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This is a work of fiction. In truth, I have no idea of how Facebook might pass a rainy day, and I’m just guessing about its capacity for deep philosophic insights.
Unlike most of us, Facebook was born twice: First, there was nascent social network that grew up with a different name in the 1960s, witness to the sorts of things that marked interactive communities during the early space age for life – assassinations, war protests, civil rights and moon landings. But after its graduation from university student novelty to omniscient Internet presence in the 2000s, Facebook was born again, and not in that way sanctioned by the Christian Right.
In truth, it was an early digital era instance of personal reinvention, becoming something its prior resume wouldn’t recognize. Facebook, as we know it today, rose like a specter from the fine stew of widgets and code to become something not quite fixed in time and space.
Like a medium of postmodern phenomena, Facebook saw opportunity in things others didn’t, the hypertext of our moment-to-moment expressions of being: How the internal monologue really longs for an audience. How even the most inconspicuous post connected and disconnected us at the same time. How the concept of making one’s “status” public represented decisions made about what should go there.
But it was more than that, since armchair-conspiracy-theorists-in-training, armed with flash cards and righteousness, could calculate such lineages in a matter of minutes. Facebook saw how the intermingling of virtual networks, electronic neediness and addictive voyeurism gave rise to endless cracks in the earth beneath us. It saw the flood of buzz and Google and viral videos and armies of content producers before most of us even knew there was a net to surf.
Its reward for those premonitions was ridicule. The pundits, misunderstanding the nature and location of its craft, dismissed its flood of mundane observations as dressed up (and dumbed down) pornography; the artists found its stream of typo-ridden narcissism to be largely uninspiring (if not a little overwhelming) , not appreciating how a plethora of drips and drabs can turn into a deluge. Like a troubadour grifting invitations to sing songs about nothing more than being a grifting troubadour, it built a ubiquitous presence. It was everywhere and nowhere, reforming and re-articulating itself as the currents of our pulsing lives splashed over the virtual-cultural landscape.
Pentagram for invoking one’s virtual presence, a tutorial
Oddly, at the center of the cyclone that is Facebook is a flesh-and-blood human being. It sits, perhaps, at its breakfast table, tapping notes into a laptop, where they will, soon enough after being discovered, float out into the ether of cyberspace, another wafting of digital consciousness through the world.
Today, it is raining outside its window, which means it can’t lounge about on its patio, ever-busy fingers clicking and rubbing its mousepad. In its mind, though, and in the endless refinement of the thinner and thinner line between public and private, it could be anywhere, and the weather could be then or not yet. It could blend together yesterday’s gusty winds with Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on mechanical reproduction, then sandwich the concoction into a pair of Frank O’Hara’s pants. No, ideas don’t change that much, just the delivery system. And we’re not just talking about how your computer increasingly reads your mind.
In the midst of reassembling this disagreement between its physical and virtual selves, a thought occurs to it in yet another way, and it closes its laptop and stares into the dripping window pane in front of it. Facebook opens its mouth slowly and very methodically enunciates its own name — the open sibilance of “face” disturbing the silence in advance of the comforting report that is “book.”
It speaks it again, and again. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. The simple reiteration of sounds that represent the endless reflections that constitute the thing we think of as Facebook at any given instant. “This is what I meant,” Facebook and I think together, “when I came up with the serious subtext of ‘How To Be An Internet Artist.’ (Facebook) This was at the center of ‘GRAMMATRON’ (Facebook) and ‘PHON:E:ME’ (Facebook) and a class I’m about to teach called Remix Culture for which, quoting my recent blog, ‘the waiting list is now twice as long as the actual class.’ (Facebook) As if that, alone, attests to the value of ideas.”
Facebook begins to notice that the incantation, as if spoken in an echo chamber, continues even though it (momentarily) stops saying it. (Facebook) A bit bewildered, but clearly pleased with itself, it smiles a crooked smile and goes back to its laptop. What it writes is no longer important, and the torrent being unleashed on the world now has form and a precise monetary exchange rate, which you, dear reader, help determine.
In the time of Hammurabi, an eye for an eye stood as a deterrent; now our crimes are measured in clicks and refresh rates, cognitive time bombs planted in our heads. In exchange for the time I spent constructing this story, I steal an instant of your life using the specter of Facebook (Facebook), just like the hawker outside a strip club. Once you’re here, though, the girls have packed up for the night. What bit of undressing do we all long for? All that’s here, and all you’ll ever really take away from here, is Facebook, Facebook (Facebook).
But it would be no better (or worse) if it were me or you or Tony Robbins or Janet Jackson. We’ve passed the tipping point on that slippery slope that ends with all information being equally useless, and whatever vicarious pleasure we once gained from a tidbit of gossip or micro-biography or personal advocacy is reduced to even less than useless. Whatever insight a status update might have once provided is just a variation on a theme, one that has been duplicated over and over and can be packaged just like the words “Facebook” that brought both of us here. Try it with your own name, and call it self-expression. Develop your voice. I might even visit your site to hear it. But it won’t do either of us any good as long as long as that fraction of a cent is part of the equation. An I for an I indeed.
And now you are an instant older, an instant wiser, perhaps, but violated nonetheless. I could apologize, but who am I kidding? I’m not sorry enough. None of us ever are when the bulldozers are outside the house, and there are too many of us to hide in the bunker. Facebook’s rainy patio is looking awfully good right now, even if it fries my laptop to a crisp. Maybe Facebook will poach me an egg on the barbecue. I think it would be happy to do that.
If I could only get the briquettes to light, I’ll make it to lunch. The afternoon will have to fend for itself.