Saturday, October 13, 2007

return of the repressed

today jenn invited me to become her friend on facebook. even though i had been certain 10 minutes earlier that i'd no more join facebook than hang out at my children's parties, i set up an account.

i went through the usual rigamorole of the who what where when of it. i signed up. i was inside facebook.

or was I?

suddenly i found myself faced with a voice right out of elementary school: "you don't have any friends yet" the screen read.

i was floored. what a brilliant ploy. a stroke of primitive genius.

on the one hand this read like the line of an adult to a lonely child, a grownup trying to unravel the causes for the kid's sadness with a biting dose of truth girded by a single word of optimism: "yet". but it was also the cruel and patronizing assertion of the brat to the new kid pretending to tell a simple truth when she's actually flaunting her new social status--she's suddenly "in" because an outsider has penetrated the boundaries of the social group and by her very newness redefined what's known and what's not, what's inside and what's out. "you don't have any friends" invokes everyone's fear of being that friendless oucast. "yet" promises that the group isn't fixed--yesterday's outcast can be tomorrow's insider.

so you're through a door but it's a door of false promise. you're not really in at all but in an eerie transitional space in which not only is the future uncertain but the nature of what's behind you is subverted: you thought you had a social world? you thought you had easy access to the people in your life? you thought you engaged in unfettered communication with the people you care about? HAH. you in fact are in an endless seeming dreamspace defined by closed portals--tens of thousands of them--to which you can gain access only by permission. to not go forward is to crawl back from your transitional state, defeated, condemned to a life outside and friendless. to go forward is to plow into an unformed and therefore forbidding universe. this surreal state and the discomfitting freefall that accompanies it is designed to make people scramble to establish a place in the virtual realm: join facebook and flee the void you've unwittingly entered.

one of the underlying promises is of a new social world parallel to or better than ones social place in the material world. the other is of being rescued from friendlessness.

so, how many friends do you have?

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