While playing on Facebook Facecrack tonight, I noticed all the groups, pages, and causes on my page. The accumulated weight of mouse clicks shocked me, not only because of these groups’ sheer purposelessness (i.e., the various Farmville hate groups), but also because joining typically leads to nothing fruitful even when the groups are actually meaningful (i.e., Southern Poverty Law Center).
Now, we could rationalize this by saying that Facebook allows us to construct ourselves in a very strange hybrid space of reality and virtual reality. So I want all these groups/pages/causes in my profile. They are little hyperlinks to represent me, and all my connections and associations in the hyper-reality that is Facebook. They actually do mean something — to me, to everyone in a web of relations through fanning and joining in an exponential meme of joining and belonging. We are the world. Every scifi fan club, indignant social movement, or arrogant “better than you” group represents the fabric of my being, the code of our virtual selves, and the multitudinous relationships of social life…the…. bleh.
A brief content analysis of my various joinings reflects a couple of disheartening things — in addition to the honest recognition that I spend too much time on Facebook.
I’m a joiner!
First, I’m amazed at the many breast cancer joinings on my page, including for cities other than my own. The pink profile pics have somehow managed to propagate all over my causes and groups pages. Ironically, I completely abhor pink washing, or the pinking of breast cancer, yet I feel compelled to join everyone’s pink ribbon group. So even though I never donate any money, I still add my tiny profile pic to large galleries of other tiny profile pics. I’ve assuaged my guilt, but accomplished little of merit.
I join everything!
Second, I’m amazed at the length and breadth of things I’ve joined. So what’s the big deal of having a long list of links on my profile page? Well, nothing. It’s rather harmless. And that’s precisely the point.
Joining and liking adds up to absolutely nothing, even for CodePink, a pinking I can really get behind. My impact on the world is rather miniscule, not even pixel-sized in the scope of things. The only real thing that a Facebook group ever accomplished is getting Betty White as an SNL guest host. I’ve donated to former students, but hardly anything of earthshaking social or political importance.
The world is flat
So, Facebook basically flattens the significance of things. In the real world outside of Facebook, people must make choices about where they spend their time and money. We are forced to confront the extent of our political commitments by prioritizing our joinings among the competing interests that vie for our attention. There is no need for such choices on Facebook. We can be everywhere and do everything, as my cluttered profile page would suggest. I can proudly brandish my causes right next to my Friendship Teas and Shite Gifts for Academics. Unfortunately, all this busyness visually equates CodePink with a Super Poke. In terms of action or concrete social change, there’s no substantive political difference between joining Sh*t My Dad Says and the Human Rights Campaign.
But It’s Free Advertising…for McDonald’s
As I’ve written before, this whole fanning business is the economic engine that drives Facebook. Does that even occur to me when my index finger is hovering over the mouse button? Nope.
The essence of slacktivism is the sensation that you’ve accomplished something of political impact when you’ve done nothing. But we did get Betty White on SNL.
I feel smug for ignoring the cacophony of pleas for Farmville animals and Cafe World dishes. I feel guilty, and therefore supported causes I don’t believe in even if that support was ineffectual. Mostly, I feel happy for deleting 48 pages, 32 groups, and 17 causes. My news stream is now clear for more important things such as Lolcat pics, YouTube videos of birds rocking out like Elvis, my friends’ incessant complaints about their jobs, and the regular info blasts from Color of Change and Al Franken. That’s a more honorable class of slacktivism.