There is much to discover on the Facebook, the online community for college students, such as which cute guy already has a girlfriend and which girl thinks she's hot but, whatever, check out her skanky picture. This state of online exploration might be called the Facebook Trance, and it can last for hours.
"You stare into it FOR-EV-ER," says Melissa Doman, a George Washington University sophomore, turning away from her laptop for a moment. "You lose all track of time."
She turns back to her computer, landing on the Facebook photo of one of her female peers.
"Eew!" she says.
There is great social wisdom to be gleaned from the Facebook, which went online at a small group of schools last winter and now is used by about a million students at nearly 300 colleges.
You can wander through profiles of people you wish you knew, imagining what they must be like. You can compare the number of "friends" you have listed in your profile to the number of "friends" your roommate has, to calibrate how good you should feel about yourself. If your number is low, you can message some people you met at last night's party, asking if they, too, will be your "friends." You can read all about that guy you like and discover that he, too, enjoys J. Crew and Weezer, which must mean you're fated to be together, assuming you at some point get a chance to introduce yourself.
Last year, before GW joined the Facebook network, Doman had a crush on a certain fellow who did not return her affections. After GW linked up in August, Doman looked up the young man's profile and discovered that he prefers to date other young men. This bit of reconnaissance assuaged her wounded ego.
"That explains it," she says.
The Facebook, the invention of a group of Harvard students, provides everything today's savvy college kid needs. It maps out the cool kids and the purposeful freaks, the most popular music and the least -- important for those who value their music by its obscurity. It's like an ever-changing yearbook.
The Facebook allows anyone to fake the appropriate level of college nonchalance. If you fancy someone, the Facebook provides a list of friends you have in common, giving you a plausible excuse to contact them, and -- if they reject you -- the protection of online detachment. If you meet someone in class and can't remember his name, you can look him up on the class lists kept on the Facebook. You can research his interests, gathering information that you keep to yourself when you talk to him so he won't ever know you looked him up.