Until very recently, facebook.com was, at its worst, mildly condescending. First, there was the notion that, relationship-wise, one can only be "looking for" five things; then there was Facebook's up-to-the-minute news feed, which worked on the assumption that its users were no-life deadbeats who can't take two steps without knowing whether or not a friend from middle school was attending some fraternity's keg party 2,000 miles away.
Then there was the creme de condescension, that little bit of web code mandating that, when I look at my profile, it says at the top of the page, "Jason O. Gilbert's Profile (This is You)." Clearly, I must be so stupid or hopped up on Peach Schnappes and candy corn that, looking at a picture of myself that I chose to post, accompanied by words that I formulated in my mind and wrote with my own hands to describe myself — that, looking at all this, my feeble brain wouldn't be able to process the fact that I was indeed looking at my own profile. As though "This is you" were a lifesaving caveat — the only warning separating me from believing I had stumbled upon a long-lost twin brother, who my parents had also named Jason, who shared my interests and favorite books and who I had eight friends in common with at Auburn. It was a nice addition, especially for those of us who can stare at our own profiles for hours on end before realizing we are on our homepages. "Oh, this is me! Well this makes that 'Hello, I'm your clone; please don't harvest my organs' message I just sent rather unnecessary." It must have taken a great deal of restraint, for when I am looking at, say, our USG president's profile, to not have added the alert: Rob Biederman's Profile (This Isn't You). Thank you, Facebook, for saving me hours — nay, days — of my time.
Perhaps, as the world's largest social networking site that doesn't have a story about it in connection to sexual predators on "Montel" every week, Facebook can afford to be a little condescending. Yet over Intersession, I heard a story that made me have HAL 9000 moments, where I questioned whether this Facebook technology was becoming too powerful, too intertwined in our society. Maybe I have a habit of exaggerating the importance of new technologies — am I the only one who questioned whether Tamagotchis would one day replace dogs? But to me, this seems to be a real threat.
This story takes a bit of explanation. The setting is a sorority house: you see, at other colleges and universities, Greek organizations throw parties in actual houses as opposed to in a 500-square-foot quad in the corner of some leaky junior slums basement. Okay, now that you're caught up, a group of sorority girls are lounging around, talking about the normal things — lingerie, how bod-tacular Jonathan Taylor Thomas is in the latest "Teen Beat", whatever — when the subject of dating comes up. One of the girls has been "hanging out" with a guy for months now, and she announces that prospects for the future look good.
"Awesome!" one of the girls says.
"Yeah, that's great," says another, but then adds warily: "But is it Facebook official?"
"No," the girl replies coquettishly, "but it WILL be."
This notion of "facebook official"— that a relationship is not a relationship until Facebook says it's a relationship — is a frightening notion, a term whose pertinence is confirmed by the Urban Dictionary, our generation's OED. We all have those friends who are proud of reaching friend and wall post milestones; I even have one back in Georgia who, upon going to a party, told me that he was going to "make at least 10 Facebook friends" that night (he made 6). I have heard another friend claim that she is extra nice to people she has just met so that they will add her on Facebook.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and call Facebook the new feudalism, but I will say that all of this jockeying, all of this use of Facebook to determine social position, is growing a little tiresome, and what's more, I think it is ... well, much like a Tamagotchi's screen when you don't care of your pet for a few days. So let's not go making Facebook into something it's not — a caste system of sorts. Let's just use it for what it was created for: longterm procrastination and looking at pictures of attractive people that sit adjacent to us in lecture. Jason O. Gilbert is a sophomore from Marietta, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.