Wednesday, July 9, 2008

VIRTUAL INSANITY

Facebook is driving me crazy. Don't get me wrong. I think it's a great social tool--much better than MySpace, whose overdesigned pages intimidate me. (Facebook, with its simple, unfussy layout and abundance of white space, is like the Internet equivalent of a perfectly decorated bachelor pad, spartan with lots of clean surfaces.) And those horror stories about teen abductions via MySpace don't help its case. For a long time, I had received invitations to join Facebook from friends and family, but with visions of MySpace mishaps dancing in my head, I resisted. Finally, in a moment of weakness--or was it boredom?--I took the plunge and signed up (profile link).

In the beginning, it was fantastic. I was surprised to see so many people I knew already on Facebook. Friends and acquaintances to whom I hadn't spoken since I moved to Buenos Aires popped back into my life. Old high school and college pals made comebacks. I even tracked down an Italian fling from eight years ago, who, as fate would have it, was about to come to Buenos Aires on holiday. (Yet another long story for a future post. In short, the moral: Don't look back. Look what it did for Orpheus and Eurydice!) I asked myself, What took you so long? I hate to admit it, but I even began to look down a little on those clueless saps who still weren't on Facebook. Silly me.

But soon, Facebook started to go a little weirdo on me. In addition to the normal messages I was receiving with increasing infrequency, "friends" were sending me "mojo," "good karma," virtual kisses, animated gifts and other peculiar cyber bric-á-brac. I'd get updates on the most inane minutiae of everyones' lives: So and so... "is working." So and so... "is having a beer." How fascinating! I still haven't figured out why someone would be at a concert and on Facebook at the same time, but whatever. I'd also get quizzes: What's your rock star personality? Which '80s movie defines you? Do you bunch up the toilet paper or fold it before you wipe? Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. Then there were invitations to events in foreign countries, to knighthood (?!), and even one creepy application where you can buy your friends. I cringed and soldiered on.

I signed up for some of the social applications, like "Hot Or Not?" and "Are YOU Interested?" I figured that if I was going to meet someone online, I couldn't go wrong with a website that nearly everyone I knew--even my mom!--was on. But boy, did I go wrong! When someone clicked "Yes" on me, if I thought he was cute, I'd click "Yes" back. Voila! A "Match"! Without fail, these "Matches" resulted in one of two scenarios: We'd make idle online chit chat for weeks without ever actually meeting and then stop talking altogether. Or I'd never hear back from them in the first place.

I got it. I get it. Some people are just looking for an ego boost or collecting "Matches" so that visitors to their profile will be impressed by their high number of "Matches," which is displayed under your application photo. How Argentine! It's that same old tired porteño story: arrogance, insecurity, an over-reliance on IM and SMS. (Memo to my Argentine suitors: Sometimes it's okay to pick up the phone and call. Sometimes it's okay to meet new people in person.) After a billion IMs and SMS messages, I lose interest. I have yet to actually meet anyone face-to-face for the first time through Facebook.

And the madness continues. Lately, I've been getting numerous friendship requests from complete strangers. It's understandable if you see my profile photo, dig it and decide to give me a try. What I don't understand are the ones who send me friendship requests, and when I accept, never follow up. I've started to decline these mystery invitations, which fills me with guilt because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But you have to draw the line somewhere.

Despite its challenges to my good nature, I'm not giving up on Facebook. It's got plenty of good points: You can communicate with all of your friends through a single message. You can share photos, music, videos. You can promote your blog. And despite all of the evidence to the contrary so far, I'm convinced that if you're really lucky and willing to go through a lot of losers, you can even find Mr. (or Miss) Right. Just like in real life. So wish me luck. I'll be needing it.

DOWNLOAD Kate Bush: "Deeper Understanding" (a prescient song from 1989's The Sensual World about valuing cyber connections over the human touch)
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