This summer I worked with a guy named Seth. He graduated from Cornell a year or two ago. Shockingly, he is not on Facebook. And interestingly, it is not just because he’s lazy or doesn’t know anyone he could be e-friends with. He finds the whole online community slightly repellent, and thinks the only reason sites like LiveJournal, MySpace, and Facebook are successful is because of what he calls “reverse voyeurism.”
Until recently, I thought he was just a slightly eccentric and paranoid Ivy League film school grad. Now I’m inclined to agree with him, with a small tweak.
Seth’s theory goes like this: people create profiles or blogs not to join a community where all the authors learn about each other, but simply to get a thrill out of being watched. He claimed that no one actually reads other people’s profiles, but they all have a subconscious desire to have friends, kind-of friends, and complete strangers know intimate details about their lives. Now, I do sometimes read other people’s profiles, especially my friends’ when I see they’ve been updated, but for the most part, they go unread. This phenomenon seems to be fairly consistent among users I know. Everyone on Facebook seems content with having a profile no one would read in the hopes that someone would care about their online semi-celebrity.
But then here comes the controversial “News Feed” feature. Suddenly, people are up in arms about their “privacy” online. People are shocked – shocked, I tell you – to learn that Facebook has the capacity to document every single one of their actions. Suddenly Facebook is Big Brother for taking all the information about users and their friends that people willingly post on their walls, profiles, and picture comments, and organizing it, and we have people “threatening” to cancel their accounts. At the time of this writing, a group called “Students Against Facebook News Feed” has over 740,000 members. Forget that all this information was already readily available to anyone willing to look. No, this is nothing short of a Bush-wiretap-like invasion of privacy. Give me a break.
Guys, chill out. Right now, my News Feed tells me that one of my friends ended a fictional relationship, another one made a couple groups about rain, one more befriended some people I don’t know, and approximately seven billion people joined various anti-News Feed groups. I also don’t particularly care if people know that I wrote on a friend’s wall about his picture, or that I changed the new religious views section (an altogether weirder addition) to say that I worship my dog. His name is not Sam.
It seems that people do like being watched – or at least until their reverse voyeuristic tool calls them out on it. Relax, friends. The design will change. It always does. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg (“The Man”) will make News Feed optional. Until then, though, I will enjoy knowing when friends from high school went from “In an Open Relationship” to “It’s Complicated.”
Patrick Gibbons is a senior majoring in Political Science and Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you could just friend him. He will enjoy watching your News Feed. His middle name is Wes Mantooth.