Give Orwell credit. He knew the screen stared back.
We’ve had the screens around us long enough, opening vistas (eugh, Vista) onto new and non-existent worlds.
We used them to look out. But now they’re looking back. Not just through the camera at the top of our laptop screen, but through the new social wonderful Facebook apps that promise us everything from music to video to spotification, which sounds like a horrible Medieval disease — as long as we are willing to share them with everyone.
I hate the verb “share.” I find that “sharing” is too often synonymous with “telling people something they were really better off not knowing.” And thanks to Facebook’s innovations, we will be sharing all the time. Everything we read. Everything we watch.
“Just leave me alone!” Not a chance.
In general, Facebook changes are merely a seasonal phenomenon, like leaves falling off the tree, making the tree’s interface less aesthetically pleasing and harder to use.
But Thursday’s F8 conference was more than that. Now the hegemony of the Like button is over. If you didn’t “like” a movie, you can say that you “watched” it instead. I can see how this might become pointed, like an insult in a politer society. “Did you enjoy the film?” (After a pause) “I didn’t enjoy the film. I saw it.” Look for a “Suffered through, barely, repeatedly contemplating bludgeoning myself senseless with a length of pipe” button in the near future.
Maybe they’ll institute a Dislike button soon. It’s a more social activity than liking. “Let’s get together and talk about things we all enjoy and approve of” is traditionally a recipe for a somewhat weak party. If you don’t have anything nice to say, on the other hand, come sit right here by me.
And speaking of Orwell, Facebook is trying to erase our memory of a time when we weren’t on Facebook, creating a feature called Timeline. I remember a time when Timeline was a movie I didn't want to see. Now it's a Facebook feature I don’t want to see either. It allows us to unspool our entire lives as a sort of scrapbook, eroding the distinction between the halcyon days before we joined the Blue-Boy Group and Everything That Came Afterward. Children these days find images of themselves in compromising postures on Facebook before they have developed enough fine motor control to untag. But we remember a time before that. Now Facebook wants us to believe that time was an illusion.
I imagine posting on my granddaughter’s wall: “There was once a time when people could not be on Facebook, and nobody thought it odd — because there was no Facebook.”
“This is like that nonsense you spout about having to climb uphill both ways to get to your iClassroom.”
“It was called a school, and it was real,” I will type back, grumbling under my breath about how kids these days don’t know how easy they have it with their handy memory chip implants.
But the timeline is a mild inconvenience compared to all this sharing. Want to watch a movie or listen to a song, using favored apps like Hulu or Spotify? You have to tell us about it. The telescreen points both ways.
Sharing what I’m reading sounds fine in theory. But what about this story about Furry Conventions that I am reading for research purposes? What about this really neat Slate story about the origins of pornography that I’d rather not share with my aunt?
If the institution of book clubs has taught us anything, it’s that we’d rather talk about what we aren’t reading at any given time.
Once we complained that people on Facebook were oversharing, telling us what they had for breakfast and every song they listened to. But Facebook is turning that on its head.
The more shares, the merrier! “We want to turn eating breakfast into a social experience,” Facebook explains. “Turning something into a social experience” means that every time Derek flosses, it will show up in my Newsfeed. For some reason I am less than elated at the prospect. Something must be wrong with me.
I ought not to mind being watched. That’s what being on Facebook says — “I don’t mind being watched.” 15 minutes of fame? Try 15,000,000 minutes of semi-fame. We all aspire to be like celebrities. And if celebrities go slowly insane from their inability to spend any time truly alone, well, we’d like to try that too. It’s worth it if we can get enough spectators to turn Navel-Gazing into a pro sport.
I miss anti-social experiences already.
But we might not be able to turn back. We are Facebook Nation, defined by our unshaking belief that the most interesting thing about any movie is the fact that we have watched it.
We spend more time on Facebook than on Google now. This means that we think we are more interesting than the Sum Total Of Everything Else That Is Out There. No wonder, when the news broke that researchers at CERN might have broken the speed of light, we were so busy complaining that Facebook had changed the layout and altered the buttons and socialized our music that we barely even noticed.
We’re too busy Liking and Listening to see anything. Beyond our navel, that is.
And now everyone can watch us do it.