Monday, May 17, 2010

analysis of a facebook update map

Part II of a series.

Last post was an unadulterated time-space map of a particular virtual moment, mapped via facebook updates. Let's see what we learn.


Coleen wins cookies for her guess of October 2008. This was not hard to figure.

In fact, we can pinpoint things more exactly. From these updates--

is watching the master debaters.
is watching McCain get spanked. Righteous...
is watching the debate over pizza and beer. i love being an adult.
is going to watch tonight's debates at Hamburger Mary's... wanna join?
is lovin rainy nashville, getting ready to crash the debates part 2.

--we know that the updates happened on October 7, 2008, in the evening, during the second televised presidential debate between Obama and McCain. (One of the updates even experienced this spatially while 'lovin rainy nashville,' home of Belmont University, where the debate was held.) The number of facebookers commenting on the debate may seem unusually high or low, depending on how you look at it. But there's no denying the virtual experience of the election cycle as a generalized, almost incessant current, perpetually weighing on many a facebook mind:

is excited that Biden is so genuine. Erica now has a growing fondness for Joe Biden.
saw Obama in La Crosse this morning. The heat off that man gave me sunburn.
An Electoral College TIE? Its Possible!!
is so sick of the bullshit and games that are politics. But be sure to go vote tomorrow, and register to vote by this weekend if you are not already!

That last update is particularly curious, an honest assessment of the unforgiving drudge of electoral politics in the United States. We're sick of the politics, but don't forget to vote! The swash of cynicism and earnestness all at once - what could it mean? The time-space map in this case is less about messages and meaning as it is common experience and emotion. Posting this update would seem nonsensical if it weren't for the implicit understanding that other facebookers would feel the same way, would perhaps even say the same thing. Is this liberating or constraining? The 'freedom' to update on whatever crosses your mind - though inane, profane, or utterly confusing - yet also consciously aware that the updates only 'work' if read 'in common' through positive resonance? Let's imagine McCain wins in November. A facebooker posts "I feel like killing myself right now." In most other contexts, this would be read with alarm and worry. But all it takes is one comment on the post - "Dude. Feel the same." - and we know that these aren't actually musings about suicide, but rather a commonly shared experience being coped with in virtual public space. We do this all the time now; we assume a kind of common exists (though with little real/sustained effort from any of us).

Contrast this with other ways people commented on the time:

If I fail pathophys, do I get a second try, like the $700 Billion Bailout? God save the bankers!
paulson looks like he just robbed a bank...

It could be argued that the bailouts and other common experiences of economic crisis were arguably more important than the election cycle, especially when read in context of today's facebook update time-space maps ("Still looking for a job..."). But only two posts directly reference this. My facebook friends appear to have moved eagerly towards producing common experiences of the election rather than the economic crisis. What facilitated this? What is the result?

Without the assistance of spectacle, we have many mundane allusions to time:

is grateful to everyone who organized CR10.
is Oktoberfest, bitches!
is potentially addicted [to running marathons].
needs to find her winter coat because its looking like its time to start bundling up.
is either kicking of statement of purpose ass or else statement of purpose is playing rope a dope. We can all guess which is really happening.
should be in Hawaii by the first of November and in Washington on the 18th or 19th.
is performing at Intermedia on Thurs Oct 9, 7 pm with Ibe and Sun Yung - plus wine and beer!
is starting to really like his classes.

One way or another we can deduce the time of year from this. We relate to seasonal changes, warm enough to run a marathon but cold enough to find a winter coat. We relate to pressures like statements of purpose for grad school applications, or classes, or, um, Oktoberfest. Other posts merely help us map out the near future: when a performance at Intermedia will be, when someone will be visiting Hawaii or Washington. And for the truly discerning, there's posts about the success of CR10 - not a generalized knowledge in an era of spectacle, but the mere mention should mobilize the brief excitements of those who are in the know, and perhaps even motivate those who aren't to find out.


Meanwhile, what's going on in this time of October 7, 2008?

is curious about this years showing of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" as in, is there going to be one...?

The space covered in a facebook update time-space map is flooded with comments like these: wry, humorous, fearful, coy, steeped well in the times. It's impossible to know exactly what the facebooker is referencing, though the many guesses are resonant - a freakily unexpected McCain election as the "nightmare before Christmas," perhaps.

But it's not important to know or understand all the references. Comments like these are made to highlight the wit of their makers.

is finding out that doing nothing can be the most difficult thing to do.
is trying to think of what she's doing right now.
hates anatomy. but she loves you.
would like to start ending all of her sentences in "also"...also.
is looking for others in the Bangor area who want to play kickball. Possibly in ridiculous outfits. Are you in?
is playing offense against his head cold.
is back to real life... well school, not really real life.
has the ugliest sweater of them all!
is bonding with Tori Amos instead of sleeping.
19 dollar airbed is sounding pretty enticing right now. sleeeeeeeeeeepy.

Sometimes it's hard to detect the difference between wit and depression.

Yay unemployment.

And things get even stranger when the source of wit is other facebook-produced material. Them feedback loops can be voracious.

refuses to change his status message just because some people are bitter about the sun in California.

I count myself among this crowd, always intent on clever posts. Lately I've been wondering why I do this. Every time I have important news to share over facebook, it's always done obliquely. I don't write things like "I got accepted at UNC!!!" I do "UNC says yes, and throws in a fellowship nomination to boot. Holy shit. It's on." All told, that is about three or four times more energy than was needed. Is that a sign I'm a writer? Possibly.

A good many writers inhabit facebook, attempting to pull language out of its duldrums (where it usually languishes in the virtual world). They can weave poetry.

head is his only home unless it rains.
still loves...and will always love, and will wait until time makes to reconnect our souls together...

Sometimes the poetry is unintended.

is finding it.
is a drifter.

But what really goes on in the space of facebook is a much sadder and meaner game than what a few whimsical writers might believe it to be. It's still a business, and all of us its consumers. We all know well the massive data mining that facebook generates, turning our free public creations into marketable privatized content. The larger consequence of this is an unsettling arc away from creativity, imagination, and desire. Facebookers have learned to replace whimsy with accounts like these:

hates fax machines!
is listening to Jane's Addiction and running my dog on a trail under fresh snow!
is NERVOUS! and really excited....
is revising a story.
is marketing at midnight.
is busy.
is up and at em.
homework done, go to target, buy furniture. Groceries and floor will wait until tonight.

There's a lot more where that came from. What's perhaps most concerning is that such honesty reveals a lot of bodies running themselves into the ground. The space of common experience we all can draw on interminably, it seems, is that of anti-leisure. Why write "is busy" unless you already know that everyone else understands, that they sympathize?

Facebook holds a mirror on a people in ill health.

is coughing.
is friggin' exhausted!

Here is a space we can all agree we're not happy in.

is in Partial Hell!!!

(Of course, facebook is where we also learn to mince words enough so that our reckoning doesn't become too fully wrought in public. Partial Hell is better than Hell, after all.)

Seemingly the only happy ones out there have learned to harvest the wind that facebook offers - networking/marketing, depending if you're the anticapitalist/capitalist type:

thinks YOU should come to Daman. My latest choral awesome-ness!! Check it out!!
is thinking you should all visit and if you like what you see, maybe donate a buck or two to keep us ripe.

More than anything, today's on-line time-space rewards the savvy and self-deprecating, witnesses to technological blossoms fraught with wonder and uneasy tension. Beneath every "Cool!" is a whispered "Oh shit."

apparently has hazel eyes. Thanks Wikipedia!