I have been hearing recently about the “bliss point” as it pertains to snack food. It is apparently the optimum balance of salt, fat and flavor that both satisfies the consumer, and leads them (often with a comment like “I can’t stop eating these!” or “I really shouldn’t have another”) to consume another bite of corporate chemistry. There’s something so helpless about the bliss point. The idea of actual degreed scientists, working hard in a well-resourced corporate laboratory just to make people like me eat a few too many flavor dusted snack chips is just plain absurd. When it works, when the scientists win, and you can feel your willpower being defeated – the idea can be downright infuriating.
I believe that our beloved social networks are currently operating on the same principle. Every time I log into facebook I experience an involuntary trill of excitement when I see those little red notification flags. Bliss point. The higher the number of notifications, and the more icons flagged red, the warmer the blush. It’s shameful! The feeling has crept all the way to my email inbox. Instead of eating chips, I find myself on the news feed just scrolling, scrolling scrolling for updates, tidbits, morsels of news, internet, activism, entertainment, wit. When the stories look stale, I make sure the feed is sorted by “Most Recent” and crawl through again. Pathetic!
I’m also sharing photos and internet links and trying to write witty/insightful status updates, all for that reward, that sweet validation from my peers. Pay attention to meeeeeee! It keeps me coming back, but the boost to my self-esteem is the same as the fullness that comes from a meal of Cheetos and Pepsi. That is to say, a half-hour later I feel greasy and embarrassed, with stained fingertips, an unhappy ache in my stomach and a feeling of disgust with myself for my lack of self-control.
The traditional modes of reciprocal friendship have been upset. I find myself meting out likes based on some intuitive personal criteria that has no reason to exist. What the hell happened? I believe that the core of friendship is the experiences you have shared, the things you were both there for, with your eyes and minds open and your phones off. Another strong lattice is the interests and beliefs you share, the perspectives you have gained, compared and synthesized into a approach to life that is bold and fair and good. So what is this strange new paradigm, throwing thoughts to vast clouds of acquaintances and well-wishers, hoping for that sacred blue thumbs up? What is being accomplished here that the traditional modes of friendship and social life left wanting?
Social networks are not all bad. They have some positives which I’ll leave it to others to illuminate. However I feel that facebook has missed forever its chance to do something revolutionary. Iterative tweaks from the site’s architects as well as habits from the users themselves have calcified into a zeitgeist that no one truly enjoys. It’s all just noise, chaos, preening, strutting. There are too many earnestly supportive “momments” that zap the cool right out of the room. You log on, keep up, see who’s getting married or starting law school, make your comments or likes, see all the photos and check-ins proving your friends are cooler and more exciting than you, then log out and face real life feeling a little depleted. It’s just another obligation, a life/image arms race that makes you feel small and pathetic if you think you are falling behind.
Obviously I can go on about facebook. However, I can’t go on with facebook. No more social “bliss point” for me. No more Cool Ranch news feed snack chips. I’m going on “facecation”. We’ll see who will actually email or call me, and who I will make the effort to email or call. Who viewed me as just another tiny square in their narcissistic mosaic? Who did I compartmentalize and reduce in the same way?
If we were facebook friends and you are reading this, know that I’m free, and I’m here now, and we can still be friends, just not the old way, not the way with the blue thumbs. I look forward to hearing from you.