It's about 1 a.m. on a Thursday and I'm sitting in my dark living room staring at a cursor that's flashing back at me from the update box of my Facebook page. I start to type, then delete, then type, then delete again. I want nothing more than to leave behind this computer and the nearly embarrassing-to-watch Jimmy Fallon mumbling on my television for the comfort of my bed, but I can't. I need to update my Facebook status at least five more times before calling it a night, but given that I'm merely sitting on the couch with a half-empty Pabst tall can in my hand, there's not much to update. I type the phrase "Only halfway there?" hit the "Share" button and then abruptly close my laptop.
This is when I realize that I'm probably not going to be able to update my Facebook status 100 times in 24 hours, which was the goal I began relentlessly and annoyingly pursuing at 11 a.m. that morning.
Now in bed, I reach blindly for my cell phone, flip it open and text "Sleep" to the number that Facebook ensures me will place my two-thumbed ramblings, which include things like, "Tying my shoes" and "Ordering a beer" directly onto my page. This is my 51st update in 14 hours and I'm exhausted... and disappointed in myself.
But at 11am the next morning, I make my 67th post in the past 24 hours and I'm no longer disheartened. I'm relieved. I'm done with Facebook.
I don't know why I thought I could do this or why I should do this. I'm not a worshipper at the altar of Facebook and I almost never update my Facebook status. I do check the site about once a day, typically in the 15 or so minutes between when I arrive at work and when I decide to actually start working, but I've never posted a photo and I have never poked anyone. But this month marks my five-year Facebook membership anniversary, during which I've amassed 661 "friends," many of whom enlighten me daily, bi-daily, or sometimes bi-hourly with often-misspelled statements including, but hardly limited to, complaints about coworkers, hastily written descriptions about whatever food they're presently eating and overly personal emotional outpours. (Last month a friend actually posted this update: "I'm so depressed" on his page - and no, I didn't drop him a line to see if he needed some help. Yes, I feel bad about this, but he seems to be doing well. He posted a photo of himself drinking a beer on a boat last week.) With this anniversary in mind, I decided to throw myself into the alternate reality that is Facebook - a world where privacy comes in second to shameless electronic self aggrandizing and clicking through all 547 photos on your ex-girlfriend's page is perfectly passable, if not encouraged.
Again, I've never been a Facebooker. Or perhaps I wasn't a Facebooker... yet. That all changed at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, September 2 when I posted this to my page:
"Updating my Facebook status."
More smartassy than witty, this comment launched me on a daylong odyssey for which it turned out I was hardly prepared. I had, however, made a baseless set of calculations and assumptions to guide the execution of the project I had scheduled on my calendar as "FB-100." For example, I figured that I would probably sleep for seven hours and would be otherwise occupied for three more hours with work phone calls, showers, bathroom breaks, a grocery store trip and other non-Facebook related activities. Then, I added another hour just because it seemed like the scientific thing to do. This made for a total of 11 hours when I wouldn't be able to update Facebook, thus I was left with 13 hours to make 100 updates, meaning a new post would need to go up every 7.8 minutes. This seemed perfectly within reach when I ran these numbers.
But then I actually started posting updates.
Updating your Facebook status every 7.8 minutes, you see, involves a remarkable amount of time. Other than updating my Facebook, I don't know if I can show one concrete thing I did last Wednesday in the office outside of returning a few e-mails and writing a pair of blog posts. Yes, updating your profile almost 10 times an hour is time consuming, but doing so also sets off a fascinating string of ancillary effects that take up even more time. The more you update, the more intense your desire becomes to check your page, hoping the little red flag in the bottom right corner of the screen bears a significant number and that you can soon read what your "friends" think of your decidedly hilarious posts.
I kept at my posting throughout the workday. Here's a selective sampling:
"Drinkin' water from the water cooler." 11:33am
"It's hot in here...I bet Nelly would sympathize with me...and also give me some wardrobe advice." 11:37am
"I just saw a calzone that's larger than most babies." 12:09pm
"Just ate some of said calzone." 12:15pm
"Been drinking too much water...be back in a second." 1:15pm
"Just got my cell phone connected to face book thank god." 1:35pm
"Thinking about the episode of the Wonder Years where Paul becomes inexplicably good at basketball." 3:06pm
There's a strange sensation that accompanies giving 661 people 67 small looks into your life (and your mind) over the course of the day. You feel like the eye is on you - that people you don't really know suddenly know about you. There's a false sense of fame, a sudden boost in ego and a confusing rush of confidence that goes along with putting one's self out there in this faceless forum. This is how God must feel... when he updates his profile 67 times a day (he'd probably do more, just because he's God).
