Facebook: a Foggy Intersection of the Personal vs Political

I don't really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here's a selfie.

I don’t really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here’s a selfie. Like an author byline pic or something.

On Facebook you might make a personal statement to discuss as friends often do. You may not expect the vitriol, the name-calling, the war of opposing linked articles. Some people take themselves way too seriously.

On Facebook you might publish an important political or philosophical thought. You may not expect the sophomoric joking, the name-calling, or even disappointing silence. Some people just seem to stumble into fires without realizing how much their ignorance hurts others.

Facebook is a paradoxical scrapbook bulletin. Is it a self-help message board, or a public debate forum? Friends and strangers eavesdrop on conversations which only seem private. Yes, there is a difference between a personal and a political statement, but to “post” either makes it visible to an ever-more difficult to filter list of viewers.

The mixed-message, or even missing, interface metaphors don’t help either. In this serious debate we can “like” with a cheeky thumb. In this string of jokes no one can hear the timbre of our laugh, our indecipherable (are you being sarcastic??) “LOL.” This flexibility can lead to gibberish.

What I see is a stream of consciousness. What I see is a reflection of my own thought process, the way ideas snag each other, the way I flit from a picture memory of wearing Charmander pajamas at last night’s party to the Atlantic article on protesting in Baltimore.

But it is so political to “share.” Leveraging your private thoughts onto others is a political act:  a decision by the few (or one) on which content should be consumed by the many. “But I was just thinking out loud.” If you don’t want to be held to your word, then why say it at all? I could try to end the argument there, but I’d be a hypocrite. Sure, my personal Facebook philosophy is “make it interesting or funny, or else don’t bother.” But I’m an out-loud thinker in life. And I have so many avenues to be heard, which others might not.

Oh Facebook “friends.” We are apparently not all chums who know each other. We have different backgrounds and needs. You let me glance your wedding photos, and that is perhaps how I mistake our intimacy. But I can only keep your name with your face because everything is so efficiently indexed and hyperlinked.

As with most things, I return to the analogy of a party. There are strangers here just as there are best friends. Not all of us are interested in drinking. Not all of us are interested in sex. Not all of us are interested in laughing. Some may debate our constitutional rights. Some may cry over ex girlfriends. Some may write what they see in tiny notebooks. We all seem to want something. In this wild collage, this rowdy jumble, this grasp at boredom’s death, we might find it.

Or just avoid getting any work done ;)

2 thoughts on “Facebook: a Foggy Intersection of the Personal vs Political

  1. I disagree that sharing is endemically political, because who among us can really demand that their content be consumed. Nor do I see this as something to bemoan or be wary of. For all the pitfalls of social media, I think the most beneficial effect of sites like Facebook is how easily it’s allowed us to tear down the barriers of artifice* that inhibit understanding.

    I look at my feed and see interlocking streams of consciousness that is as beautiful and complicated and occasionally combative as I would expect such a network to be. I see people not so much demanding to be heard as revealing themselves … shining flashlights into a dark, digital aether in search of others in the dark headed the same way or someone who can shine a light on a better trail or maybe just to see if anyone’s around at all.

    * by which I mean artifice that arises from consideration, which I feel is lessened in a digital domain. Confrontation has lower stakes online than in a physical space. To be sure, there’s a level of artifice in how people choose to edit the digital evidence of their lives. That said, the way someone interacts with others online can be very revealing about their thought processes, despite conscious attempts at self-censorship.

    • I agree with everything you’ve said. I should not have used the word “inherently” – sharing is as political as posting a flyer on a community wall, no more, no less, not inherently. My viewpoint is more concerned with interface design. I’m not meaning to point out “pitfalls” but rather comment on the current state of this social media and the mixed metaphors that many may not even realize inform our behaviours.

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