Facebook and Philosophy…hmmm…

Facebook has become one of the most visited websites in the world. The ability to check in and view other people’s lives from status updates, pictures, and comments has become a worldwide addiction. In the novel essay writers Homero Gil De Zuniga and Sebastian Valenzuela give a detailed account of what demographic uses Facebook and why. I was surprised to find more adults ranging from age 25-34 connect to Facebook than young adults in college.  Whether you are 13 or 68 almost everyone has a Facebook account, but why is it that people are so fascinated with this PHP driven Internet phenom?

According to D.E.Wittkower in his essay “A reply to facebook Critics,” it is the social interactions and how we interact that is the draw. Whitaker explains it is not what we say or how we say things on Facebook, but how it relates to us that makes it such a powerful social tool. The ability to find merit and value in our relationships with others, and in our own lives is what drives us to our “News Feed” day after day.  Whitaker’s essay describes in some detail how Facebook can be viewed not only from a social standpoint, but a philosophical one as well.

I found the parallel made between Facebook and people in Wittkower’s article very profound. Are we Facebook as Wittkower proposes? Many people Wittkower’s comparison to be accurate, and the staff of Facebook discuss how they model the website after personal relationships. Max Kelly discusses how a tragedy leads to “memorializing” Facebook members who have passed away.

“About six weeks after we both started, my best friend was killed in a tragic bicycling accident. It was a big blow to me personally, but it also was difficult for everyone at Facebook. We were a small, tight-knit community, and any single tragedy had a great effect on all of us. I can recall a company-wide meeting a few days after his death, where I spoke about what my friend meant to me and what we had hoped to do together. As a company, we shared our grief, and for many people it was their first interaction with death. To this day, I still have strong emotions when I think about that gathering.

The question soon came up: What do we do about his Facebook profile? We had never really thought about this before in such a personal way. Obviously, we wanted to be able to model people’s relationships on Facebook, but how do you deal with an interaction with someone who is no longer able to log on? When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network. To reflect that reality, we created the idea of “memorialized” profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed.” (Kelly 1)

Having recently lost a loved one I reflected on the idea of memorializing a family member’s Facebook page. I then realized that the loved one I lost tragically to suicide, did not in fact have a Facebook page. I found myself truly saddened by the idea that I could not simply click a mouse and have his smiling pictures in front of me. It would seem we are keeping an ever growing online diary of not only who we are a society, but where we have been and where we are headed.

When I sat down to write this post I thought what a silly idea Facebook and Philosophy, and even sillier the idea of Facebook and existentialism. In the following video talk show host and comedian Stephen Fry discusses how philosophy in fact raises more questions than answers, so in true philosophical form: Why can Facebook not be philosophical?

 

I have since rescinded my views upon much contemplation and research, and find that Facebook can in fact be both existential and philosophical. I find that how we approach our Facebook pages is in fact how we interact with others and even ourselves. I am not one to take a Disney princess quiz or play Farmville, but I will send encouragement and kindness to those who need it. I may toss sarcastic jokes on my friend’s photos or rattle the chains of those who blindly follow politics, but that is how I see MY Facebook. How do you see yours?

Works Cited

Kelly, Max. “Memories of Friends Departed Endure on Facebook.” Facebook.com 26, Oct 2009: 1. URL: http://www.facebook.com/blog.php?post=163091042130

Wittkower, D.E. “A reply to facebook critics.” Facebook and Philosophy: What’s on Your mind? XXX, 2010.

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