Friday, February 06, 2009

On the Meme "25 Random Facts about Me"

I do not agree with the backlash against the Facebook meme, 25 Random Things about Me, as seen in Newsweek and Time, among other places recently.  The jist of the backlash is that this meme is stupid and harmful and a waste of time.  In the Time article, a statistic cites 800,000 hours of productivity as being wasted on participating in this particular meme, although I'm not sure how the writer came up with this statistic.  I'm intrigued with the discussions taking place about this meme in the national news, as well as on my "wall"; I'm intrigued by the emotions stirred up in me as a result of these discussions; and  I'm also intrigued by my friends who choose to 1) not respond and 2) disdain it publicly.  Overall, I think what I'm most intrigued by is the fierce and charged emotions that are resulting from the act of sharing "Random" (well, as random as 25 carefully selected facts can be) details from one's life with others on Facebook.

First of all, I am a lovah not a hatah.  I enjoy reading the specific details my friends and acquaintances reveal about themselves, because most of the people in my "friends" list are actually friends or acquaintances I like; therefore I'm not opposed to knowing more about them.  In fact, I relish the opportunity.  These carefully selected random facts from their lives are offered with a spirit of generosity, pleasure and risk.  I like knowing that my friend Amy freezes rice.  Or that Miah believes in a secret siblinghood of shared birthdays.  I appreciate the the tone, the style of each person's list. Writing -- as opposed to talking -- especially in this catalogue form (i.e., the list) is a quick way for a person to reveal personality, whether consciously or not, not only through the content, but also through their form (for example, what he writes next -- how his mind associates).  Perhaps because I'm a writer, and therefore a de facto armchair anthropologist, dilettante psychologist and weekend scientist, I thrill to revelations of personality, because they are eminently useful to me in the creation of literature (whatever form my literature takes).  

I'm interested in the anger the meme seems to inspire in people who don't want to respond to it; for example, Time's Claire Suddath calls the meme, "viral narcissism," and scathes that "it's just so stupid.  Most people aren't funny, they aren't insightful, and they share way too much. " It may be true that people aren't taking care to think beyond the moment they're writing; for example, they might not have considered what could happen if  their boss -- whom they've not yet "friended" but might in the future -- finds out that they hate their job.  Perhaps some of the people in Claire Suddath's cyber-circle of friends do fail to show a larger intelligence.  However, it's also possible that Ms. Suddath's anger reveals a resentment less about the meme and more about her choice in friends. 

Steve Tuttle's piece in Newsweek from February 4 has a similar tone -- an I-am-so-much-more- human-than-Facebook tone.  He addresses the notion that the hours he spends on Facebook are wasted time (a feeling I'm familiar with), resulting in a loss in productivity (a feeling I'm also familiar with), and he insinuates that this "time-wasting" is endangering our global philanthropic fabric.  "When I think about all the hours I wasted this past year on Facebook, and imagine the good I could have done instead," Tuttle writes, "it depresses me.  Instead of scouring my friends' friends' photos for other possible friends, I could have been raising money for Darfur relief, helping out at the local animal shelter or delivering food to the homeless." First of all, what Steve is sorta blind to is that he could be doing these things ON Facebook.  If there isn't already a "Send Economic Relief to Darfur" group on Facebook, Steve could start one. Furthermore, I've noticed that two of our local animal shelters -- BARC and PAWS -- have Facebook groups, thereby widening not only the possibility of acquiring more volunteers, but also that a homeless animal will find its soul mate.  Also, regarding delivering food to the homeless, if this is something Steve did regularly BEFORE he joined Facebook, then maybe he might have considered going on a fast -- a Facebook Fast -- so that he could get back to feeding those hungry people!  What Steve decides to do in the wake of quitting Facebook is go back to the bar.  No doubt that action will help him accomplish the lofty goals he named above. 

My intuition tells me that people who are anti-25 Random Facts about Me are people who feel insecure in general, people who don't want to risk being known because they're afraid that people might judge them poorly.   They're plagued by Facebook because it acts, as do all social groups, like a mirror (or in this case, a hall of mirrors), reflecting their nature back to themselves.  And they just can't bear to face the freak show they might find there. 


Jenni-beck said...

I agree with you completely. In my own experience, I was delighted to have the opportunity to learn these little nibbles about my friends. I admit that there were instances when I saw "So-and-so has posted 25 Things About Me" pop up in my news feed and wondered how that so-and-so could possibly add anything witty or poignant to the slough of other quirk-digging questionnaires he or she may have already posted. But I was almost invariably pleasantly surprised. In fact, it was reading the lists of those I did not, in fact, know very well that often proved most interesting, as I discovered little idiosyncrasies, habits, and interests I had in common with these people- tidbits otherwise unknown to me.

And with this era's explosion of information and connectivity (highlighting our insignificance as individuals more than ever), I think it's valid- and maybe even healthy- to indulge in a little vanity and narcissism every now and then.

malu said...

I now feel like a heel for not participating in this project when it first came out, but elapsed time has afforded another perspective. The list requests that popped up on FB after this one were not nearly as interesting. And the fact that my FB account was hacked not long ago by common criminals looking to exploit my friends for a quick buck is somehow a post-hoc rationalization for not giving 10, 20, 60 minutes of my time to friends who were, back then, a "safe" audience. Wariness has not exactly served me well but I can't help thinking that sharing should be rewarded whenever possible. Maybe someday we'll live in a world in which something other than bad news sells newspapers.