Facing the addiction: When your online profile takes over

by Beacon Staff • February 25, 2009

Facebook owns me. And the newly revoked privacy policy alterations have nothing to do with it.

I joined The Book at the end of my senior year of high school in Southington, Conn., hoping to cyber-meet some of my new classmates at Emerson College. I should've realized it as a sign of the horrors to come.

Since then, I've witnessed-and hungrily lapped up-the onset of the news feed, the new pages format and, of course, Facebook chat.

This final update is the most worrisome of the three for two reasons. First, it is the ultimate stalker tool. Prior to Facebook chat, potential stalkers were limited to continuously checking a particular person's wall for updates (assuming they didn't show up in the news feed), or doing a bit of inappropriate poking. But now they have the ability to know, via a tiny green or red dot, whenever that individual is online at all times (if they are signed into chat). And second, this "improvement" gives us a good look at where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is hoping to take the company in the coming years.

Where else can Facebook take us? Imagine if Zuckerberg only expanded everything currently on the site. Your listed "favorite music" could become your personal music blog-ditto for movies and books. Post your favorite videos next to your favorite quotes. Groups can be more ubiquitous, with ones for your extended family, coworkers, specific classmates, etc. Statuses could usurp the power of Twitter and become literal constant life updates. Your work and education information could be used by potential employers as legitimate application information-they'd truly be hiring the person that way, and not just the candidate. It will be the Web site to end all Web sites.

In a Feb. 19 story for iFortune/i magazine online, writer Jessi Hempel writes that Zuckerberg's ultimate goal is "as ubiquitous and intuitive as the telephone but far more interactive, multidimensional-and indispensable. Your Facebook ID quite simply will be your gateway to the digital world."

Zuckerberg then elaborates that, "if you can build one worldwide platform where you can just type in anyone's name, find the person you're looking for and communicate with them.that's a really valuable system to be building."

The site is almost there, anyway, already having begun to supplant more traditional forms of communication. The e-mail destroyed the letter and the inter-Facebook mailing system, affectionately referred to as 'inboxing' by some, is destroying e-mail. Why bother sending a message to someone's e-mail address when you know it's more likely they'll check their Facebook first?

Similarly, wall posts are quicker than phone calls, and the new Facebook chat is both easier than texting and more convenient then AOL Instant Messenger (you don't even need a new window).

Basically, Zuckerberg is trying his hardest to ensure I never log off. But I'm not scared of how Facebook's improving, I'm scared of how it'll further change how we see ourselves as people in this narcissistic brave new world.

He's already created the ultimate time sink for procrastinators. Any of these forward-thinking improvements can only make it worse. He's managed the former by giving an egocentric stage to anyone who wants it, and he'll probably accomplish the latter simply by enhancing what he's already created (video wall posting is a step in that direction).

The problem with Facebook-or at least why I find it so addicting-is that, essentially, users are reflected back at themselves through a computer screen. Nowhere else, online or off, is such a neatly presented list of your life available to you. On one page you have your college, high school, birthday, religious and political views, gender, orientation and activities, and then a list of your favorite music, TV shows, movies, books and even quotations. And within a few clicks, you can check on your level of social interaction (via wall posts and status updates) or take a moment to admire the hundreds of pictures of yourself. And if you're so inclined, there are always additional boxes to be had: schedules, bumper stickers, pieces of flair, etc.

Facebook has become the mirror to your inner being. And in our narcissistic society, what's more appealing? Where else would anyone spend their time?

If further expansions are made, Facebook could end up being a better version of you than yourself. Since one can constantly groom the page-changing their music preferences or un-tagging unglamorous photos-this online persona slowly becomes unrecognizable, both to people you know and to yourself.

Your created online personality, although already a wave of information you probably wouldn't share with strangers in any other setting, can never be completely accurate anyway. Unless you make the hair stylist take a picture of you as soon as she's done and upload it immediately.

iDoug Paul Case is a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major and a former opinion editor of/i The Beacon.