If you’ve ever had a potential new love interest ask you what you were doing with your cell phone, and your response was that you were updating your Facebook status about how great your date was going, then stop reading now if you don’t want a good thrashing. Chances are you won’t understand it anyway.
Facebook was created with what I believe to be two primary objectives:
- A truly unique and useful social networking tool that allows you to share your life with your nearest and friends and family.
- The most diabolical and powerful marketing tool ever devised by man.
As a person living and breathing today, and even more as a parent, I love what they’ve managed to accomplish with Objective #1. I have found that Facebook enhances my relationships and accommodates the onslaught of technology that my normal life can’t handle. And as a musician and recording artist, I really love what they’ve accomplished with Objective #2. Not only is it easy to make meaningful connections with my fans (and invaluably, with their friends as well), but the advertising engines are relatively benign and unobtrusive, even if there are some very big and scary monsters lurking behind the curtain. They have managed to conjure up something that has both meaning and purpose from the ashes of virtually every other waste-of-virtual-space social networking site.
My wife and I went to see The Swell Season w/ The Low Anthem at Asbury Hall this last Tuesday night. And this wasn’t just any night out for us. They performed on the very stage where we were married almost three years ago, and it was the first night we’ve been out alone together since our daughter was born last December. I’d seen The Frames before in a very small NYC rock club, and we saw The Swell Season at Radio City Music Hall in May 2008, but this aimed to be the most beautifully intimate setting in which to see them yet, the moment and the location already full of meaning and purpose.
Which is why I just about popped a gasket when my view of the stage and the performance was littered with cell phones and digital cameras. And not just to take a quick picture or a short video clip. Some of these cell phones and cameras stayed up for the ENTIRE show. And the people taking them were staring at these tiny little screens, completely unaware of the tragic irony that they were missing the actual show and replacing a very special, high-quality, one-time-only experience with something they could have watched at home on YouTube for free.
I blame Facebook for this—not the people behind it, but the people ON it. Sure, YouTube is the world headquarters for viral video mediocrity, but it largely exists as a loose collective of URLs that get posted everywhere else, or you search for specific things and then follow the bread crumb trail to related content. In the mind of an insane Facebooker, these two primary objectives have been twisted together in way that turns Andy Warhol into an Orwellian Nostradamus, and his “15 minutes of fame” into an underwhelming and misplaced idea. The Internet became a vast wasteland of pontification a long time ago, but now everyone has a direct conduit to an ever-present audience at all times on Facebook, and it doesn’t even matter whether they are paying attention or not. Even worse, it’s not The Truman Show, it’s Ed TV. The only thing both movies got wrong was which screen was going to be broadcasting the never-ending feed of drivel.
The really terrifying effect is that people are now using Facebook to market their lives, and perhaps even better put, they are replacing their actual lives with the marketing of a stream of bullet-pointed life experiences. They don’t have a particular product to sell, they are just trying to re-create the illusion of reality TV—that activities somehow become more interesting or more important when channeled through a large-scale media format. Of course, they don’t have to do anything in particular to be important to their nearest and dearest. But now I fear that there is a whole sector of the population that only feels important when their status updates get comments. These are the same people that are going to believe in high definition paint. (I wish I was kidding.)
I finally had to ask the young couple standing directly in front of me and my wife to stop taking videos—that we, along with the people behind us, didn’t pay over $40 a ticket to watch one of our favorite bands through their shitty little flip-top phone. And they stopped without a single argument, despite the snarky tone and contempt that I couldn’t mask, which tells me something about them and everyone else that does this. They know that it’s rude and disrespectful to the performers and the people around them, and they know that these videos are valueless. The sole purpose of these tiny mediocre productions is narcissism, to show everyone in their online social network what they are doing. They’re never going to sit around and watch them.
Sure, my wife and I love putting up new pictures of our daughter on Facebook, or doing the occasional status update to either impart some important news or relate a brief yet amusing anecdote. But we really do try to only put up pictures that we think other people in our lives would find genuinely interesting, completely fearful of being “those” parents. And we’ve taken videos of our daughter, but we’re not blocking anyone’s view but our own to do it at that moment. And believe me, it’s a bittersweet thing to have a permanent record of an adorable moment that we kind of missed, so we are pretty conservative about it. Like everyone else, we struggle to use technology in a way that enhances our life without replacing it, but we keep fighting the good fight. Otherwise, we’re too busy having a lovely night out at a concert to bother letting everyone in our social network know what a lovely night out at a concert we are having.
It’s called real life, it’s in analog, and it’s amazing.