And people are noticing me by the time the afternoon rolls around. Many "friends" have commented on my updates, but by the time the evening comes, some people are getting a little fed up, which is fine by me. Although I'm not trying to offend anyone, I have a hard time caring too much because these are just "friends" they're not friends. If I went to a party attended solely by my 661 Facebook friends, I bet I wouldn't even recognize half of them and wouldn't feel like talking to another quarter of these "friends." This would be an awkward party.
Even if you're updating with such volume in jest, as I thought I was, you can't help but feel important. The problem is, however, that narcissism shines through on Facebook. Just glancing at your profile, people know you're full of yourself, especially if you tell everyone everything you're doing every 7.8 minutes. A 2008 University of Georgia study found that even a casual observer can detect a narcissistic personality by viewing a Facebook profile page. A professor who co-authored the study said that Facebook allows and encourages narcissists to strive for quantity of friendships rather than quality.
Does the fact that I've amassed a roster of 661 friends during my five-year Facebook career make me a narcissist? Well, I think it does... at least an on-line narcissist. I'm also fully aware of the fact that my mentioning my 661 friends six times in this article is narcissistic.
As referenced in one of my updates, I connected my cell phone to my Facebook profile, allowing me to update from anywhere in order to generate the sort of maniacal posting I was looking for. If you're looking for the quickest way outside of growing a razor-thin chin beard to become a douchebag, this is it. Still though, I found that posting while away from the computer was not only easier, but allowed for updates like, "Walking."
But some time after texting in an update stating: "Can't find my cell phone charger" I started to get tired. Not sleepy, exactly, but drained. I really didn't want to do this anymore. Telling everyone you know everything you're doing is a chore, but there was more to it. I never felt like I was quite earnest in my postings, even though they were all completely truthful. The problem was that I knew the friends amongst my "friends" would know that I would never become the sort of serial Facebook poster who gives six different updates pertaining to his folding of laundry and the subsequent discovery of an unacceptably high percentage of plaid shirts in his wardrobe. In other words, there was something wearing on me about creating a Facebook self.
Our Facebook pages are supposed to be accurate reflections, or perhaps selectively accurate reflections of ourselves. It's well known that employers have been known to look up the pages of prospective employees. Recently, the city of Bozeman, Mont. went as far as to ask applicants to provide their Facebook username and password. Supposedly, we are the people we say we are on Facebook, but almost no one is. Do you ever wonder if the dude who posts, "Just got back from a 6-mile run," very well may been sitting in his bathtub eating Cheeze-Its? Then again, even if posts are truthful, that doesn't mean they're valuable to anyone, ever... for example, here's my post from 3:54pm: "is stretching his bones and looking out the window. Kinda windy out there." That doesn't help you get to know me, it just tells you what the weather is like outside my window and no one gives a shit about that.
When I joined Facebook in the fall of 2004, the forum was exclusively for college students and was a mere skeleton of its current format. You could make clubs and post photos, but there was no updating or video posting. Since then, Facebook has gone far beyond the college realm and in the last two years has exploded in popularity with a quarter billion member now registered. In a way, there's nothing as popular as Facebook. It's bigger than Beyonce. It seems that everyone is on Facebook, even one of my friend's grandparents. With so many people involved, it's no wonder that some people choose to live their life within this format rather than in reality.
Some of my "friends" and friends weren't annoyed by my ridiculousness. Some of them were cheering me on and even if they were being sarcastic, it was nice. "More, Mike, more!" wrote a co-worker. "I'll have you know that anyone else who took up this much space on my newsfeed would be banned. For some reason your presence just makes me feel better," wrote a long-lost high school friend. Although I had made a point to not tell anyone that my Facebookery was part of a journalistic endeavor, when people asked me if that's what I was up to, I instant messaged them saying that, yes, they were spot on.
Around 11 a.m. on Thursday, I tossed up a post reading: "And this concludes my 24 hours on Facebook in which I updated my status 67 times...
I still think that if I really wanted to, I could make 100 posts in 24 hours. I know where I went wrong. I shouldn't have been so discerning about what I posted... just mere typing seems to pass perfectly fine for other serial updaters. Also, I shouldn't have slept so much, and I shouldn't have gone to a bar for two hours, thus forgetting all about FB-100 for much of that time. I also shouldn't have cared about reading all the witty responses to my less-witty postings. I probably also shouldn't have inexplicably decided on the number 100.
I haven't updated my status since and I don't think I will for a while. If you're wondering what I'm up to, well, I don't know... send me a fax or something.