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 ;)

How to Judge a Facebook Event Invite by the Numbers

I’ve been using a very basic set of formulas to figure out how big a Facebook party is going to be, based on these numbers:

facebook-invite-party-numbers-attendance-example

# Going, # Maybe, and # Invited, that’s all I care about.

Here’s the math. It’s simple because I may have a pre-party whiskey in my hand when I need to use it:

Going × 80% + Maybe × 50 % = estimated attendance

and

Invited ÷ Going = desperation index

1 = they only invited their good friends….or their only friends. 3 = approaching desperate, or they might just be popular. 5 = this is the only big party they have ever thrown, plz come!!! 10 = goddamnit promoters.

Some of you smarty pants types may have already crunched the numbers from my initial example, and found very promising figures. Indeed, I would say those numbers just about represent ideal. While it was a great party, there are a few factors I’ve left out.

RSVP Inflation

RSVP Inflation occurs when people feel some sort of obligation to go…or at least say yes. I haven’t figured out an exact number to subtract in these cases, but I do know people are lying liars and will say yes and hope the host doesn’t notice they didn’t make it. (Ummmm…so sometimes I say yes because I want show my support, since maybe just seems disappointing.)  Here are common causes:

  • Housewarming party  <– this is our example
  • Going away party
  • Birthdays
  • Anniversary party (an event that happens every year)
  • Inconvenient but exciting party
  • Ridiculously well-themed party

Ultimately, I don’t think this factored heavily in the attendance of my example. I do think attendance was near or exactly 57.5 people. (Half person = child?? or..) Yet the practical attendance (a.k.a how the party feels to me during the actually-relevant-to-my-life hours of 10pm-3am) was about 15 people lower. Which brings me to my next point…

Time Dilution

Time dilution occurs when the event spans additional, unconventional party hours, such as starting in the afternoon. This happens with:

  • Ambitious housewarming parties (<–)
  • Parties that start as a BBQ
  • Parties thrown by lonely people
  • Parties thrown by people with kids, or who have a lot of friends who have kids
  • Summer parties (I know it is summer year-round here in San Diego, but June-August months are just treated differently, you know?)
  • People who are really into day drinking

You’re just not going to see the people who leave early. It’s ok. They’re not your type of people, anyway.

Making An Appearance

The making an appearance factor has the same basic effect as time dilution, and of course occurs when the event or the attendance-base lends itself to briefer party visits. Either people are making their obligatory stopover before leaving to sleep/take care of kids/return to their lairs of introversion, or they are popular kids doing what popular kids do: party hop.

For example, take a look at this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.22.32 AM

What is this? More maybes than going?? What is the meaning of this anomaly?

The desperation index seems high, but actually what is going on here is that a popular person has invited his very popular friends and, oh, wow, they’ll make it if they can, they really hope so. Looks delightful, I so want to be there, xoxo.

Umm, eff yes I’m going. No, not to brush against popularity and hope it rubs off on me, but because attending an event where dynamic, gregarious people are coming and going as they make their Saturday-night rounds is a revolving door of delight for me.

Many of those 97 weren’t sure they could commit to even a maybe, or swiped yet another Facebook invite out of their mobile notifications, but still found the event when they were buzzing around town on party night looking for the next bit of excitement. And many of those 30 did, in fact, make their appearances.

My Weird Friends

This is why I’m writing this. I am all mixed up. When I throw parties with my best friends, at my house, the math just doesn’t work. Here’s what I see:

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.25.07 AM

Desperation index makes sense. I’ve invited only my best friends. But actual attendance was somewhere around 30.

It seems like all goings go, and most maybes make it, and the rest of my weirdo friends who totally ignore their Facebooks somehow get the memo that there’s something happening tonight, come over.

Love you kids <3

Cases I haven’t Examined

Here are party-types I haven’t examined because I don’t friggin go to them:

  • Baby showers
  • Weddings
  • Fundraisers that are really fundraiser-y
  • Most board game nights
  • Movie nights
  • Video game nights
  • Gender-themed parties (such as “battle of the sexes” or pearl/tie parties) that aren’t awesomely queer and/or subversive

How the Grinch Stole Facebook

grinch-who-stole-facebook

My goal here is not to insult my friends. I’ve refrained from writing private letters of direct criticism because giving unsolicited advice is for pretentious douchecanoes. I am not intending to create an anonymized naughty list for you to find your name in. I will remix attributes from several friends so that what you will see is an amalgamation, and if you find yourself in any of these descriptions it is only because these behaviors are universal — they sprout out of primal social needs.

But really, sometimes my friends piss me off.

Isolated from complex human subtlety by the frame of the screen, my Facebook friends become tiny caricatures of themselves, or a blown up facet or two of their personalities that, in real life, is much less clumsy. Because of this, it is quite possible to love — and I mean really love — a friend in real life, but hate what they become in my news feed.

First, stereotypes.

