The Facebook Universe

A network of faces from different places leaving fragmented traces

Andy Warhol is well-known for many things, but most know him solely as the peculiar-looking white-haired man who once remarked that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Prior to the social networking phenomenon whenever I heard that quote my mind would instantly conjure up an image of something akin to a Soviet-era bread line with all of us patiently awaiting our fifteen minutes in front of a video camera. Basically American Idol for everyone.

“Quick! Do something special. You only have fifteen minutes.”

But now we have Facebook and well, that changes everything. No need for a claustrophobic fifteen-minute time frame to figure out just what’s special about you. With Facebook as long as you’re alive you can post and boy do we love to post. With little hesitation we willingly put it all out there. Having issues in your relationship? We know. We’ve watched it play out through a series of status updates, an abrupt relationship status change and assorted other methods of broadcasting once personal tribulations. Life is good? We know. Look at all those pictures of you dancing in nightclubs. Look at how happy you look with her. Look at the car you drive. Look at the shape you’re in.

These are all aggressively temporal states of being. Perhaps Facebook is our way of documenting all of those tiny fleeting moments of our days. We don’t want to lose a thing.

Even more peculiar is the paparazzi-like infrastructure that keeps it afloat. We’re all out there snapping pictures of ourselves, friends, family, random strangers and then posting them, tagging them and essentially creating society pages. This is paparazzi cannibalization! We’re on this thing scandalizing ourselves and others. That’s kind of like Will Smith hiding out in Brad and Angelina’s bushes trying to snap a couple pics of the family. And then we’re all chimin’ in. Saying things like “Wow, you look gorgeous!” or “Seriously, he wore that out!? OMG!!!” And odds are the he who wore that out is totally unaware he’s being talked about.


We’re all on there, scattered about the globe hanging out with each other while we’re all alone. Almost instantaneously sharing the mundane bits of our lives as they happen. Sometimes with pictures or video. It’s as if we “matter” to people other than those we see on a regular day-to-day basis. That’s because we’re all freakin’ celebrities. Look at how many comments your last status update received…oh, and don’t forget about all those people who liked it.

So now that we’re all famous when we suffer Facebook embarrassments we get an idea of how it must feel to have our face on the cover of a tabloid with accompanying text airing a buried secret that may or may not be true to a viciously judgmental public who believes that since you “put yourself out there like that” you must endure the breach of your privacy. The public figure isn’t allowed to be human. They’re no longer one of us. They’re Out There. Out There where we all want to be. They just gotta grin and bear it. They’re living the life. Yeah, I know, pot calling the kettle black.

We’re all jacked-in so to speak. Yes, there are a few of us without PCs or portable devices, the ones living in Zion. But most of us are spending great amounts of time in alternate dimensions or virtual universes. These metarealities that operate just like the real reality that spawned them, here’s how…

Your Facebook network is linked to other networks and those networks link to others and so on and so forth. So question is: what shape is the total Facebook network? It expands, new members register all the time. But it also contracts as people delete their pages. It’s an oxymoronic amorphous messy order of points in virtual space. Some directly linked, others linked through a constellation of pages. There are all sorts of multidimensional shapes (don’t forget about all those events you will be attending, the artists attached to your page, the brands, the schools you attend or attended, the games, et cetera) that can be extrapolated from the mess that is the interconnected Facebook network.

This mass is growing and it needs virtual space to accommodate it. But notice the clever way it uses space. You ‘friend’ me and I ‘friend’ one of your friends and they ‘friend’ one of my friends—as we merge our respective universes together over time our respective News Feed will begin to look similar due to the fact that we have so many shared friends. In essence we become the same race.

Yeah, it’s a reverse big bang.

We were all conceived and born independently of one another on different parts of the globe. In virtual space we are coming together in ways many of us never imagined. I never thought that one day I would have access to the day-to-day activities of a woman in Prague while I munch Fritos in Paris, Texas. Her updates pop up on my Feed, and if I want to get to know her better all I have to do is click on her smiling face and there goes her life story as it’s happening…her book.

