By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2009
1. We have been tagged in a Facebook note titled "25 Random Things About Me."
2. Update: We have received seven of these alerts in the past seven days from seven different people.
3. This is just another online outbreak of mass self-disclosure and self-importance, like personality e-mail forwards of yore (boxers or briefs? Pacino or De Niro?). Everyone is typing out Random Things this week, and asking -- nay, tagging -- us to do the same.
4. A friend's No. 3 Random Thing: "One of my favorite things to do is belt out monster ballads in my car, while pretending that I don't see people looking at me like I've lost my mind."
5. We are above reading these carefully worded train-of-thought brain dumps, we think. And we'll make our own list only if we get paid by the item.
6. We read them anyway. Each list amounts to a single-spaced, one-page document enumerating "facts, habits, or goals" about the author.
7. Fact: We are weak.
8. Habit: Checking Facebook every 30 minutes.
9. Goal: To get back to work.
10. So we turn this Facebook mini-phenomenon into work.
11. In the past week, the daily rates of note-creating and friend-tagging have doubled and quintupled, respectively, says Brandee Barker, Facebook's director of communications. "People of all ages and from all over the world are writing 25 very touching and insightful 'things' about their lives and tagging friends in order to share it more broadly," she says.
12. A friend's No. 17: "I have pooped my pants more than three times as an adult."
13. Sociology 101: People use Facebook like this to compete for attention. "Attention is power," says Michael Stefanone, assistant professor of communication at the University at Buffalo. "You see this in waves, friends contacting friends with this request. It's self-serving."
14. Sociology 201: People are supremely comfortable sharing intimate information about themselves in this pseudo-celebrity culture of online social networking, Stefanone says, but "what happens when I can learn about you and you're not aware of it? These information asymmetries might put people at a disadvantage." It's reality TV's fault, according to his latest study. We believe it. All those on-camera confessions and weirdly personal interviews . . . all of a sudden America knows a little too much about your banal private matters.
15. A former teacher's No. 11: "I knew I was going to marry my wife when I went over to finally break up with her -- and then couldn't. This, despite the fact that she was looking particularly unattractive that day, and yet I have never seen something lovelier."
16. We are touched.
17. We feel stupid, getting emotional about something that amounts to a marketing boon for Facebook.
18. We feel misled when we see that many of these Random Things are just comic fabrications, or textual performance pieces.
19. A friend's No. 5: "I killed John Updike."
20. Fact: Lung cancer killed John Updike.
21. Maybe this contagion isn't about self-disclosure; it's about our obsession with lists. It's a comfortable format. It's an orderly way to publicize the Random Things that make us oh-so-special.
22. Once you make a list about yourself, "you'll suddenly discover an inventory of personal secrets, fears, and desires that flow out effortlessly and surprise you. There you are, big as life, in list form," according to the book "List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery."
23. Wait a minute. We are more complicated than list form, than pseudo-celebrity! Our journey of self-discovery is not divisible by numbered items!
24. Goal: Not to reduce ourselves to Random Things.
25. Fact: Too late.