I saw a woman on the bus yesterday with three face tattoos. Three. They were arranged symmetrically across here face, so I suppose they could be considered part of one artistic statement, but still, it was a face tattoo. like 99.9% of the planet, when I see a person with a face tattoo, the phrase “what the hell was this person thinking?” runs on repeat through my head with varying levels of bemusement (the remaining 0.1% either have or will get face tattoos). It boggles my mind that a person could hear the words “face” and “tattoo” in the same sentence and have anything close to a positive emotional reaction (let alone thinking it’s a good enough idea to get one themselves). Our culture only brings up face tattoos to mock Mike Tyson, who only got one in the first place because he hadn’t done anything attention-grabbingly stupid and tasteless in a while. A face tattoo would be the perfect analogy for a terrible decision that someone is forced to wear on their face for the rest of their lives if it weren’t for the fact that that’s literally exactly what it is.
What actually got me a bout this woman, however, wasn’t just that she had a face tattoo, but that she was on her cell phone, talking about when she would be getting home, carrying on like she didn’t have permanent marks engraved on her face. Under certain circumstances, the message I might take away from seeing this could have been that we’re all the same, in spite of our face tattoos. Yesterday, however, I couldn’t believe that someone could embrace so many of society’s benefits (cellphones, public transportation, etc.) while simultaneously disregarding one of its most central rules of discourse, that is, not having stupid fucking marks on your face.
I’m realizing that I don’t see the parts of society we embrace as a personalized constellation, but rather a bucket which we can fill as high or as low as we choose. At the very bottom of the bucket are society’s most basic tenants (thou shalt not…) and increasingly more esoteric societal rules as you move up the sides. This is why serial killers tend to have bad haircuts, since their bucket isn’t even filled past the no-killing line, it doesn’t even come close to the caring-about-your-appearance line. This is also why it’s so jarring to see a homeless person on a cell-phone–we assume having a place to live is lower in the bucket than being able to receive text messages. We expect things higher in the bucket to be supported by water below, so that someone who practices medicine also practices good hygiene. I don’t have even a general order that things should be in the bucket, but this is really the model I think we operate on–we’re all dealing with the same society, we only have control over the degree to which we participate.
Where I’ve set my own level of participation defines a lot of what I feel I can’t or won’t do. I don’t care about showering everyday, so I can’t care about wearing something different everyday; I don’t care about shaving, so I can’t care about my hair; I don’t care about vampires, so I can’t care about relating to pre-teen girls. It’s easy to order things in your life in this way as long as those things fulfill narrow purposes–I don’t need entertainment news, but I do need toiletpaper–but the task becomes much more complicated if you’re trying to place something that could fulfill multiple purposes. Modern technology has produced so many multifaceted tools that its become difficult for me to place them in the bucket; some aspects of a smart phone, say, are identical to those of the dumb phone I already own, but other aspects are not only superfluous, but beyond my bucket depth. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Facebook.
Much of Facebook’s value comes from the fact that it does so many different things: it’s a mode of communication, it’s a public photo album, it’s a way to track down long lost friends or research strangers. I don’t really know all of the things people use Facebook for, because I’ve never had an account. I suspect part of the reason is that I didn’t know how to place it in my bucket.
When I arrived at college, I had never heard of Facebook. This is partially the result of timing–Facebook was still pretty new–and partially due to my own ignorance. Suddenly, everybody I knew was somehow already on Facebook; by the time I was aware of it, I was a latecomer. My poseurphobia makes me reluctant to do anything new if everyone else has already done it, but that attitude is really limited to experiences I feel I can avoid. I’m not afraid to start a new job or sign a lease or to even enjoy a classic movie, mostly because I view each of these things as inevitable. Facebook has quickly gone from visiting-a-trendy-website-level inevitable to getting-your-driver’s-license-level inevitable–it’s by no means required, but it’s common enough for people to assume that you’ve done it and to expect you to have a good reason if you haven’t. I certainly never envisioned that it could become so central to social interaction when I decided I wanted nothing to do with it, but I still don’t see it as the inevitability the rest of the world seems to. I recognize that I’m an incredibly stubborn person–I’ll rationalize and re-frame even my worst decisions as meaningful, intentioned choices–so the fact that I’ve stuck with my decision to avoid Facebook may not hold up to close scrutiny. The only way to find out is to start looking.
