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After a Few Months on Facebook

After a series of resistances to Facebook I experimented with the social network in the last few months. The first resistance was about presenting a “self” of mine, the same for all people in my friends’ list. This created some perplexity for me. I like the variety of human beings and have always mixed with people of the most variety: adventurers, hippies, artists, travelers, therapists, entrepreneurs, scholars, rich, poor and creative mixes of those natures. My self, being composed of a mix of different personalities, tends to show different facets of my nature where these can find correspondence. Inevitably, this creates more intimate and personalized relationships but at the same time they are limited by a subset of our personality.

With Facebook and the public profile which widely embraces our personality, I was afraid of not being recognized “for what I am” by some individuals. It reminded me of One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand, the latest novel and a masterpiece of Luigi Pirandello. Basically we are “One,” but for the majority of people we are not “No One,” while in front of the multitude of people who know us, we are “One Hundred Thousand.” We are a different person in the eyes of each person. Without going to the spiritual level where we can say that actually all of us are “nobody” and “everything” at the same time, remaining on the levels of the personality construction and object relationships, Facebook is an interesting experiment.

On the Net we are often anonymous in many spheres: in our Web surfing, in social networks and in forums, we mostly use identities which do not identify us precisely. Facebook is an attempt to reunify the various personalities and to give a center of consciousness to the fragmentation of the online personality. It is an attempt to overcome – even though limited to the digital area – the various object relationships. Facebook can represent an evolution of the adolescent search of one’s own personality, a stage when there are attempts to give ourselves an identity through experimenting with life and people and often hiding behind anonymity.

So, here I am with my “real me” on Facebook, the same in front of everybody, unifying the pieces of my history and therefore the pieces of my psyche. What will it be like, this public “me”? As a lowest common multiple where my relationships and human qualities can be creatively expanded through sharing with friends, or will it be as a highest common factor where only the common qualites will be kept, the ones which most people can accept? It seemed to me sometimes the former at other times the latter.

When in the offline community human relationships are evermore distant and formalized, where almost the whole territory has been turned into a cement jungle, where non-commercial places for meeting are becoming rare, where the time for real meetings itself becomes absorbed more and more by technological gadgets, Facebook has arrived to the rescue for helping us to find again the sense of belonging and to keep in touch in contact with people.

The first thing which struck me was that Facebook proposed to me to update my status writing in the third person: “Ivo…,” which I could have completed with “has gone to the beach,” “has had lunch with friends,” “is writing an article,” etc. We write this way in the perspective of others, to be seen and read. The third person has a double function. From the one hand to present oneself in the third person supports the inner observation. The very fact of presenting oneself from the point of view of others helps the awareness of ourselves. On the other hand, speaking in the third person can feed the ego even further, maybe for the very fact that in speaking of ourselves we are feeding an attention which is not that of inner observation, but that of the ravenous ego to be seen and recognized.

After a couple of months the initial proposal became, “What’s on your mind?” Facebook is giving more importance to the “Twitter-like” functions, stimulating the flow of daily messages almost in real time. The way of meditation is to let the thoughts pass by, not becoming attached to them. After years of working on myself, one of the few things I have learnt is that the mind excretes thoughts continuously, that the vast majority of them are not interesting and most of them do not even belong to us. Most thoughts present themselves in the form of conditionings and repeating others’ words and thoughts, with few variations on the theme. Now that I start to attach less to my thoughts, letting them flow with a certain indifference, here comes Facebook which elevates them to the “news of the day” ranking. Well…

Anyway, I played around a bit with Facebook, wrote some notes, gave links and uploaded photos of my travels. Once I was on a tropical island, taking pictures and thinking of how I would have presented them on Facebook. Instead of living the situation totally, I was thinking of how to picture it and how to present it inside a media, moving away from the direct experience on many levels. Even the mind which interferes is a part of the totality of experience and I accept it with great pleasure, but when it exaggerates, I put it aside in a corner.

