How college students really use Facebook

"Online community theater".
It turns out that they don't need software for social networking.

An op-ed piece by a recent Dartmouth graduate in today's New York Times titled The Fakebook Generation (registration required) tells us how college students really use Fakebook. It turns out that they don't need software for social networking, because they have dorms and classes and libraries and sports teams and clubs and even parties for that. According to its author,

We log into the Web site because it's entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library. I've always thought of Facebook as online community theater. In costumes we customize in a backstage makeup room — the Edit Profile page, where we can add a few Favorite Books or touch up our About Me section — we deliver our lines on the very public stage of friends' walls or photo albums. And because every time we join a network, post a link or make another friend it's immediately made visible to others via the News Feed, every Facebook act is a soliloquy to our anonymous audience.

It's all comedy: making one another laugh matters more than providing useful updates about ourselves, which is why entirely phony profiles were all the rage before the grown-ups signed in.

(The title of her piece was a bit confusing for someone who attempts to play jazz as a hobby—the term fakebook has meant something else for about sixty years, and I thought "now there's a generation for it?")

My Facebook experiment is to do as little as possible with my page and see what happens. So far I have about twenty friends and have received two zombie invitations. It's always funny to have Facebook tell me that I and someone I've know for years "are now friends"; it makes the relationship feel so validated. After my older daughter and I each found out over dinner that the other had a Facebook page, I tried to find hers and couldn't, but I suppose it's a Good Thing that a 47 year old man can't easily locate a particular teenage girl on Facebook.

Facebook has also proved useful to send a message to a friend whose spam filters kept eating my regular email. It's actually a bit troubling to extrapolate this scenario out further, to a time when walled gardens owned by specific corporations where you have to be a member become a more reliable way to send email than the public internet.

We IT-oriented adults each use Facebook for different things, experimental or otherwise. It's worth reading in the Times op-ed piece about how Facebook's original audience really uses it.


For online community theatre, nothin' beats Second Life...