A rationale for Facebook

Generally, I hold perfectly snooty, starchy principles about trivial things – such as refraining from watching reality shows, using terms like LOL and ROFL, – and until now, about facebook.

I still refrain from LOL and ROFL because we use them when we are NOT laughing out loud or rolling on the floor (usually they are used to signify what is really a gentle smile) and because something about the aesthetic quality of the terms is disagreeable to me. And I still don’t watch American Idol. The latter, despite the fact that academics who are secret addicts have started to make it respectable by using Simon Cowell to project the profound and timeless principles of higher education.
But I have, recently, succumbed to the charms of facebook.

Before you rush to add, or poke, or even superpoke me, let me explain.

I am not a victim of facebook. I penetrate the structures of facebook and use it as a cultural resource for my own purpose.

Yep, I’m hopeless.

But truly, I rush to explain, I employ facebook to integrate the discordant quality of my day (how does that sound for apologetics? I should join ranks with the American Idol-professors).

My day is a pukey mass of discordant activities. One minute I’m using my maternal wiles to get some scrambled eggs into the baby, and the other minute I’m immersed in attempts at rendering a 300-page manuscript theoretically and conceptually whole. At 9am, my heart might be weeping as I leave a crying child in the arms of a daycare teacher, and at 9:15am I’m in the cool but reassuring embrace of Bhabha and Spivak. While I’m making arrangements to attend a conference along with the rob-Peter-pay-Paul financial jigsaw puzzle, I’m also interacting with the baby who’s crowing in delight at the sight of the frighteningly Caucasian sun-baby in Teletubbies.

It’s very difficult to do the hopscotch involved in such a life. I have no fulltime job at present – heck, I have no parttime job at present – so I have no professional time to myself, nor a professional space. Everything must be accomplished by pushing the multifarious activities of life here and there, rearranging home, baby, husband, friends, mealtimes, sleep, etc to make way for some work. And the mind and the heart being as they are, one needs a connective tissue in there.

That’s what facebook does. It’s a connective tissue in my discordant day.

Craigslist and ebay used to serve this purpose at one time, but this became inconvenient (after all, both involve trips to see items and to mail items) and expensive (when that dress turns out to be NOT so gently used after all). Also, “connecting” via commerce is not such a great idea: the ebayer who sells you a “fleece” item (which is really cotton) can always refuse to negotiate and immediately start calling you names and leaving bad feedback for you. And you can’t return the enormous sofa to the craigslist person who sells you the sofa in the dark AFTER you find out that the sofa isn’t “just a few years old” after all.

For me, blogging still serves as connective tissue for the day. But there’s a slight problem with blogging. It doesn’t ALWAYS connect. Not to find fault, but blog readers are always free to read, and then quietly move on. I have done the same, but to the blogger who is tossing a pebble so as to hear a plop in the river, this doesn’t really uh satisfy. Especially recently, since I moved to this new URL and after all those problems with my page, I seem to have lost a great deal of articulate and voluble readers. As someone who has recently cut down on blog-reading/commenting, like I said, I won’t find fault with this, because surely there are better things to be done with one’s time than reading (sniff) Koonj.

The other advantage of facebook over blogging (and craigslist and ebay) is that the connective gratification is instant. Or the illusion is instant. With blogging, it might be a day or so before you see the statcounter hits, the comments and the pingbacks. With facebook (or as I, in moments of frustration, sometimes call it, f***book), you can update your status and you KNOW that someone out there, or at least a dozen of your friends out there are logged into facebook right now – because you can TELL they’re addicted too – and they have seen the news that “Shabana is as sick as a dog” or that “Shabana is productive” (accompanied with tacky busy kitten image).

And maybe they haven’t seen it, or bothered to read it, but you THINK they have, and who’s to change your thought? No one will take the trouble to disabuse you of the notion that you have connected. No one will say they DIDN’T read your status message, duly updated every hour (as if 20-somethings care that the 40-year old woman “has dropped the baby off at daycare, yay!”) But you get the sense of putting it out there, of unburdening yourself of the isolation within which we live our everyday lives — which is the reason for blogging, for craigslist, for facebook, or Orkut, for SMS, for the work we do in cafes, and all of the others. We are trying to connect AS we work and play, and we don’t want to WAIT till we are finished working to connect. The rhythm of our lives does not allow us to go visiting busy friends on weekdays, but we cannot put our hearts on hold until the weekend. So we open the Excel spreadsheet and the Word document and we log into Facebook, and start work – on locating that friend from high school.

The other advantage of Facebook over blogging is that, well, the latter is often faceless. It is jarring to suddenly discover that the person you imagined is not the blog-buddy whose picture you just found – that’s not an aesthetic thing, it’s a problem with the imagination. And it’s difficult to interact with faceless merely textual beings. On Facebook, few folks are photo-less, so you have the advantage of seeing their faces when you read that they are wasted, or hopping mad, or delirious with joy.

With blogging, once you’ve blogged, done all the memes and participated in carnivals, there’s nothing much to do but, well, blog some more. With facebook, you could update your wishlist, or provide endless quantities of information about your favourite books and movies, or list the reasons why you dislike “Ocean’s Eleven.” You could write “hey, how’s it going?” on a friend’s wall (instead of a 30-minute phone call). You could even send someone “flowers” or, for a dollar, a “bakery item” (I swear, what a scam). You are then free to settle down and find all the various groups and networks you can conceivably belong to – the city you live in, the high school you attended, the college you attended, and any number of organizations you have remotely been involved in. Once you have tracked down ALL your distant acquaintances and all THEIR friends, you can hope that, of those 100+ friends, some will see your status update and – who knows – care.

And then you can virtually dropkick, suckerpunch, hug, kiss, or even lick any number of your friends without the consequences that such actions would normally entail.

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9 Replies to “A rationale for Facebook”

  1. Assalaamu alaikum!!
    Im sorry for being one of those who read and then move on…but tht thing is I only just found ur blog through Barakas…so I am thrilled to be back reading what you have to say!!

    But how do we find you on facebook?

  2. Yo. I turned off my FB to help the dissertation, so … uh, I found myself searching the internet for a blog to read. This post hit the spot, b/c I was exactly, precisely, attempting to work while itching for an internet hit every 5 seconds. And my days are much like yours used to be, now that my son is over a year old. Sigh. It gives me hope to see where you are and your ongoing journey. But the isolation is so complete here in this amreeka, isn’t it? What you said about not having time to actually visit with people on weekends, but still craving interaction and friendship all the time is so true.

    I did, btw, “LOL” at the punchline here:
    “We are trying to connect AS we work and play, and we don’t want to WAIT till we are finished working to connect. The rhythm of our lives does not allow us to go visiting busy friends on weekdays, but we cannot put our hearts on hold until the weekend. So we open the Excel spreadsheet and the Word document and we log into Facebook, and start work – on locating that friend from high school.”

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