So back to the reverse big bang. Even though there is significant physical space between us in the digital space of Facebook we smash together. When we share friends we pull ourselves together really tight, things get really personal. We notice cliques forming within our individual networks. You may have 1,000 friends, but notice how a few of them frequently group together as they comment on status updates. Acting like no one else can see them talking. Acting like they’re having a private conversation. Don’t they know that Joe has like 3,000 friends? Oh, I get it. It’s just like that talking on your cell phone in public bit. Only now it’s a chorus.

These groupings are like organs within your network or solar system or whatever works for you. You can call them molecules or cells if you’d like. Essentially, your network is an entity and the cliques which form within it are separate entities which exist within it and influence its overall health. These cliques may include people not in your network. There is a lot of overlapping going on. Just like out there in the “real world.” The cliques expand and contract just as our networks and the greater Facebook network expand and contract. It’s just this big throbbing mass of positive/negative energy. Not only is this pos/neg stuff evident in the new page to deleted page ratio, but also in the way we login and logout.

The more of us online at one time the more the Facebook “star” radiates. Status updates flying all over the place reaching far out to places once unknown. As a result more new direct connections can be made. I visit a friend’s page, spot a post on his wall from one of his ‘exclusive’ friends, a young lady. Her comment is kind of funny so I go and check out her page, I like what I see (Hey, she likes Woody Allen movies!) so I decide to add her. After visiting her page I notice considerable chunks of time between her updates. She doesn’t log on often. Fortunately she chose to on the day she made the funny comment or else I probably wouldn’t have ever “met” her.

Even those of us who log in and do absolutely nothing get represented on the left side of the screen. Look who’s online! It’s a tenuous connection to the broader network. Not as direct as a wall post or comment, but it’s a connection nonetheless. And it may not be all that tenuous when you give it some serious thought. These people, these non-participating participants, who sit back and watch the whole drama play out are an interesting breed. They’re not putting it all out there, but they want to see others who are.

The whole thing is like a brain with neurons firing all over the place. It’s this massive intelligent network that makes passive aggressive suggestions….pssst…look over here, to the right, somebody’s having a birthday and maybe you should send Carl a message. You haven’t talked to him in a while. It is essentially the collective us, but not really. We don’t put everything on there. Most notably our deepest darkest secrets…

…wait, that damn inbox. I wonder what’s in there. It’s that ‘private‘ part of Facebook. Let’s see….ooooh, I said that? Damn. That wasn’t right. Oh, and…what? I said that too? That’s embarrassing. Her and I aren’t even together anymore. This inbox reads like a journal. This is supposed to be the place I go when I want to take the conversation off the street. But look, a record of it. I’ll just delete them all. Damn it. That won’t work. It happened, it STILL happened, I just read the transcript. The transcript?

Yep, we are databasing our lives. Well, not every bit. Only a few bits of ‘us’ float about the cyber ether. Our digital avatars, comprised of a peculiar hodgepodge of pictures, videos and text held together on a network of pages tell our story. Not our entire story. No ONE can tell that story, but ironically we ALL know it. Matter of fact we know it quite well. If we didn’t Facebook would not have evolved into what it is today.

Now here’s the big question: will the Facebook bubble go pop like so many of our other bubbles? Well, viruses can be introduced and since Facebook is essentially a living breathing digital organism these diseases spread, but this network is rapidly expanding and the foreign bodies can be removed before causing too much damage. Of course a big one could do some serious damage. But notice where most of these attacks come from. A relative rarity and this rarity for many different reasons feels compelled to insert a bit of anarchy into the system. The important thing to remember is that their kind is rare. Yes, they can cause significant damage that affects many, but the desire to cause such damage exists in very few. Also, sometimes the intentions aren’t malicious. Some just do it because they can.

