely nothing in there. It's so fruitless, a goddamn okra has more juice! Ok, as for blogging, I guess I don't have a blogger profile myself, so I need to thank you for creating a space where I too can bounce ideas into ether! Hah!

Zeno Cosini said...

I like the way you establish the provenance of faces before you introduce the subject of Facebook itself. I guess if they were always going to name their social networking system after a chunk of anatomy, it was more likely to be "face" than anything else -"buttock", "thigh", "scrotum", etc.

The Eyechild said...

@ PG

Yeah it all seems like a huge steaming pile of novelty that's only worth anything as long as people insist on using it.. Question is, what's the 'new Facebook' gonna be? Glancing round the graveyard that is Myspace these days I see some of the messages are months old.. is such to be the Face's fate in the future? time will tell.

@ Ade

The Facebook is a media feeding frenzy, alright.

@ HJ

Yes.. the friends lists are a little less excessive than Myspce where I was constantly getting added by some irritating nomates band I'd neither heard of nor cared about, but nonetheless, it all still seems faintly hollow.

I always did admire the big B's eclecticism.. the way he'd poit at anything and say "see, this proves what I mean!" he was nothing if not audacious.

@ Zeno

Now you mention it, I might set up 'Buttock Book' just to counteract the general zeitgeistyness of it all.. you never know, it might make me a dot com millionaire, though I would forever be known as the guy behind 'Buttock Book'. Not so good.