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Facebook and Existentialism
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
If anyone wonders whether it might be time to delete their Facebook account, here's some information that might help sway the decision. A new application, "If I Die," recently debuted on the site, and the bizarre and morbid nature of the app ought to give even the most committed users pause about maintaining their current Facebook status. As the title would suggest, "If I Die" allows Facebook users a final "Status Update" from beyond the grave. Here's how it works: you click on the app, record a final video or message, select a few "trustees" to report your death, and then, once your death has been verified, your parting words will be published directly onto your profile.
An instructional video for the application suggests that you can use your final Facebook post to say goodbye to loved ones, to give advice, to share a favorite joke, or to disclose a long-held secret. If all of that seems too lofty for you, the video also humorously recommends that you can, in true Facebook style, use your final words to insult someone you've always hated — sort of an eternal "---- you" to the person you've had it in for.
It's almost impossible to know how to respond to any of this. The idea behind "If I Die" is so fantastically wrong and creepy and dehumanizing that you have to wonder what kind of misanthropes could have come up with it. Yet I must admit that I'm perversely fascinated about how one of these "last words" things would look like and how Facebook friends would respond to it. Would they hit the "like" button? My God, what an incredible statement that would be. You live your life, then someone hits a "like" button. However, it should be noted that the application, probably not surprisingly, is a success — since its debut in early 2012, over 20,000 Facebook members have signed up for "If I Die."
I can't help wondering what the great Existentialist thinkers, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, et al, would have made of the Facebook application. The deep, important questions that they forced upon themselves in their lifetime — why am I here, what's it all about, what is the meaning of life — made them develop a philosophy to truly understand the elemental riddle of existence. And now, 140 years later, Facebook has their answer: it means nothing. Because if you spend one second of your life wondering how your last Facebook update should read, then your existence truly has been absolutely meaningless.
Even before I discovered "If I Die," I started to wonder about the deadening effect that constant Facebook use has on the psyche. God knows, I recognize that people need a little diversion in their lives, especially at a boring job, and that Facebook provides a valuable service; still, I can't help recoiling in horror whenever I see a friend post some asinine request for their Farmville or Mafia Wars endeavors. Those things always stop me dead in my tracks; even just witnessing their appearance on my page makes me feel like my mortality is leaking through my skin and that I should delete my account immediately and go out and build a church for someone in Haiti. And I don't even play the damn games, my friends do, yet I still get a case of the cold creeps knowing that somebody I know is dolefully, blank-faced, wasting minutes upon hours at some flashing internet idiocy. It's like an updated version of one of Gogol's depressing short stories, where the main character trudges through his days joylessly, just marking time.
Quick, here's a phrase you'll never hear: "You know, I sure wish I could spend more time on Facebook." It's always the opposite — everybody feels mildly guilty about time spent there. The hellish thing about Facebook is also the thing that made it so successful, namely, it's nearly impossible to spend "just a few minutes" on it. People get on and they don't get off, even if the experience is no longer so pleasurable. In an era when "free time" is often more highly valued than money or even love, it's astonishing how easily people allow themselves to burn the minutes on such insignificance.
So, obviously, since I'm so righteous about the evils of Facebook, I certainly couldn't have a current account, right? I couldn't belong to something that I'm philosophically opposed to. . right? And the shameful answer is, of course: wrong. I do have an account. I check it every day. I post links and make snarky comments and occasionally produce some incendiary piece of juvenilia, which I'm sure nobody ever notices. I tried "deactivating" my Facebook twice, once for a week, once for a month, but I came back both times. Why this is, I can't explain and I'm too embarrassed to try. I've tried to rationalize before, saying that Facebook keeps me connected to other people, but I know that's a lie: Facebook doesn't "connect" me to anyone, it just "connects" me to Facebook.
For shut-ins, for the enfeebled, Facebook is probably an essential way to connect with the outside world. But what's my excuse? I have two legs, two lungs, a workable car, a voice capable of speech and a brain capable of understanding and reproducing language. The "outside world" is my world. And further, I have no major phobias, I don't (currently) have to wear an ankle bracelet. . . so why am I so willing to let Facebook to make me an accomplice to my own isolation?