Then it hit me. That familiar feeling of half-baked social connection and part-time troublemaking. The realization that people around you are friends with you because they have to be. There is no choice in study hall. You make friends to avoid boredom, to avoid actually having to study, and to avoid looking like a loser in a society that does everything in its power to separate people into groups of winners and losers. In college fraternities and sororities take over that role. But to get there, nearly everyone has to sit through study hall at one time or another.
Study hall. Time spent in limbo between actual class time and doing homework or assignments for those classes. There was always a teacher supervising study hall who seemed partly invisible, until it was time to enforce "The Rules."
Now there are coders and Facebook police changing the rules all the time so you can't get too settled, complacent or actually figure out that study hall sucks. Then there are the other pseudo police, the people you call Friends. Act wise and flaunt your freedom a little too much and you're gone, at least temporarily, to somewhere like detention. Unfriended. Overall the opposite poles of social media compel a relative fear of authority, a need for acceptance and a nagging sense of conspiracy that so resemble middle school and all the most threatening lyrics of Pink Floyd songs.
Facebook is a giant, enormous, multicontinental study hall where the rules of social interaction are defined by a gradual reduction of intellectual freedom that is masked by addictions to Games and Apps, obsessions over Walls and Shares and Like Buttons. How 8th grade is that?
If you watched The Social Network you know that it all ostensibly started with a few guys dicking around on computers rating girls on their hotness. Such a study hall thing to do. Then some algorithms got involved and a study hall genius named Mark Zuckerberg with his cool hoodie and rich IQ figured out that study hall actually was actually a fairly captive audience, once you got everyone's attention. Limbo is cool if you know how to market it. Just make it easier for people to connect with other people in study hall and life is not such a lonely, desperate place. Think The Breakfast Club. Or so it would seem.
Those of us who met and dated people we met in study hall know those relationships didn't always work out. Shared boredom is not actually a good foundation for the beginning of a relationship. But neither is sharing almost wholly unoriginal material based on various biased slants on political, religious, ideological, sentimental or patriotic ideas. If you can even call them that.
Memes come and go on Facebook like study hall fads of playing Notebook Paper Football or tying a long piece of hair to flies like a leash. These amusements satisfy an appetite for distraction for a while, but really, how hard is it to entertain people when they all seem to start from a point of chronic boredom? Some even have the courage to state this fact out loud, begging their Friends to rescue them from the obscurity of boredom. Move those Friends to one nanosecond of temporary bemusement and you're a genius for having shared such thoughts.
Guilty as charged of course. 800 million of us have fallen for the The Study Hall that is Facebook. The site reduces us to 8th grade nerds with nothing to do every night but see who might be willing to listen to usually random thoughts. Some folks grow petulant, demanding that people respond to their posts lest they grow angry and flip out, un-Friending dozens of their already tenuous Friendationships.
We willingly make Friends with former enemies to prove ourselves capable of forgiveness and worthy of unspoken and magnanimous grace. "Look at me! I can be Friends with people I used to hate!" Such pleasant drama is all in our own heads, of course. That new Friend might never have known you hated them in the first place.
Facebook is not without its virtuous side. Probably some genuine consolation occurs, behind the scenes or in public cries for help that jump from the page like someone standing up in study hall yelling, "I'm failing Algebra!" Of course everyone spares you the immediate embarrassment of actually laughing at the thought, and a few might even try to help you out. But Study Hall compassion often ends in Study Hall. The person who helped you in study hall might not say hello to you in the hallway when they're with socially connected friends. Mean Girls taught us that.
True story: One young man collared for a rowdy outburst in Study Hall was dragged to the Dean's Office, but possessed of a decent intellect and a solid grasp of the limits of such localized authority, the young man resisted assignment to detention by stating, "Don't you know who I am? I know everything about this school." Such confidence and self-awareness is a rare commodity in society, but the audacity got him off the hook. We could all use a bit more panache when it comes to our use of social media, especially where it concerns our privacy.
A lawyer friend who specializes in corporate employment law (and who scored 35 composite on his ACT, take that to study hall...) is absolutely confounded by the willingness of people to give up their privacy through various outlets of social media. He sees not only the rude effects of dumb online behavior in his practice, but sees also the corporatization of our human nature and what it can cost us personally, professionally and harm to our very souls. "Why do people want to give up their privacy so willingly?"
It is as if everything ever said in every study hall in the world were being recorded and used to define us, even though half the time we're just dicking around like people should, to let off some steam and try out dumb ideas. But that information is being made available to advertisers, employers and other authorities as if it were rock solid reality and leveraged in ways that turn our collective digital souls into money for themselves. Social media is now being employed (no pun intended) to direct hiring practices, and who knows what politicians and governments might be doing with information mined from what we do online? It's as if study hall had been organized specifically to get even the normal kids in trouble.
Are we really that desperate to be popular? Or could we learn something from that one quiet kid who sat in the corner of study hall not talking to anyone. Was he or she really the social genius, the one who didn't give it all away about himself, or others?
One such Quiet Kid in his senior yearbook statement said something like, "It's really more fun to be 'Mark Smith' than you think." Like the wealthy bugger in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion who pined for love but channeled that loss into getting rich with an invention. Maybe we're really all better off keeping to ourselves, focusing on what we can give back to the universe, like Buckminster Fuller who talked to no one for a full year, it is said, in order to fully focus his mind. Then he invented the geodesic dome. That's the opposite of Facebook, folks.
But wait: Are these the bitter meanderings of a misanthrope and a spoilsport? Not really.
A child that can manage to entertain itself is considered to be well adjusted. A world that cannot entertain itself and turns its back on originality in favor of Facebook amusements may be headed for trouble. It seems unlikely, for example, that political partisanship will ever be resolved through social media like Facebook. People simply un-Friend anyone whose opinions ultimately offend them, and turn to increasingly extreme voices that titillate them. Hence the popularity of Rush Limbaugh. It's the opposite of democracy, and a lot like fascism, right or left.
Mostly it is marketers struggling to prove that there is money to be made and power to be coalesced by letting people talk among themselves. This is the new big meme: consistent messaging unfiltered by editors and unchallenged by facts breaks down buyer defenses.
But what is the ultimate effect? Is the energy of Facebook ultimately doomed to degenerate, as things are wont to do according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. There is no perpetual motion machine. Someone also said the world is theoretically if not topographically flat. In the digital world, all laws are made to be broken. Hence the rise of Pinterest. To fill the void left by Facebook?
We just saw the Facebook IPO flounder after its introduction. The social scene on the economic front was classic, as if someone just cut a really smelly fart in study hall, and people scattered. Something stinks, for sure. We're just trying to figure out if the one that smelt it, dealt it. It's all so 8th grade.