Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A life in status updates

Profile Picture: Young woman in contemplative shot, gaze almost purposely fixed away from camera, into the distance. Long dangly earring in focus.

Subject Alias: Jane
Age: 16
Location: Wisconsin
Connection to author: Relative

Monday Sept. 27

-A friend wrote on Jane's wall shortly after midnight

-Jane never responded

-7:27 p.m. Status update: A line from Fire and Rain by James Taylor

-4 people liked it (all born after James Taylor's children started receiving AARP subscriptions)

-8:24 p.m. Jane tags herself in 5 photos in an album called "Junior Year 2010-2011"

-8:38 Jane tags herself in 8 more photos in the same album

-8:46 Jane comments on one of the photos of her in band uniform, in response to comments made by friend

-Jane is confirmed friends with 3 new people

-Jane doesn't write on any one of their walls

-9:04 p.m. Jane is tagged in a photo by her mother

-Doesn't comment on it

Tuesday Sept. 28

-7:28 Status update: "I got punched in the face today."

-7:54 Comments on band uniform photo again in response to comment from another friend

-Status gets 3 likes and 12 comments

-2 of the comments are Jane's, explaining it was a choreographed stage move in her school play

-8:44 p.m. Posts a spoken word poem video by Taylor Mali, calling it "interesting," "funny," and "words of wisdom from a powerful speaker."

-Video gets one like

Wednesday Sept. 29

-4:14 p.m. Another comment on "punched face" status

-7:22 Friend comments on Mali poem video

-7:51 p.m. Subject comments on "punched face" status in response, totaling 14 comments

-11:06 p.m. Status update: Eh. Long, somewhat interesting day in a long, somewhat interesting week. Friday should get here soon. Very soon.

-Status gets 2 likes

Thursday Sept. 30

-1:33 p.m. Another friend comments on Mali poem video

-4:55 p.m. Friend posts on wall to ask if they are still meeting up over weekend

-5:06 p.m. Subject comments that she can't, plans have changed and she shows her dismay with this emoticon : /

-5:58 p.m. Male friend writes on her wall

-She doesn't respond

-8:16 p.m. Status update: Another 13-hour day. Now... homework. And there is much rejoicing.

-8:33 p.m. Status gets one comment

-WHOA! 10:27 Another status update: Guess who got an A on her Adv. Algebra 1 test! THIS GIRL! Sooooo, so so so happy. xD

-Status gets 4 likes and 3 comments

-10:54 p.m. Friend from earlier posts on wall a second time to say its sad they can't meet on the weekend

-Subject doesn't respond

Friday Oct. 1

-5:30 p.m. Status update: Yumm. Chinese food = <3>

-Satus gets 3 comments

-Algebra status from the day before gets 3 more comments

-Confirmed one new friend

-Comments on a friend's photo of friend in a band uniform

-Subject's mom posts a photo to her wall

-Subject likes the photo, doesn't comment

Saturday Oct. 2

-1:44 a.m. Male friend posts this gem: "Hey jew." (Subject is not Jewish)

-Subject doesn't respond

-6:45 p.m. Status update: A long prose piece on the beauty of autumn

-Status gets 7 likes, no comments

-7:46 p.m. Friend posts on wall about involvement in school theater

-Subject doesn't comment

Sunday Oct. 3

-8:48 p.m. Status update: A quote from Harry Potter "Ah music, a magic beyond all we do here."

-Status gets 6 likes

-10:25 p.m. Comments on a friend's photo

Tracking Jane's Facebook actions produced a rather squicky feeling for me, and not because I was "stalking" her. No, the uncomfortable truth here is that this exercise really wasn't that much of a stretch. Sure, I may not create an itinerary of posts by all my most favorite "friends" and ponder long and hard about their motives and fates. But I do check up on those close to me (and maybe an old high school buddy that I never talk to anymore, or six) pretty often, peeking at their pictures and commenting here and there on a status or post. I know I'm not alone in doing so, and I don't think it is wrong. Humans are a self-interested breed, and as such we will always be drawn in by vanity's sneaky lure. "Stalking," though superficially centered on another, is deep down just about how that person relates to ourselves. And within the realm of Facebook at least, the practice has become quite acceptable. It is the byproduct of a new social structure, one that didn't exist a few years ago but now (quite unsurprisingly, given our nature) seems as though it has always been.

At any rate, in stalking Jane, one gets the Reader's Digest version (is that even a reference any more?) of her personality: high school girl, band nerd, drama geek, reads Harry Potter, listens to James Taylor (all of this purely from posts and comments, remember, not Info tab stuff).

With another look, a few stark differences between us pop off the screen (again here, learning about myself through stalking another). As a high school student, her most active time on Facebook is in the evenings, between 6 and 11 p.m. It was in this consistent window that Jane posted her status, commented on pics, and responded to friends' inquiries. Clearly, this is because Jane's in school for the morning and most of the afternoon, as hinted in her comments, is tied up with after-school activities. As a college student, I notice myself and most of my peers check in periodically throughout the day as allowed by our more flexible and variable class schedules. And while Jane was deeply engaged in Facebook activity for several hours each night, most of my check-ins with FB are quick, fleeting, see-if-I've-got-a-notification type deals.

Another difference: the sheer number of status updates. Now, as 16-year-old girls go, Jane is rather reserved. She is not the "ZOMG just txtd f'n JAMIE, luv tht gurlll!!!!" every-5-seconds type. Jane keeps it simple, usually with one grammatically-correct status per night. Except that, by my standards, that's a lot. I usually don't make it a point to update my status unless it's pretty big news, lest I make a spectacle of myself. And while I have many college-aged (and older, dear god) FB friends who are chronic pointless status updaters, I tend to think there might be an age gap here. I only adopted FB after my senior year of high school. Jane has pretty much grown up with it. It is not a means to convey important life milestones and special pictures to loved ones far away, it is THE means of communication for her, THE social forum between her and her friends, even (and probably especially) with the people she sees everyday.

It is this that moves me to question why Jane chooses to present the items she does through her statuses and posts. Knowing as she does that she will accrue an average of 3 likes and 5 comments on any given status (and who knows how many unwritten glances), Jane is savvy to the fact that what she posts will have immeasurable effect on her image. To her, a James Taylor status update doesn't just mean "Hey I like this song" but instead says, "I like this song, therefore I am hip because I listen to old stuff and am not a mindless Lady Gaga drone like the rest of you plebes. I dare you to like this and declare your equivalent hipness." Of course not every post is that calculated or dramatic, but an involved thought process nonetheless occurs.

And here is the truly fascinating bit: what Jane chooses not to do or say on Facebook is a thousand times more revealing than what she does. I'm talking about when a friend posts to her wall and she doesn't post back, even several a days later. When her Mom put up a picture of the two of them, and she didn't comment, even though she commented on other photos shortly before. When she made 3 new FB friends, and didn't post on any of their walls throughout the next week. This lack of action highlights Jane with a new level of granular detail. She doesn't want to seem too eager by posting on the wall of a new friend. She doesn't want to appear as though she likes the pic with her Mom, even if she does. She thinks one chronic poster is annoying, and doesn't want to encourage more of their posts by responding. See, Jane knows people are watching.

So here we go world. Facebook is our farthest-reaching and most enduring online social medium! You are free to proclaim your thoughts at will to anyone and everyone.


Or perhaps like Jane you will tarry for days at time for the rest of your life, choosing what to say and what not to.

No comments:

Post a Comment