Facebook has a profound shadow, a shadow that often unseats relationship, reason, and humility and allows one to live within a world in which people only offers masks to one another; deeper, authentic selves are lost, and that's exactly why, I think, Facebook is so popular. Facebook was born in a Harvard dorm room as a way to rate the "hotness" of students--a vanity project that would doubtless be fun for some and seem cruel and humiliating to others. Facebook emerged in the world for the sole purpose of capitalizing (capitalization seems the singular intention behind Facebook) upon and reinforcing the exceedingly superficial and extraordinarily unmeritorious aristocracy of appearance; from its very beginnings Facebook was an appeal to narcissism. Doesn't that make intuitive sense? After all, American culture itself is nothing if not narcissistic. Is there any other explanation for the phenomenon that Facebook has become? Perhaps this is unfair, but it seems that Facebook is now the preferred way for hundreds of millions of people to show off (as of April of this year an estimated 900 million people subscribe to Facebook, 155 million in the U.S. alone, almost half of the entire American population). "Look what I had for lunch; see where I am and what I'm doing, and aren't I cool; I'm so sophisticated and smart." What exasperates me most of all is the constant posting of other people's (usually famous dead people) wise quotes which, by the way, I often find to be out of context or misunderstood indicating that the quoter has not realized that the quotee has a much larger body of work--a book, perhaps--that one might want to read to more fully understand what is actually being suggested. I would rather have three thoughtful paragraphs from a person explaining his or her own ideas about life rather than these cherry-picked quotes or worse, the political and spiritual mini-manifestos people seem so comfortable imposing on their virtual friends. And I do mean virtual: vir·tu·al adj.
1. Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name: the virtual extinction of the buffalo.
2. Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination. Used in literary criticism of a text.3. Computer Science Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network. (Italics are mine).
But then, narcissism is not open to deep thought; instead it focuses on the superficial because there is a disturbing sense that the inner depths will prove to be empty. In fact, the horrible intuitive sense of possessing no inner life, which is the subjective experience of an equisitely fragile ego, is exactly the condition which evokes the defensive personality development of narcissism and causes the world--and the people in it--outside of one's own thoughts or concerns to disappear. On Facebook, you have "friends," but these are often not relationally significant in the sense of traditionally understood friendships but are instead relationships to supernumeraries; Facebook friends are frequently nothing more than background, stage extras present to lend credibility but are without a significant role in the unfolding drama of one's own life. But narcissism is no longer recognized as a pathological condition, narcissism is in fact the new normal in Western culture: narcissism as a psychiatric disorder is being removed from the forthcoming edition of the DSM.
People imagine themselves on Facebook the way they would like to be--like to be, but must know deep within that they aren't--seen in reality. This wouldn't be a problem if the effort were made to imagine themselves into the world, to make the word flesh, as it were. But most don't. They confine their imaginal self to the social networking site. Granted, this is easier and it avoids all the potential difficulties and conflicts of the material world interfusing with the imaginal. If the world were in reality the world Facebook users fantasize, it would be so overflowing with brave, risk-taking, tough, ruggedly independent, and honest people who know with 100% certainty what is best for them and everyone else that there would be hardly any room to move among all the certainty, wisdom, self-confidence, strength, love, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas blissed out on the planet. All the trains would run on time and everyone would be robustly self reliant. And cats. There would be so many goddamn cats in the world that entire ecosystems would become dangerously imbalanced by the disappearance of rats or the exponential increase in allergies to endure and hairballs to navigate.
I just had the most interesting experience. I walked into my bedroom on my way to the bathroom to comb my hair and head out to work, when I saw an unidentifiable something lying on the floor. I didn't--I couldn't--place it, it looked utterly strange to me and I didn't know if it was an insect or just some new permutation of dust bunny. But when I bent down to pick it up, I had the feeling that this might be a dream, and then, quickly, I told myself no, of course not. Still, there was a sense of something uncanny possessing me as I bent toward the item to pick it up, as though it was about to morph into something monstrous as things have a habit of doing in dreams, and ultimately I couldn't be sure if I was dreaming or not. That's how I understand Facebook; many subscribers to it are often dreaming and not knowing it, and so being unaware they mistake the dream for the real. That's the only explanation for all the wisdom, power, omniscience and inspiration stored up on Facebook while the world itself goes begging for these qualities.
Ultimately, Facebook serves to keep many people out of the world, it prevents them from acting in the world to change or valorize or bear witness to one's meager and unremarkable corner of it, ironically dooming one's small space to unremarkability and meagerness. Although Prince Hal was often a narcissist, he was on occasion surprisingly and, perhaps, presciently self aware: "Thus we play the fools with the time; and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds and mock us" (Henry IV part II, Act II, scene ii).