As an exercise, imagine the entire Facebook network as a real world, in some temporal place. In this world, the human being is replaced by the personal homepage of Facebook; in place of bodily organs and anatomical processes are substituted “about me” sections and a wall for public posts. You could even go about assigning physical dimensions to this person we are constructing—his features a sort of composite image of the photo section of his Facebook, his speech restricted to the editable chunks he can post on people’s walls like sticky-notes. Instead of hearing or seeing anything, his only source of perception are the little notes about himself he finds written from time to time on his very body.
Our Facebook creature is a social animal, though, as yet incapable of reproduction, and operating in a grand social realm monitored and reported on by some ultimate computerized reality—God, if you’re so inclined—called Mark Zuckerberg. Every
action of our specimen is reported to a network of his friends in their own personalized news-feed, like a society magazine for everyone in the world, but free of the snarkiness and snoopery. Our god is an objective and factual one, inclined to pithy
bulletins simply stating the minor affairs of our myriad and sundry acquaintances.
Ultimately, this Facebook creature we’ve created, if taken as a whole, living being, amounts to a sort of substanceless personality, a formless shell of a person whose existence subsists only in his constant re-articulation of himself—that is, who
our Facebook creature is, the being who the world encounters, is ephemerally dependent on the state of his wall, the physically manifest image of his home-page and the digital trail of his wall-posts and photos.
Assuming “Facebook” is the society our little creatures have banded together in networks to form, then their world’s currency—for all functioning social systems demand one—is the trafficking of photos, the back-and-forth wiring of pictures of one another
between friends, or rather, in symbolic terms, the dissemination of the image of themselves, the dissemination of their personality. Since the Facebook-world’s physical reality is only the edifice of one’s own cultivated personality, then its
language, its basic mode of expression, instead of being any sort of reciprocal dialogue, reduces to only the propagation of that very personality.
When looked at in the entirety of its undertaking, the project of Facebook speaks to the idea that personality has become something manageable, editable, and customizable in “the Internet age” (a moniker the generally myopic zeitgeist diagnosers
of Newsweek or Time Magazine love to throw around without really seeing its import). And as such the project ends up shepherding the youth, now growing up with it as a daily part of their consciousness, into a heightened awareness of their own
personality, of the blurry lines that separate how one acts from how one is perceived.
What Wikipedia did for information, Facebook is doing for personality, and we, the first generation to experience it, are only dimly aware of its effect on our consciousness. Facebook gave shape to the themes that were dormant in the social networks of the infant Internet, the internet of anonymous friend-finders and anonymous chat rooms, by presenting a physical personage whose identity was no longer obscured by a screen-name—a personage, in a feature of real life that the chat rooms
couldn’t emulate, still located in a social society of real people, yet also free to shape his own presentation to such a society.
The following term may be contrived, but it feels like the only word to fit the social re-wiring that Facebook is performing: a “meta-consciousness” of personality—a consciousness of personality’s contrivance, a consciousness of the hypertextual links that
bind our accoutrements of identity to others’, a consciousness of not just the physical presentation of self that you could once only perceive in a mirror, but of the spectral and performed nature of identity.
Now of course it is dishonest in the first place to argue that the world of Facebook amounts to a real temporal place, considering all of its users have (we hope) functioning lives outside of its blue and white corridors and can only be counted on
to spend at most a few hours a day there. And to purport that this world of ghosts, this world of shapeless personalities, is a mirror to ours would be disingenuous. After all, the personality crafted on Facebook is only encountered by others on the Facebook network; the rest of the world still encounters you on its own terms, in a way that is uneditable. But it isn’t a stretch to say that the way you communicate feeds into your reality, and as Facebook and whatever Internet social networking systems it spawns become more and more the protocol for social interaction, the effect of Facebook on personality demands to be examined in a critical light.
And as personality progresses from something you express unconsciously to something you can edit and manage at will, I get this bleak mental image of the future, where conversation is no longer a means of expression, but like all else erected on
the edifice of “personality,” a currency for self-promotion. Admittedly, it could just be the alarmist voice of my techno-loathing parents slipping Freudianly from my subconscious, or just sour grapes from the fact that I feel irrevocably more self-conscious
and egotistic after having a Facebook, but it still doesn’t hurt to ask the question: as our life once shaped Facebook into this distended impersonation of itself, will Facebook shape our life into its own image? And still further, will our daily interactions, the real physical encounters that once were the only brokerage of relationship between identities, be reduced to some footnote in the catalogue of our recorded and edited personality?
But then of course, it’s silly of me to even worry about the coming Facebook world order, considering its reign will be quickly overthrown once the entire world has started its own 24-hour videoblog on Youtube.