Furthermore, the chaos practitioner performs no great magic trick. They are masters at being aggressively counter to what occurs most often. That is a bit of an obtuse description, but it simply means being so different than what is considered normal that a ‘new normal’ is created. Essentially, a new set of rules. A set of rules that simply reads: eschew all rules. That right there is where it becomes fodder for the cosmic joke it thought it was in on. If anarchy persists based on the no rules paradigm it will eventually destroy itself because the only victory it can celebrate is becoming the New Normal and once it is the New Normal it risks being usurped by another chaotic movement. But wait, how can there be more than one chaos? There isn’t, it’s just interpreted in many different ways. Oddly enough, chaos lies at the foundation of order. Perhaps that is what drives some of us to celebrate it

In order for us to “see” the painting we first seek out relationships—the colors used, the space between the colors, the predominant idea (brush strokes, color ratios), and an assortment of other criteria that together form the “image” we eventually see. In the case of this image what you are seeing isn’t a Jackson Pollock work, only a digital interpretation of it. The image is a mere illusion facilitated by a digital eye that processes what it sees as code.

But what lies at the foundation of chaos? Order. Yeah, tail-eating madness. It takes a great deal of physical energy to maintain chaos. It has to create new surfaces at a ridiculously fast pace and it has to do this while adhering to the same physical laws that the prior ‘order’ had to adhere to. Over time chaos will either need to learn to settle down or burn out. As it settles it becomes the new status-quo. But it didn’t reach this position all by itself, remnants of the Old Normal always remained. A sustained chaos needs people who are not as myopic as the the majority of its followers to influence newcomers, the impressionable and the skeptics. It’s a conservative element of chaos. In order for it to constantly reinvent itself it needs believers in its goals. Even if those goals are to have no goals. Oddly enough, these believers resurface every so often in different clothes, but their goals remain the same. To expose our secrets. Not all of them involve deeply buried skeletons, but typically countercultures represent an oft-neglected group. Groups, who prior to their resurfacing, were dismissed by the relative majority. Quietly talk about how they’re wrong and no one should participate in them. The chaotic movement personalizes these secrets. Look, these people really exist. Just like you and me even though they are different than you and me. What? When the secrets get out in the open we feel the need to either apologize, condone or punish.

When we punish them we do so with the hope that others will take heed and not repeat the abomination, but the abomination persists. Some of us decide to study the abomination to find out why it frequently occurs. These are the apologists, not in the sense that they excuse it, but want to prove that it happens because of a foreign defect. By proving this we prove our inherent goodness. Then there are those who do not see anything wrong and think everyone’s throwing around this ‘abomination’ stuff because they’r afraid. These three different mindsets each represent a different question. Yes, even punishment because the way we punish evolves as we reassess what we deem criminal. This reassessment is driven by all three of these forces and we must not forget all of the shades of gray that lie in-between and beyond them.

Sometimes we are not ready for the exposure and we freak out when it happens. Take a look at the recent civil rights movement in America. There were public protests which provoked violent reaction and when most of us look back on the era we understand the narrative as blacks wanting to be treated equally and whites fighting against this desire. When it was simply a matter of relative extremes attracting one another. The non-violent public protest is absurd and chaotic because it is aggressively counter to the humdrum of everyday life. This brings out its more violent yet equally chaotic cousin. Tenuous opposites attract. Cue the violence. These two forces represent an “active” minority. Others may fantasize about doing the same, but something prevents them from engagement. And then there are those who don’t know what to make of it all, but take solace in the fact that it will all eventually work itself out. Why?

Because the fight takes way too much energy to sustain and we lose a lot of it in the process. If I am fighting you because you are different than me when do we stop noticing distinctions between each other? We are going to have to agree on a point. My skin, my hair and my overall surface may appear different than you. What else? Do you understand what I understand? Is there anything you can do that I cannot? What do you think about me? Seriously, tell me. What’s on your mind?

