At first it presented an interesting sociocommunication trend. Then it proved mildly amusing. Now it’s just really annoying. Oh, and if you agree, post this as your Facebook status!
I’m not sure when exactly Facebook turned into the world’s biggest flock of electric sheep. It’s nice that people want to connect and feel part of a community, but is imitation of status updates really the sincerest form of flattery?
It started with the best of intentions, I’m sure. Around the time of the heated health care debate, you’d see someone posting (to sum it up briefly) that no one should have to suffer because of lacking health insurance — and, if you agree, copy and paste this as your Facebook status. Nice bit of solidarity, until it just proved monotonous. Communication theory states that the repetition of a particular message, without deviation, just gets tuned out like white noise. So 10,000 people posting individualized comments on the health care issue, or sharing anecdotes, can make a bigger impression than 100,000 people just copying and pasting the same message.
The next wave sparked when users objected to a Facebook group claimin soldiers are not heroes. Soon status messages appeared everywhere about supporting the troops, imploring others to copy and paste the message. The same behavior brought us well-meaning statements against kinds of diseases, urging others to copy and paste, followed by statements about loving their mothers, and on and on. Some bore a dubious stat that 93 percent of Facebook users won’t copy and paste which, while adding a baseless statistic and urban legend component, almost seemed to demean the shocking idea of not blindly imitating others.
Most recently, we’ve had Wayback Week, where folks posted an old picture as their profile, followed by Doppleganger Week, where you’re supposed to change to a picture of your celebrity lookalike. I’ve seen people post about trying for hours to figure out their celeb lookalike, and I wonder: Where do these people find the time? And if your friends’ profile pictures decided to jump off a bridge, would yours?
Online communities can best serve as creative and connecting forces if you challenge or inspire people to think for themselves — to engage in imaginative, not imitative, behaviors. In the large vibrant community that came together during ZeFrank‘s year of daily videos, Ze spurred creativity in his viewers by asking them to dress up their vacuum cleaners and post photos, make short films, do crafty remixes. On a more modest scale, our monthly #pancaketweetups — virtual breakfasts shared via social media — applaud culinary creativity. I’ve learned that Matteo Williams and Todd Sanders are virtuoso flapjack artists. I’ve learned about food regionalisms, and the ardent pride some regions have in their maple syrup. And I’ve learned a lot about participants from not only their choice of food, but from pictures of their kitchen decor and loved ones helping to make or eat the meal.
So, Facebook Nation, I beg you: For future waves, please do something that encourages creativity and celebrates individuality — more definite and deep individuality than which vacuous celebrity you resemble. Let the next trend be something that enables more than surface interaction and sparks real discussions. Let’s learn more about each other than what urbandictionary.com posts as synonyms of our first name.