Internet on Training Wheels

Facebook is popular not because it “connects” people with friends, but because it offers a platform for establishing an internet identity. It gives its users a microphone with which to broadcast their personalities to a safe and forgiving audience. I addressed this aspect of Facebook in a previous diatribe, but at the time I only perceived it as a component of Facebook’s appeal, not the whole of it.

It’s pretty obvious that Facebook is more about narcissism than “sharing” or “connecting”:

– The web has offered innumerable ways to share information since long before Facebook was created. You can have discussions in Google Groups or post photos to Flickr, yet people chose not to use these services in the pre-Facebook era. They didn’t care about sharing until it became an element of a comprehensive online identity.

– Dialogue doesn’t really exist on Facebook. Comment threads rarely go beyond one or two comments before the discussion dies. People don’t want to have conversations on Facebook, they want to say “Look at me!”

– After deleting my Facebook account, certain people (mostly childhood acquaintances) with whom I interacted regularly on the service disappeared from my life. Guess we weren’t really “friends” after all, huh?

I suppose this is why most web savvy people I know don’t use Facebook; they already have online identities in the form of websites, blogs, and other online communities which they’ve been using for years. What does Facebook have to offer them?

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Internet on Training Wheels

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