Adventures in Time or Why I’m Freaked Out by FaceBook

Because so many of my friends are completely addicted to FaceBook (and threatening not to be friends with me anymore), I decided to join two days ago (less than 36 hours ago). In keeping with the entire Web 2.0 movement, I feel that I should share my impressions of FaceBook immediately, before I’ve had too much time to reflect on the experience.

The first strange experience I had on FaceBook involved the status update feature. This is a feature that allows the user to tell her friends what she’s currently doing. One of the options was “Cathie is sleeping” and so when I went to bed, I changed my status to that. Yesterday morning, I logged in for further exploration and Liz was online (and of course, by “online”, I mean “on FaceBook”). I had forgotten to change my status when I logged in and so the first thing Liz said to me was “You aren’t sleeping.” She was right, of course. I was freaked out by the fact that my un-updated status was immediately noticed and commented upon. So I changed my status to “Cathie is freaked out by the status update feature.” This was immediately commented on by the two Robins, both of whom said something like: “It’s how we track your every movement.” Which, of course, freaked me out even more.

The second strange experience is one that Ian Bogost calls “collapsed time.” After I filled out my profile on FaceBook (entering things like where I went to high school, college and so on), the first person the site suggested that I add as a FaceBook friend is someone who actually is a friend of mine, Amy Briggs. I’ve known Amy since I was in seventh grade and she was in sixth. We went to high school together and then went to Dartmouth College together, where we were two of the very few women majoring in Computer Science in the mid-1980s. We both went on to get PhDs in Computer Science and we’re now both faculty members at small New England colleges (although she has gone over to the dark side and is Middlebury’s Acting Dean of Curriculum). Because of the similarities in our backgrounds, it was probably a no-brainer to suggest that I add her as a friend. And, of course, I did. To complete the friendship relationship in FaceBook, however, the second party must agree to the friendship. So I went to bed Monday night without Amy in my FaceBook friend list. By the time I logged into FB Tuesday morning, however, Amy had accepted my request for friendship. What’s strange to me is how FB reported this to me. It said, “Cathie and Amy Briggs are now friends.” Now we’re friends? Despite the fact that we’ve known each other for more than 30 years, now we’re friends? As Bogost has pointed out, FB collapses time to this moment. Now is the only time that matters. This freaks me out just a little bit.

The third strange experience happened this morning. I have been on FB for just more than 36 hours so I have only dabbled in exploring the many features available. For example, I have uploaded only one picture, mostly just to see how the upload feature works. It’s a picture of Ann and I taken at a baby shower this winter. (Despite the fact that I have just joined FB, quite a few other pictures of me are there because of the addicted friends I mentioned earlier. It’s another interesting and freaky aspect of these social networks that you can “exist” on the network without even knowing it.) A friend teased me via a comment on my wall (a public space on which FB members can post comments for and about you), implying that I need to get more photos out there. Although I know the comment was meant in jest, I think it illustrates an issue concerning “immediacy,” in which users expect stuff to happen immediately. The immediacy issue is related to the issue of collapsed time in that they are both about an emphasis on now. And on FB, stuff does happen immediately. And then all your friends are immediately notified about it. Freaky.

And that leads me to the last of my current impressions about FB. I’m having significant information overload. As a user, you can control the kinds of things you are notified about via email. By default, you are notified about everything. So when someone accepts your offer of friendship, you get an email about it. When a friend changes her status, you get an email about it. When a friend writes on your wall, you get an email about it. When a friend adds a photo to her page, you get an email about it. And so on. Like I said, you can change these settings but as a new user, it’s difficult to decide what you want to get an email about and what you don’t. I’m finding it challenging to keep up with it all. This brings to mind Sturgeon’s Law, which says: “Ninety-nine percent of everything is crap.” Since I’m writing these impressions without having thought them through, that’s also what I’m thinking about this blog entry.

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