The Facebook Files

Article published on June 29, 2009
Article published on June 29, 2009
"Wish you got more phone calls? Just be late on your credit card payments", Woody Allen advised us years ago. In the 90's, phones got ousted by email as the latest cure to loneliness. Depressed, office-dwelling, Bridget Jones-like women buried their cell phones deep in their bags, and now started their working day by checking their e-mail.
It was like a psychological tuning-fork, used on a daily basis. An empty mailbox was a road to depression. Lonely immigrants and their parents, job applicants, and students awaiting a positive reply from universities far away fell into deep melancholy as long as the uplifting parenthesised number didn't appear next to their mail inbox. At least one. And until then there was only depression arising in the soul of the martyr. Today, this has passed.

Because a new revolution is in full swing. A phantom is roaming around the world, the phantom of Facebook. The number of its subscribers now exceeds 250 million. The network keeps growing with geometric progression and entangles in its web both practically-minded people and confirmed sociopaths. Facebook is about to do the same that was achieved by Microsoft in its battle with its competitors after some scuffle. To consign them to oblivion. That it was worth writing about Facebook came to me on that very day when while having my cup of coffee I opened the network BEFORE having read my mail. A woeful morning.

The same day, sure enough, it was announced that Facebook was blocked in Iran in the days prior to the presidential elections so as to prevent any oppositional statements in the network. To cap it all, the TV news closed down with some entertainment bits about a new invention called Kickbee, a pregnancy support belt that detects when a fetus kicks in the womb in real time. Friends of a mother-to-be may thus stay updated via her Facebook page on such vital matters as "I kicked mum at 10.02 AM"

There are few to resist the pull of Facebook's gravity.

The reason for this is the seven temptations of the network, which we will try to define. I chose them to be seven out of perspicuity, but in fact they are an n-amount.

Temptation one: Facebook turned loneliness into a luxury, and replaced it with an illusionary excitement. In front of the screen, one is more alone than ever, but their mailbox never dries up. The network solved the problem of the white-collar proletarian bound to his computer by surrounding him, albeit virtually, by his friends for whom there is never enough time.

Temptation two: Facebook tickles the dormant narcissism in every one of us. With a single click, we give our thumbs up or thumbs down, we publish favourite music, and we enunciate great wisdoms. We naïvely create our own self-flattering portrait, thinking about those that read about us.

facebook.gif A week ago, my friends and I spent a whole evening discussing our personal status messages: that small window where everyone talks about everything from their ideals to their pet peeves, sometimes every single hour. The discussion assumed distinct directions but someone would suddenly remember someone's status. This was the third temptation that turns a man into a coquettish weather-man of his short-lived tempers.

The further, forth temptation, I would rather call "the amusement of the spider". With a few provocative words you can send a shock wave over your network of friends. Reactions arise on the ethereal threads. Even the blandest personality may become the centre of attention. The headless chicken thinks of itself as the Web Architect.

Temptation five: circle of friends. For some, they are like thick wallets: the bigger the better. The number of friends one has is some sort of vote of confidence in society. There's a tacit competition. Clinging people hang around in the network with thousands of friends and nothing to say. Stubborn as "head hunters", and clinging as prostitutes.

The sixth temptation, we may call "a life jacket". Facebook keeps us on the surface and prevents us from emotional depths. It is short, rhythmical, and fragmentary. Floating in the network keeps us safe from burdening thoughts.

The seventh temptation is all sorts of causes and subscriptions. A moral satisfaction worth a single mouse movement. Not much.

Of course, there are a lot of accompanying pleasures. For instance, to reject the helping hand of a politician lent prior to elections. To start a chat with an attractive person whom you would not dare stop on the street. To remind a schoolmate that he is a close friend despite having lost the habit of saying "hi" for years.

I recently met an acquaintance exposed as a member of the DS some months ago.

NB : The Committee for State Security, popularly known as State Security (abbr. as DS) was the name of the Bulgarian secret service during the Communist rule of Bulgaria and the Cold War (until 1989). The secret files of the DS have been a source of great controversy in the country. After the communist regime in the country collapsed, newly established democratic forces accused the former communist elite of secretly removing DS files that could compromise its members (source: Wikipedia).

His old-school, paper-based file, stamped by the State Security, has been made public by the Committee. Abandoned by his friends, he sought consolation in Facebook. He convinced me of his innocence, and invited me for online communication. "Isn't it enough that your DS file was exposed, you are now creating your own electronic personal file?", I half-jokingly asked. Just like all former communist agents, after the events in 1989, he also waved the blue flag and adopted the "American Idealism". He looked puzzled by my question. "Your tastes, habits and contacts stir the interest if not of the officials, then surely of the advertisers". He stared at me. "You know that Digital Sky Technologies is taking a stake in Facebook?" To help him stop playing, I clarified, "a Russian company". He raised his shoulders with a vague smile.

All the same, it is something different to write your own file. "1984" is already past. Welcome to the "Brave New World"!

Ivo Hristov

Translation: Katya Alahverdzhieva