A buddy might be good company over a Lagunitas IPA… But, contextualized by an endless stream of Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and Jezebel posts, they become a loathsome stereotype. Their photo is a square sticker signature slapped onto readily-available asshole personalities. Facebook posters generally expect their friends to be kind and understanding. They do not realize that when they like some sexist meme or other, I don’t see someone who has a complicated appreciation for both feminism and its seedy counterpart, in an ironic sort of way. Bah! Humbug! There is nothing festive about misogyny! I am not amused.

There’s the trope of the gay guy who calls women bitches and thinks vaginas are gross.¹ It’s supposed to be cute because he’s non-threatening and mince-y.  In my newsfeed, I have seen a good friend use the c-word.  “Um,” I want to say, “just because you’re ostensibly lower on the privilege totem pole than straight women doesn’t mean you get to call them cunts.” I should assume this person is adopting the stereotype for the sake of humor, but on the sterile screen, the words echo hatred like an angry red zit.

If I don’t know the person too well, such breaches have me reaching for the “hide” or even “unfriend” buttons. Facebook only lets me see you in one-dimension, and the one you’re giving me is ugly.

today-i-feel-trite-cliche-meaninglessThen, there are my sad friends.

In real life, they are clever and strong. They match self-deprecation with wit and laughter. They feel terribly about themselves, but muster up bravery to face the night. We commiserate about our human weaknesses, and wash the bitter taste away with fun and alcohol.

On Facebook they are whiny children. “Help me” sad post follows help-me-sad-post and they cry into the little box that asks: “What’s on your mind?” I see selfies described with words like “ugly,” “awful,” “not cute.” A flurry of comments reject the insecurities. Fine, I won’t disparage fishing-for-compliments if it’s effective for you, but I’m still always turned off by delusional postings. As in, your selfie is hot, please don’t lie and say it’s not.

And, of course, the over-sharers, in both senses of the word.

I won’t delve too much into the TMI tribe, because I’m probably just the asshole here for not giving a feel when your boyfriend is borderline abusive (and you think it’s more appropriate to cyber-whine than dump him). But I will just say if “some people” did something and they “know who they are” I am pissed at you for not giving me the whole story.

How-to-catch-James-Woods-ooh-piece-of-candy-family-guy

The other over-sharers seem think if they create a trail of links to “funny” or “amazing” internet “articles,” we’ll be gobbling them up like James Woods a la Family Guy. I’m sorry, but your fluffy internet photoblogs about 18 Little Whatsits that Insert-Anthropomorphic-Verb-Here or yet another slapdash rant on how Celebrity Epitomizes Insert-Hyperbolic-Adjective-or-Trendy-Social-Activism-Phenomenon-Here don’t have me bending over exclaiming “Oooh! Piece of candy.” Go play show-and-tell in Reddit where you can at least learn from your downvotes.

I feel like the Facebook Grinch.

Every Who down in Whoville liked Bitstrips a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch hated HuffPost! The whole Facebook feed!
What’s the point of this insatiable, selfish human need?

It could be that Upworthy talks down to us, like we’re kids
Or that when I’m in a public place, I’m not trying to watch vids…

The crux of it all is that I’m guilty. I am at once in-narcissistic-love with my Facebook persona and sick with the shame of self-promotion. If I am cringing when my friends post pictures of their lunches, how annoying is my stream of blog links, proud-of-myself check-ins, and hungover affirmations that I have so much party in my life?

We are not professional content finders and writers. Our news feeds are not as carefully curated as The Electric Typewriter. Our editing tools are too basic and imprecise. Facebook filters out 90% of babies-doing-baby-things for me (thank you!), but still shows Upworthy posts on the mobile browser. I blocked it! I totally blocked it already!

We’re scrap-booking together living, breathing yearbooks of human experience, as best we can.

As sappy as it sounds, there is something beautiful about that. What, perhaps, is insane, is that we’re expected to create and consume in this way every day. I’ve always felt squicky about nostalgia. Perhaps I’d be more comfortable if Facebook news feed browsing was relegated to an annual tradition, like an actual yearbook. We could submit content year-long, but it would disappear into the void until it unlocked like a time-capsule. Hmmm….yes…

Fantasies aside, this Grinch’s heart grows three sizes when she thinks about what Facebook represents despite its limitations. Yes, it’s a little bit of amateur-hour. But this mixture of the anxious, the banal, uplifting hope beside crushing failures, daily life and life events — this mixture is as raw and snotty-nosed and breathing and shitting, laughing, sighing as “the real world.”  We’re creating human records and they are exactly that, human.

So, please acknowledge my posts when I please you and I’ll do the same for you. If I come across something I don’t “like,” I guess I’ll just keep on scrolling.


¹To be fair, there is a trope of the lesbian who hates men and says dicks are gross, and while I’m not that way, I’ve heard such sentiment out of the mouth of babes, and I didn’t put my clothes back on and drive away.