At a party the other night, I was taken aback when a guy who I had never met before pointed at me and said, “You’re philosophy, right? Yeah, um, I kind of facebooked you.” Although impressed that he actually had the guts to admit this, I was also slightly petrified. The ironic thing is that after he told me that he had facebooked everyone in his philosophy class, I found this less creepy and was completely understanding. Why? Because I have also gone through lists of names and facebooked unknown individuals—and don’t lie, you probably have too.
Ah, facebook.com, that newfangled pop culture invention created by one of our very own. A tool for—what exactly? Socializing? Connecting to others on campus? Making groups for people with ridiculous interests in common? (I Like Audrey Hepburn; My First Pet’s Name Was Yoyo; I Have Four Lamps in My Room But Only Two of Them Are Plugged In). Although we are left without a solid explanation as to why this phenomenon exists and what its true purpose is, I am quite certain that it has served several undeniable functions on the Harvard campus.
For one, facebook.com is a mechanism through which stalking has been made, well, normal. When I was in junior high, this guy named Kevin developed a crush on me. At first, his actions were only slightly strange—he gave me a troll doll at graduation; he commented that he liked my outfit; he asked my friend if I might be interested in him. Then things started to get weird. He called me everyday—five times—and left messages. He wrote a screenplay and read it to me—and then told me it was about me and him, and our future life together. Ok, so he wasn’t exactly sane. But the point is each and every one of us now has the potential to become a closet stalker—doing the very same thing as Kevin from behind the safety of our own computer screens.
It’s likely you’ve sifted through profiles of people you don’t know, looked up that hot girl or guy you saw in the dining hall, or spent countless hours perusing the interests and favorites of a beloved crush. Even so, don’t tell me that you wouldn’t be mildly sketched out if you saw your picture prominently displayed on the unknown computer screen next to you in the library, or if a random classmate tapped you on the shoulder and said, “Your interests say you like Coldplay! I like Coldplay!.” Facebook stalking may be common and even socially acceptable—but it’s still creepy.
On a less frightening but possibly more outrageous note, facebook.com is a mechanism with which to determine an individual’s coolness and popularity. Several methods can be used to judge a person based on their profile. Topping this list is number of friends. My roommate once looked up the profile of a potential hookup from another school, and, after seeing that the potential hookup only had 35 friends at his college, concluded that he was certainly not dateable. We are, to this day, thankful that she discovered this hideous fact before agreeing to go out with this social leper.
Additionally, facebook.com can be thought of as a form of cultural bonding among members of our generation. Aside from the fact that it creates a much simpler method of connecting to people of our own age, it has also created an entirely new vocabulary and set of rules for etiquette. The term “facebook” is now part of our vernacular, and can be used as both a noun and a verb. “Friend whore” and “poking” have also acquired novel meanings in everyday conversation. Facebook etiquette, though still in its initial phases of development, considers questions such as: how long do you have to wait before you can accept someone who friended you? How well do you have to know a person before you can friend them? Is poking always flirting? And how often can you remain on the updated profile list without looking like a complete tool?
Of course, there is the distinct possibility that facebook.com is simply a mechanism for finding true love. Last year, a well-known Harvard grad was rumored to have met his current wife through the site. My own friend once sent (on a particularly lonely night) 100 facebook messages to unknown girls, received responses from 20 of them, and dated one for five months. I mean, just think of the romantic possibilities—you’re sitting in a coffee shop working on your term paper. You look across the room at an unfamiliar face. The two of you simultaneously peruse facebook.com on your wireless internet to find one another, and in the span of a single heartbeat your eyes meet after reading that you share a love for coffee, Rachmaninoff, and the Godfather series.
Whatever function facebook.com serves for you, it is without question a source of distraction and entertainment for all. I for one am personally thankful that it has brought me to unbelievable heights of procrastination. In fact, I’ve checked my profile approximately 46 times since sitting down to write this article. Maybe facebook.com is merely a façade for our only mildly unique and interesting lives. I, however, like to believe that when we look back on pop culture of this decade we will think of it as a symbol of our college years at Harvard.
But why is it that facebook.com is especially popular here? Though facebook.com has gained incredible interest across the nation, I’ve noted from conversations with friends at other colleges that it is far more of an “obsession” on our particular campus. Is it simply because its creator is one of our own? Is it simply because Harvard students procrastinate more? Maybe; but then again, is it really that shocking that Harvard students are in special need of a website to help them make friends or that they like to prominently display their social connections in a neatly organized database for the world to see? Feel free to mull this over; I need to go change my picture.
Jillian N. London ’07 is a philosophy concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.