Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Jennifer—Used to keep up with world news before I got on Facebook. Now I never look at the major news sites. I feel guilty!

David—But I bet none of your friends write for the major news sites.

Karin Spirn's Note: Six Thoughts About Facebook
1. When I was growing up, I never got excited about looking at anything on a computer. The computer was for typing my homework and maybe playing a video game if there was nothing else to do. I never came home after a long day and planted myself in front of the computer to relax. I never looked at the computer every ten minutes while doing chores or talking on the phone. I never got out of bed during a 3 a.m. bout of insomnia and sat in front of the computer.

It seems like another world, looking back, a strange and incomprehensible place.

2. When I was sixteen, my father took me to his Silicon Valley office to look at something on the computer.

“I want to show you this new thing,” he said. “It’s called the Worldwide Web. Groups or businesses can have a page on here, and you can look at it.”

I tried to imagine what he was talking about: a sort of giant, computerized want ads.

“The colleges you want to apply to will all have sites on here,” he told me with excitement. He fiddled around, typing in something or other.

“See, like Berkeley has a site, right here.”

He showed me the U.C. Berkeley home page, which had some logos and pictures of the campus. It looked about as exciting as a brochure.

“Wow,” I said, giving the screen a cursory glance.

“You should play around on this site,” he said. “See, you can click on these buttons and it will tell you about the school.”

I sat down and did some polite clicking around. Admissions policies, campus map, photographs of a few buildings. I had seen most of this before, on paper or in person. The fact that it was now on a computer made it if anything less accessible, not more.

3. Click on the link for “almost twenty years later,” and you’ll find me checking my email and Facebook account any time there is a computer nearby. My students, most of them teenagers, as I was when I found the internet too boring to be bothered with, cannot stop staring at the computer screen. Teachers don’t want their classes scheduled in a classroom with computers because the students will compulsively check email, MySpace, Facebook.

The most obvious reason for this shift in the appeal of the computer is the vast wealth of information available on the internet. But when my students are screwing around online during class, they are not reading about current events or even celebrity gossip. They are on MySpace and Facebook, reading about themselves. They are looking at pictures of themselves and their friends. They are writing silly notes and reading their friends’ silly responses. They are scanning their friends’ pages, hoping to find some juicy bit of information to cheer up their depressing day of schoolwork, a photograph of the boy or girl they like, some hint that he or she likes them back.

That’s what makes the internet more than just a regular source of information, so much more exciting than a library, bookstore, or newsstand. It is filled with news not just about the outside world, but about ourselves, our friends, what our friends think about us. Large parts of our identity are housed online, on our homepages, our profiles, our blogs, and those of our friends. The computer has gone from being something utilitarian, as neutral as a stopwatch or a calculator, to become a part of ourselves.

Karin—should stop rambling on about Facebook and go to bed.

4. If your work involves sitting in front of a computer, Facebook is almost like having all your friends at work with you in a big, virtual room. It’s ingenious, really. We’re all sitting in front of our computers, stressed out and lonely, all day long. Why shouldn’t we be exchanging witty quips with our friends? Then we can almost pretend that we are not at work at all, that we are out at the bar, some strange sort of bar where our childhood best friend and that nice girl from our yoga class suddenly team up to advise us on our love lives or career choices.

5. I wonder if our need to create this bar scene as we work is an indication of our alienation as workers. Sitting in front of a computer is a lonely sort of work. Perhaps if we were out working on the farm or tending to the house with our herd of assorted children, we wouldn’t feel the need to be connected to the simulacra of friends who are miles and miles away.

Marie to Karin—you said you needed to go to bed. Why are you still on here?

6. Then again, I share an office with a friend, and we sometimes use Facebook to communicate. We have been known to write Facebook comments to each other while sitting in the room at the same time. We are both typing on computers, so sometimes it makes sense to continue communicating using that tool. Plus if we were to simply make our amusing comment aloud, it would not be on display to entertain the others in our online work-bar.

Karin—This reminds me of that joke we used to make about how our students take a walk.

Marie—Two students take a walk wearing headphones, listening to their ipods, and texting each other for conversation.
Karin—We’re just like them.
Marie—Well, they are the future. Scary, isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

Absolutely: sitting in front of a computer all day is alienating. My simulacra of friends keep me sane, keep me human. Thanks, Simulacra!


Anonymous said...

Here, here! What a great post! The way you write about the thoughts that often roam around in my head always sounds way better.

P.S. I love Marie, she's such a great character!

Karin Spirn said...

Marie is one of my favorite characters, too--so insightful!

Melinda said...

I have a love-hate relationship with FB. Mostly, I hate it but I love it when you comment on my status.

Karin Spirn said...

Sounds like my relationship with crack. I don't like smoking it, but I enjoy the community I get from smoking it with others.

Wait, I don't think I smoke crack. I'm thinking of someone else.