October 6, 2014

MOSKOWITZ | Where Is Facebook?

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By HUNTER MOSKOWITZ

Where is Facebook?

Bright colors, summers sunsets, arms around shoulders and faces unknown. These fragments, broken pieces of life, fill up my newsfeed.

I have always seen the world as fractured, but I think Facebook perpetuates this vision. It takes the smallest pieces of our lives — photographs, videos and quick thoughts — and places them in a neat order. Facebook tries to create stories about us; while anchored in the truth, these stories are fabrications. Small snapshots of life place us into neat categories: funny, cute, busy, social, caring. Our minds might try to create definitive shapes from these disjointed parts, but underneath our skin they are meaningless.

While this may not be its intended function, Facebook acts as a vehicle of comparison. We compare dress and appearance, but often end up comparing the worst parts of ourselves to the best parts of others. Yet even more damaging can be how Facebook portrays our lives. Facebook creates an image of many highs with few lows. In reality, life is relatively flat. There are the occasional sharp bumps upward and down, but many more of the mountains and valleys we traverse are a slow and steady climb or descent. That is not to say that Facebook prevents us from joining in on the joy of others, but at the same time, it can create a sense of powerlessness when we see the explosion of excitement that fills the constant stream of image upon image.

One of the many obvious benefits to Facebook is the connection. Whether through postings or private message, Facebook allows us to instantly communicate with our friends and relatives, “obliterating the distances” between us. In this way, those that would disappear through the cracks of time and distance can now remain connected to our lives, viewing the images, events, and fabrications that create our Facebook stories. While Facebook facilitates quick and far-reaching interaction, intimate and complex conversations are difficult to foster. Emotion and ideas just feel fake, cut up by fast and easy language.

Facebook’s role in society seems uncertain at best. In the today’s world, Facebook’s greatest contribution to society has been perceived through its role in the Arab Spring. Protestors in Egypt used Facebook to organize rallies and subvert traditional avenues of power. In the past, people have attacked Facebook for its privacy policies and loose controls on access to personal information.

Economically, Facebook represents a common problem in the “information age.” A company that makes billions of dollars only employs seven thousand workers. Yet while these issues are important, Facebook generates an endless set of images, videos, articles, buzz feed quizzes, and random thoughts. These things shape our world view, subtly slipping thoughts and impressions into our mind.

The problems with this process is that Facebook, while supporting opposing views, still relies on the opinions and perceptions of its individual users. The stereotypes and judgments that those individuals hold become the Facebook narrative, one that falls into our mind whether we want it or not. Unless we actively see this process, the racial, gender, cultural and other categorical assumptions creep into our view, becoming part of the reality that Facebook constructs. As a disseminator of media, images and ideas, Facebook cannot separate itself from this process. In fact, it works to perpetuate it.

At the same time, I am not going to stop scrolling down my newsfeed or deactivate my account. The connectivity that Facebook provides has made me dependent. It’s not just routine, but necessary. I won’t stop judging how the images and platform of Facebook shapes the world around me, but I also won’t stop staring at the bright colors and summer sunsets.

Hunter Moskowitz is a freshman in the School of International and Labor Relations. He may be reached at hm376@cornell.edu.