The one thing that defensive Facebookers always hold up as the reason to be on Facebook is that it allows you to stay in contact with friends. I’ve never been particularly impressed by this argument. I already have at my disposal analogues for all of the ways Facebook can be used to communicate and then some (gchat, email, actual mail, skype, telephones, and, you know, actually seeing people), so there’s really nothing preventing me from staying in contact with friends. The argument is usually then modified to say that it makes staying in contact easier. This claim is even more off-putting because: 1. making staying in contact easier devalues staying in contact. Some friends are worth the effort of staying in contact with; others aren’t. Facebook throws them all together. 2. it also makes it easier to stay in contact with people I’m happy to politely grow apart from. I don’t like the idea of them seeing my business for all eternity, or abruptly cutting them off from my business for all eternity. Growing apart is a natural and important part of many interpersonal relationships. 3. I actually like that even close friends can grow apart. I place a lot of value in transience, mostly because I think there’s something beautiful and natural about things that end. I don’t just love my friends, I love the time and place and memories I shared with them. Stringing any relationship beyond its natural end point ends up feeling like a cheap movie sequel; sure, the characters are the same, but the situations don’t have the same excitement. This isn’t to say that I don’t value staying in touch–pretty much all of my close friendships are cultivated long-distance now that I’ve moved away from the midwest–but that I value it too much to do it with everyone.
Of course, staying in touch isn’t the only thing people use Facebook for. In particular, my girlfriend claims to only be on Facebook for access to people’s photos. She likes reliving memories and seeing what her friends are up to, and pretty much everyone posts those photos on Facebook (unlike dedicated photo-publishing sites). I can see that being a compelling reason for someone who likes photos, but I am not one of those people. I would be surprised if the photos, digital or otherwise, I have of myself or anything number in the double-digits. This is another manifestation of the value I place on transience; my memories are most special to me because they don’t exist anymore. Keeping a totem or reminder takes memories out of the private space of personal thought, diminishing their power. I’m similarly not interested in looking at other people’s photos. Yes, it’s sad if I miss something I would have liked to have been there for, but pictures are no consolation. I either experience something or I don’t; vicariously reliving something through pictures is an insult both to the people who actually experienced it as well as the very concept of experiencing something.
The capacity to use Facebook to research new friends or to keep tabs on old acquaintances is perhaps the most compelling to me, but I think that’s actually an argument against it. I value knowledge, any knowledge. If it were possible to know every little thing about the ins and outs of so-and-so’s life, I would, creepiness be damned. My only saving grace is that it currently isn’t possible for me to know those things. I don’t need more sources of information of things I don’t need to know. Wikipedia is really more than enough.
The only other compelling case I’ve heard for Facebook is that it could be a valuable professional networking tool. The world of music composition relies particularly on schmoozing just about everyone you can in order to be on their minds when they’re putting together programs or commissions. I find this kind of politicking incredibly off-putting, but it may simply be necessary to compete in the current new music market. I still need a lot of convincing on that front, but I’m not even sure I want to compete in that market at all. I love composing, but I don’t like being a salesman, so I think trying to make a living composing just isn’t for me. I find myself perfectly fulfilled composing in my free time and maintaining a day job (which also offers things like job security and health benefits). The point is, I’m not sure I need professional networking now, either.
Maybe the main selling points of Facebook are lost on me, but I think the main reason I’m still not on it is that I don’t like it as a way of sharing information. It’s just too free and open–there are too many “if”s to know who knows what information. I like knowing exactly who knows when my birthday is, and I like only being expected to know it’s someone’s birthday because they told me. There’s something I don’t trust about granting people access to information they’re not willing to ask me in person, and something I find presumptuous about people putting their own information out there in case anyone wants to know. The fact that this blog does that a little bit makes me uncomfortable, but at least I have a therapeutic goal in putting this out there. I don’t really know what purpose a list of my favorite movies would serve.
I wonder if I’m missing something. Perhaps Facebook has charms I’m not seeing, or that the ones I do see are more valuable than my estimations. I have limited experience with Facebook, so I can’t really know. I’m happy to hear people’s thoughts in the comments.