Facebook is the opium of the people. Albeit a slight revision on Karl Marx’s iconoclastic statement on religion, it provides a good parallel for how Facebook pervades the social lives of the masses – but particularly those of our generation – the Facebook generation.
Facebook has revolutionized the fundamental feature that elevated Homo Sapiens to the top of the food chain: our social skills. In some sense, Facebook has forced us to put our social skills to work every minute of every hour of every day – as a result continuously fine-tuning them to exhibit our maximum efficiency and competency within the context of our particular social niche. However, one thing pervades all our niches and victimizes most all users due to this “hyper-tuning” that the state of our technological age has brought upon us: the superficiality of our social lives.
Facebook’s purpose is networking, which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” The later part of the definition is inherent to the concept regardless of how removed it is from “business,” which as anyone who has seen “The Social Network” knows, is anything but removed from Facebook. Subsequently, “social-networking” is arguably an oxymoron.
Although this is debatable to socialize effectively is a substantive and intimate process. We can look at our families as the epitome of socialization. A strong and effective family requires more than biological or categorical relations, but intimate ones in which each member knows his or her fellow member in an intimate manner. The most basic way this manifests itself is through bonding and conversation within one another’s presence – and the home is the ultimate facilitator of this.
Let’s contrast this with the Facebook’s “social-networking” experience. At its roots, the objective is to connect with as many people as possible, hence increasing your network, maximizing one’s social profit. The only requirement for this process is a request and acceptance, leading to a new “friend” – or more specifically, “Facebook-friend”.
A friend is an intimate relationship with someone (usually) outside of your family. A friend is the social equivalent to a family member once removed. An acquaintance is someone who you are aware of personally, but have no close relations with. An acquaintance is a friend once removed. However, Facebook has introduced this new phenomenon of the “Facebook-friend”. The Facebook-friend is essentially a spectrum, with its epicenter lying in between an acquaintance and a friend. For in a Facebook-friend, one can know intimate biographical and social information without ever getting into a conversation with that person – whereas in pre-Facebook circumstances, only through an intimate exchange over time could one attain such information, usually leading to or solidifying a friendship. Yet, the “Facebook-friend” introduces this concrete spectrum of ambiguity, all the while maintaining the word/concept/sign of “friend”.
This has lead to a metastasis of superficiality in our social experience, filtering almost all of it through Facebook, leaving those who wish to abstain, or who desire the intimate relations of old, on the outskirt of our new social order. I have on multiple attempts sought to manipulate Facebook as a tool for my particular purposes, but there is no substantive, intimate filter. There is no avoiding its pervasive superficial nature. And once the Facebook experiment fails (and I do not just refer to my own), the alienated venture back out into the world where our ancestors once gave rise to civilization only to find that it is not the social world where our ancestors once gave rise to civilization – it’s Facebook! On the one hand, it’s Facebook due to the Matrixesque phenomenon of everyone being plugged in through their phone or computer; on the other hand, its Facebook due to the fact that no one can be engaged nor engage others without the filter of the web and screen. We are a species afraid and skeptical of conversation in the physical presence of others – the antithesis of what makes us human.
Ultimately, the consequence of this is the alienation of all – not just those who try to live outside the system. For with the advent and pervasion of the Facebook-friend, we have lost the fundamentals of what actually makes a genuine friendship. Even when we have them, we can only relate to them in the context of the Facebook-friend. Facebook has eroded the essence of friendship, replacing it with its own – cornering the market on social interaction as a result – leaving each of us in the dark, with nothing but the computer screen’s light to guide us.