If you’ve been anywhere around Facebook lately then you’re probably well aware of the viral happening “25 random things about me” and in turn even contributed to its spreading.  If for some reason you haven’t been touched by this arguably benevolent virus and have no idea what I’m talking about, or you’re one of the seven readers out there who are scratching your heads at the word Facebook, let me briefly break it down for you.

About two weeks ago, Facebook, the popular social networking site, became host to what can only be described as a mass electronic chain mail… a virus, basically.  Members were “tagged” in a note by one of their “friends” with the heading “25 random things about me” that had — you guessed it — 25 random things about that person.  Upon reading it, the tagee was then asked to do a note themselves, re-tag the person who sent it and tag 24 additional friends whom they felt might like to know 25 random things about them. And so on and so on.

To say the virus was popular would be to miss the point — though the numbers are ridiculously impressive — what’s most interesting was not the level of “infestation”, but rather how it fits into and shapes our popular cultural zeitgeist and what that all means.  Time Magazine, in an online editorial, attempted to break it down, but their take on it was far less than favorable than mine.

Besides being unintentionally ironic (I think), the piece in its attempts to be sassy and humorously cynical (which it accomplished in places), failed to understand the greater significance of such “narcissistic” endeavors.  First and foremost, Facebook is a community — many communities to be exact — and as such, it’s all about communication and connection.  And while there are many ways this communication manifests itself — pictures, music, videos — 9 times out of 10 it’s through the written word.  In general it’s a glorified (albeit dynamic) form of public e-mail, but on occasion — as with the “25 random things” virus — it breaks free of this utilitarian constuct and becomes something else… literature.

Now we can argue what literature is until Harold Bloom comes around on Harry Potter — and perhaps if you do one of these lists you can put your definition there — but for me at least it’s hardly a question and the virus is a great example of how difficult it is to pin down.  In the same way that blogging might’ve originally challenged our assumptions and patience about what was important/valuable with its democratizing openness, so does this type of micro-blogging (for lack of a better word).

The Time piece, above all else, stressed that the virus/endeavor was a “narcissistic waste of time” and even attempted to back this up with arbitrary numbers. But what does that mean exactly? Is it a waste of time because it’s not a legitimate form of literary expression and therefore not worthy of engagement? Or that people shouldn’t bother sharing things about themselves because there are more important things to do?

If it’s the former, I don’t see what’s any less legitimate about this form of literature as opposed to any other.  As nonfiction writing goes, it’s been as interesting, funny, insightful and controversial as anything out there, and certainly no more “narcissistic” (whatever relevance this label has) than anything else on the web or in print.  And if it’s the latter, well, what can I say?  Take a look around at the world sometime and tell me how learning something about one another might be a “waste of time”… no matter how arbitrary the details.

Look, not everyone on Facebook chose to do one of these things in much the same way not everyone chooses to blog/write about their life or the world around them… or surf, or bake cookies, or meditate, or solve a Rubik’s cube, or wank for that matter. And that’s cool.  But if you did do one of these things and you tagged me in it, thank you… your insights, humor, ridiculousness and talent resonated with me in a way the best literature often does, and I’m all the better because of it.

Bottom line; if Facebook and its byproducts are such “narcissistic time wasters” and a threat to capitalist productivity, then perhaps there should’ve been an earmark attached to Obama’s recent stimulus package to shut it down.

#26.  I’m just saying.

pau

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