Once we begin to answer those questions a relationship builds between us. Even if we maintain a grudge, we are now forever linked and as we groove on, getting into little spats here and there, we begin to chill out and warm up to one another. It’s not all roses and sunshine, but it’s better than death and destruction.

Seems like most of us want the network to thrive and flourish, we just want to feel safe while we use it. We don’t want it to hurt us or reveal our secrets. Are these networks good or bad? Can’t really make a judgment on that until we determine how they make us feel. It seems we have an innate need to “compare notes” through sharing the details of our lives. I did this just like you, but I had a different experience. Let me tell you about it. It seems that the sharing is what brings us solace. We have an audience for our personal dramas. Each status update a performance that we hope others will see and comment on.

Will they see it the way I see it? I wonder who will disagree? Oh I know, Ted will. He always disagrees. I hope Gina likes it. That would be—(phone beeps)—Oh! Let’s see what they said!

What does all of this tell us about the possible nature of the universe? This need for individual particles to connect through space and merge. Facebook is digital matter. Mater composed of our life fragments, but isn’t this how all matter is created? Diverse fragments merging together and creating complex relationships.

What’s going on here?

Well, maybe we should all check our networks. Get in there and map their genetic code. What kind of network are you a part of? What species is it? Is it aggressive or docile? Predator or prey? I know these questions sound ridiculous, but just bounce ’em around for a second. Say your network is predominately composed of straight college-aged men who enjoy drinking and spending their weekends in night clubs. This group may aggressively seek out young women who enjoy similar things. Bobby adds Sheila, Bob’s friend Eddie spots her through an automated post, he checks out Sheila and digs her style so Eddie sends her a message along with a friend request. This group could be considered predatory. They expand their network fast via quick superficial judgments. You like to party, so do I, add me. Club promoters love stumbling across these networks. They gobble ’em up leaving a trail of event invites in their wake. Free cover before 10! Text me your names!

Other networks, like say one full of authors and publishers, are a bit more tame. They graze. An article here. A book signing event notice there. Not too many pictures of faces stream down this network’s News Feed. Logos and book covers dominate its visual facade. This network isn’t about partying. This network is about “networking.” This group feeds off each other. The agents need marketable material and they need writers to create this material and the writer needs the agent to “expand” their material to a broad audience.

Why do we do all of this? Might be the same reason the goat eats the grass. The same reason this is happening. We have to connect. It’s in our DNA. We share so much of it with each other and everything else.

The future of our ‘artificially’ intelligent networks will be determined by how their infrastructures evolve. Facebook will change. More features. More ways to access it. We can already log on through our PCs, laptops, iPads, phones and gaming consoles. What’s next? Just think about it, more and more of us are turning into reporters making stories out of events that once were quickly forgotten. It’s all there—the mundane, the absurd, the tragic, the sensational and everything in-between and beyond. Where is this all going? What will it become?

Maybe. It’s not that far-fetched.

We shouldn’t be too alarmed by any of this. Evolution has a way of brilliantly sorting things out. Plus, it’s not completely out of our hands because evolution creates through us. We are not strangers in a strange land here. We literally have to eat this land’s rocks just to live! Ah, it’s that reverse big bang deal again.

Okay, enough of my rambling. If you’ve made it this far I thank you immensely. Don’t know how you did it. Think I need to read some more Greg Correll posts and take notes this time. If you clicked the hyperlinks I hope you enjoyed the story within the story. Oh yeah, I said I was done rambling.


4 Responses to “The Facebook Universe”

  1. 1 marjoriekaye February 24, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Loved reading this. I use Facebook to practice my Shallow social skills (they do have value and I am clueless at what most people seem to know how to do). That said–after reading your brilliant (very well done) ramblings, I think we’re in a pre-borg stage and on our way to the hive mind. Resistance is futile.

  1. 1 Existential Angst or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Liberal Conservative « Tricky Relativity Trackback on September 4, 2010 at 4:58 am
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