Facebook is a Culture

Like any culture, Facebook has a language or lexicon of its own. That is, Facebook rather more, perhaps, than other cultures, is immersed in customs regarding communication. These customs refer to more than institutionalized markers (the thumbs-up, heart, or faces under each link); they include the types of information communicated, the rhetorical devices employed, the assumptions regarding response . . .

At the most basic level, the cultural communication of Facebook is NOT conversation.

For someone like myself, whose cultural and customized rhetoric is embedded in oral communication, this makes Facebook almost foreign territory. I should be clear: I am not saying that conversation is the only way to communicate. Nor am I saying that I am a conversational genius. I am saying that my communication "intelligence"--the devices I recognize or use when I interact with others--focus on the interrogatories, pauses, and building of conversation: You say something; I answer it; you respond; I concede something; you demur; I return to a prior point and elucidate.

This is not how Facebook operates. Neither, however, is it how blogs operate. Despite their modern "setting," blogs utilize classic written rhetorical devices. Blogging is not that different from essay writing, from formal to informal, from persuasive to analytical to informational.

Facebook is neither conversation nor essay writing. It relies on comment rather than exchange or organized argument. The comments are personal and entirely contextual--that is, they rely on an original picture or thought or post which then entails response--yet at the same time entirely non-contextual: response is sometimes determined by prior responses but only occasionally relies on them. Comments are often exchanged but rarely build towards an "end." No "conclusion" is anticipated.

It would be easy (and wrong) at this point for me to argue that Facebook is "shallow." In truth, it is no more or less shallow than any type of communal communication. It may not be quite like "shooting the breeze" with a good friend. But then, few things are. Neither is it the equivalent of the letter writing culture one sees among Romantic poets in the nineteenth century. That communication had its own customs and devices and produced its own mixture of profundity and chattiness.

Learning that conversational techniques don't work on Facebook--and recognizing that I am unlikely to learn Facebook customs (I'm not on Facebook nearly often enough to make that likely)--doesn't make Facebook "bad." From my perspective, while it makes Facebook something of a closed book, it also makes it rather fascinating.

Facebook is less than 15 years old. And yet look how, in that time, it has already created a sense of self or culture! Although the framework is imposed and some restrictions apply, the interpersonal culture is almost entirely a "grounds up" endeavor. Expectations, traditions, and uses are produced day by day by individuals. And yet, a common culture emerges, despite outliers.

From an anthropological perspective, Facebook proves how quickly people adjust to new cultural requirements. It also backs up the idea that culture is not something imposed from without. However much we might balk at our culture's restrictions, they are an interweave of multiple personal interactions and choices, not something we can blame on "the man."

Not even Mark Zuckerberg.

1 comment:

FreeLiveFree said...

For someone who's not on Facebook, I found that an interesting read. Using Facebook is probably not particularly shallow. I don't think live conversations or written essays are necessarily deep. We've all known someone who can talk on and on about absolutely nothing. We've all read essays by people who don't really know what they are talking about.

Of course, people who are quiet are sometimes thought to be deep. When I was younger I heard someone comment on me when I was lost in thought. He said I was probably having some profound ideas. I had been plotting battles between X-wings and TIE fighters in my head.