I remember when I was a child and when something interesting was happening, sometimes the adults would tell me, “Oh…think of when you’ll tell this to your friends (or at home).” It used to make me mad because it got me out of the flow, whether I was playing or watching a show. For many years I did not take pictures of my trips and in some way if I have started doing it since the last few years, it is also due to the pressure of sharing them through the Internet.

Every time I connect to Facebook I browse the flow of my friends’ updates. There are those who write several notes in a day, those who seldom write, there are funny or serious appeals, a female friend of mine writes, “Something is dying inside….”If she writes it in a public way it is a desire for sharing, but it is strange to see this message running with dozens of other signals mostly ordinary and often banal. I know something about this friend’s life; it wouldn’t be appropriate to reply in public for asking further details but at the same time I would not want to use Facebook as a platform email for sending a personal message. In this manner we enter Facebook for continuing a talk which can happen much more easily through ordinary email. I choose not to send any comment or message in Facebook, reserving myself for communication with her in other ways (by Internet, through IM or email because we live in different nations). I also ask myself if I am avoiding deeper contact, being in my turn taken over by the avalanche of superficiality.

Using Facebook I tend to decrease individual contact. More than communicating I found that I was broadcasting, transmitting to an audience. Almost every day the audience increases, the number of friends expands. The effect is seductive and gratifying for the ego, but it is a different thing to communicate to a public rather than to a single person. With each of them there is a unique story and a unique relationship. Of course, it is possible to send personalized messages by Facebook too but for this purpose a mailer program is better, while the structure of Facebook gives more emphasis to broadcasting. As a mailer I use Eudora, an old software, but still functional and “ecological,” which works even with a slow Internet connection or through a mobile phone connection. Differently, it is almost impossible to open Facebook pages with a connection which is not ADSL to send just a private message.

I have noticed that after about 50 “friends” the flow of messages becomes such that it leads to loss of sense and value. I tend to scroll the messages with the mouse as if they were newspaper items. As when in some countries everybody is hooting on the road, the meaning of the signal gets lost, hearing gets anesthetized and it becomes only a background. McLuhan had noticed how technologies and the media become as much an extension as an amputation of the body/mind’s faculties.

The nature of the mind is such that after some time it erases any interest; through the repetition of the stimulus less attention is given to the same type of input. The mind chases novelties. The same happens to me with the feed of the blog I read. As soon as a blog has been discovered I follow its articles with interest, then tend to look through them quickly. I would not want to “evaporate” my friends’ messages in the same way.

Giving news regarding myself on Facebook makes me become lazier and having an excuse for not contacting people personally. And what about those who aren’t on Facebook? Most of my friends are not on Facebook and sometimes they do not even use the Internet. Since there is a limit to the time which one can dedicate to communications, those inevitably get penalized.

The really important news of my friends, including those who are on Facebook, anyway did not come through Facebook: they reached me by direct contact, on the phone or by email. In any case I’ll play the game of Facebook more, but I could decide to stop at any moment by sending a note to my contacts. Apart from the above-mentioned reason, it would be enough for me not to be connected to a fast Internet line for some time to make me lose the will to wait for minutes for looking through mostly banalities, with all the respect I have for my friends.

Facebook undoubtedly is the best engineered social network site, nevertheless I foresee the fall of its popularity as it has happened with other very popular sites such as Second Life or MySpace. Facebook will be more persistent than the others because it is linked to people we know in real life. But as the mind has constructed the game of Facebook, the mind will dismantle it. The mind loses interest about everything, especially if something remains only on the mental plane. Facebook’s strength consists in being a bridge between the purely mental world and the world of real relationships. In this reciprocal exchange between the virtual and the real on one hand some virtual meetings can be “real-ized” but on the other hand real people can be “virtualized,” reducing them in our psyche to a small icon and a flow of bytes which scroll on the screen. Similarly, various appeals and different causes risk counting in the real world as much as a discussion between prisoners during the air hour.

All of what I have written was without considering the problems connected to privacy – which would be an alarming separate chapter.

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