Will Merrin posted a fascinating essay at Media Studies 2.o back in September, which I have only just now got around to reading. He addresses the social networking user through Roger Caillois’s 1935 essay “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia“. Merrin critiques the social networking profile and points out a beef I’ve had for a while with the proliferation of Facebook and its boring, blue and white layout used for every person on the site:
Once the construction of a personal webpage required some degree of programming expertise. Today the social networking user merely interacts with, manipulates and fills-in pre-programmed templates and applications.
In an interesting twist, especially with the references to Baudrillard, who often points to the importance of symbolic exchange in pre-industrial society in his work, it seems that the personally designed webpage now takes on the aura of artisanship. In effect, opportunities for difference and “individuality” are better able to be expressed through the freedom of basic html design than the restricted and similar nature of the Facebook profile page, which looks the same for everyone and the content of which is dictated by that which is made available to Facebook users.
What one hopes will add to one’s distinction only adds to ones depersonalisation: how many images of friends posing with drinks are there already on Facebook? And there is no hope here of resistance. Even the refusal to post a photo, the use of alternative images or attempts at an artistic subversion of the form merely take their place within a pre-coded representational system as part of the normal range of allowed responses.
Indeed, while many view social networking as liberatory, this essay points out some fairly important reasons why it can also been seen as further disconnecting and “depersonalising” the self from the world.