The House Party
Imagine a friend with a big house, where everyone is welcome. Given the many invited, there’s always something to see, hear, or discuss, when you visit. You can write stuff on the walls, show funny videos to friends, and even play games. He’ll even let you make a room private—just for you and your friends.
There are some rules: He asks that you use your real name. He doesn’t want you to put naughty pictures on the walls. He is against the house being used for elicit purposes. (He also has a strange thing with public breastfeeding—but we all have our hang-ups.) Other than that, he’s pretty chill.
After hosting the party for a while, Budweiser and a few other companies got in touch with him—and asked to take part. So, they paid him to put up a few of their banners. Reps from these companies visit and listen to what folks are saying. You find this weird, but it covers his bills—and you’d rather look at a few posters than pay to attend the party.
Sometimes, he wonders if rearranging the furniture would make the group discussions better. So, he tests varying arrangements and then switches to the layout that works best. This also upsets you—both that you are part of a test, and that he’s so determined to make the space better. Perhaps you just don’t like change.
This is an understatement. You don’t seem mildly perturbed with these improvements. In fact, the last time he tested a new room approach, you thought he was manipulating you. So you wrote nasty things on the walls—altogether forgetting that you are a guest in someone else’s house. You SHOUTED IN RAGE, when he moved the couch—but forgot all about it, a week later. You felt violated when he “infringed your privacy,” even though you put your photos in a place everyone could see them.
You don’t seem to be angry about climate change, wanton consumerism, or the NSA violating your privacy. Instead, you pout about how shitty your friend’s house is—and how, one day, you’ll leave. Strangely, you never do. He isn’t forcing you to stay, or putting you under duress. Come if you want, or leave if you’d like—no big deal.
I’m not implying that Facebook’s house is perfect; but, it is sort of remarkable. It’s improved how we communicate, service is consistent, and it mostly runs without a hitch. When management oversteps, they tend to step back and correct course. And—I repeat—you are always free to leave, should you be unhappy, or get bored with this particular party.
I wonder if our frustrations with Facebook are more about who we are than what it is. This network seems to activate our more needy characteristics. We crave a sense of connection and the adulation of our peers. As we witness the pseudo-lives others cultivate and project, we feel inferior. So, we respond, in kind, using Instagram to doctor ordinary moments, posting our most clever quips, and unintentionally bragging about ourselves.
Facebook might prove the greatest example of the medium being the message. The Status Update isn’t an invitation to dialogue, it’s a pleasure lever. Each time we post, we draw attention to ourselves, and beg for tiny nuggets of digital applause. This mechanism is powerful because it rewards our most self-serving behaviors.
So, instead of hating the house, or the host, perhaps we need to be more concerned with the ugly reflection we find in all its mirrors.