October 23, 2013

Facebook Is Boring Because We’re Boring

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What is the issue?

Last night in his typically dry monologue, Jimmy Fallon talked about the recent (and brief) Facebook downtime. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Here’s what you missed: hayride, Halloween costume, sunset, sunset, baby, dog, baby, cat, cat, cat, sunset.” Haha, Facebook is predictable. Very funny like TBS is “Very Funny”. Then no less than five freaking minutes after that joke does Fallon break out his gold-mothereffing-plated iPhone to show the audience a 20 second clip of his newborn daughter. It’s adorable and Jimmy Fallon seems like he should’ve already been casted in one of those films that thinks guys raising kids is just hilarious (“look at them being caring parents like women!”), but c’mon James.

Complaints about Facebook like Fallon’s are beginning to feel like complaints about Comcast or an airline. With over 1 billion users, Facebook is a lot more like a utility than the exclusive Ivy League networking tool Mark Zuckerberg set out to make a mere five years ago. However, unlike the electric company or gas prices, Facebook is not some solid-state resource immune to anything but supply and demand. Facebook as a website is built on its userbase, namely you and I.

I’m always fascinated when everyone seems to hate a fad that is seemingly ubiquitous. Everyone hates Miley Cyrus? Must be why her latest record, Bangerz, is #1 in 70 countries. What about Nickelback? Most successful rock band of the last decade. Hanging your pants below your hips? Pumpkin spice mania? Staring at a concert through your smartphone?

Facebook is very close to joining these ranks of the annoying, popular, and annoyingly popular. Frankly, it’s a bit odd it hasn’t reached that point before given its widespread use–a usage so close to saturation, in fact, Facebook’s future existence as a company relies on breaking into the Third World. And the biggest sign of this phenomenon is the beginning of the hypocritical backlashes. Corner any friend of yours and ask them their opinion of posting baby photos on Facebook and they’ll likely side against it, even if they are one of the new, excited parents doing just that. “Oh, but I only do it for big events,” they’ll say, knowing damn well they probably shouldn’t have posted that photo of the decayed umbilical cord remains.

Facebook, like most of the Internet, is a reflection of who we want to be much more than it is a reflection of who we are. We want to care about the world. We want to care about the beauty of a sunset or the curiosity of a child exploring the world. We want to be fun and free and adventurous. We want to be witty and thin-looking from all angles. But we’re not. We’re cynical, bored, unobservant, and guilt-ridden (these obviously aren’t universals). We go on Facebook to see who loves our digital persona and lightly enjoy a superior giggle at the egotistical underlings we call our friends with a capital F.

This is not a tenable business model for Facebook. It wants to be an ongoing history of your life and the lives of all those who care about you. Instead, it is a glorified digital photo album with people sneaking in their own mundane life stories as well as the occasional racist rant. As the high school and college graduating classes which were the First Class of Facebook separate for careers, families, and life itself, a new generation is failing to see the reason for Facebook in the first place. Zuckerberg famously built Facebook as the anti-Myspace, wanting to make it more organized and more exclusive. Now, however, he’s losing Facebook users to Instagram (which he owns), Twitter, Pinterest, and even Reddit.

What do those four Facebook alternatives offer that Facebook is missing? For one, they are immensely public. While Reddit and Twitter can be as anonymous as you like, you don’t have to know much more than a screen name to see everything that account has done. These sites are re-anonymizing the Internet back to its chat room days and teens are finding it a worthwhile experience.

But why? For starters, it’s nearly a certainty their parents are on Facebook. Second, it’s a certainty their teachers are on Facebook. Facebook is no longer (and frankly hasn’t been for some time) the hip, young, place to find parties and is becoming a cross-section of a high school’s message board and the comments section of your local news station’s website. Facebook is uncool, unhip, and aging at a rapid pace because we are, too.

I really don’t mind when people post baby or pet photos online. It’s cute and, if I really care about them, I should probably give a damn that they spawned a life. I also don’t like the idea that a Facebook status is some hallowed medium when it’s really just like Twitter: a place to bullshit and feel important. I’m sure many people feel the same level of “meh”, but this is how Facebook will end. Facebook is certainly not struggling–it remains one of the largest tech companies in the world and continues to enjoy outrageous profit margins. But, as the last connection to the youth of Millennials–the largest generation in history–passes away to pastiche and predictability, we can sleep soundly knowing that we killed it. TC mark

image – west.m

Ben Branstetter

Ben Branstetter is a 25-year-old writer living in Central Pennsylvania. He attended Milton Hershey School followed by …

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