I read Vanessa Grigoriadis’ article “Do you own Facebook? Or does Facebook own you?” in New York Magazine last week and thought she had a great voice and a few great viewpoints. In particular, I’d to point out what she wrote about the term sharing:
Sharing is actually not my word. It’s the most important Newspeak word in the Facebook lexicon, an infantilizing phrase whose far less cozy synonym is “uploading data.” Facebook’s entire business plan, insofar as it is understood by anyone, rests upon this continued practice of friends sharing with friends, and as such it is part of the company’s bedrock belief, as expressed in the first line of its principles: “People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want.” “A lot of times users-well, I don’t want to say they undervalue sharing, but a lot of times they don’t want to share initially,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s 26-year-old director of products. “And then eventually, they say, ‘Okay, I’ll put a profile picture up here. I’ll do it.’ Immediately, their friends comment on it, and there are no tacky, weird strangers around, and suddenly they start to realize, ‘Hey, wait, this is different. I am on the Internet, but I am in a safe place.
She goes on to state how “In a time of deep economic, political, and inter gene rational despair, social cohesion is the only chance to save the day, and online social networks like Facebook are the best method available for reflecting—or perhaps inspiring—an aesthetic of unity.”
And, in my last quote of this post, I’ll note her note about how, on Facebook, “many actions that take on weight in the real world simply don’t pack the same punch: You can reconnect with long-lost friends without a gooey, uncomfortable e-mail about why you grew apart; you can forget to return Facebook e-mail and nobody minds.”
Ok, I’ll admit it. I love Facebook. And this article helped me to realize one reason why: It’s the one place where we can control both the width and the depth of our networks, correspondence, and activities. (Sure, it’s been said that only 20% or so of users tweak their privacy settings, but still, every action must follow some decision, right? And I consciously stick my fingers in my ears and hum loudly when it comes to T&C and digital footprint arguments. Yes, they are valid, but not my topic today…)
Anyway, I have sadly unfortunate example of what I’m referring to in terms of sharing depth vs. width. A former acquaintance of mine from my hometown, Patrick, was severely burned last weekend when his house caught fire. He lost everything, and he’s still in the hospital. I do not know him well—or at all for that matter—anymore. But a friend of a friend does, and he wanted to help.
So, he talked to his friend who owns a restaurant and they decided to host a fundraiser. The venue was booked, the Facebook event created. As of Tuesday afternoon a whopping were 1, 077 people were invited. 169 have RSVPed positively, meaning the event has now outgrown the restaurant (even if only half were to actually show up). Plans are now in the works to find a new location. And the growing list of nearly 40 comments are inquiries from outtatowners (like me) who cannot attend but plan to donate.
All of this happened in less than 24 hours.
So far, this simultaneously real-life and Facebook-life event successfully manages both the depth of a serious issue and a genuine outpouring of concern AND the breadth/width of A LOT of loose ties. I don’t have to know Patrick anymore to feel sorry for what has happened and want to take action, and neither does anyone else. But someone I do know and trust gave me the information so I do find it appropriate to care. And since lots of people seem to be like me, something tells me the resulting outcome will be significant. I’ll keep you posted after it happens the event on Tuesday night.