“It can also lead to scenarios in which it’s way too easy to be dismissive of people,” she adds. “Online, without the complexities and joys of actual human interaction, you begin to gauge people based on their tastes rather than, say, their qualities of mind, their intellectual curiosity.
“It seems to bring back all kinds of anxieties over who’s popular and who’s not,” says Donadio, who attributes Facebook and the like with the re-emergence of post-high-school cliques. It used to be that you’d casually scan someone’s CD, DVD, or book collections in order to evaluate their tastes. Now, you can do it without leaving the comfort of your bedroom, which means we’re doing it more and more.
There’s also the anxiety quagmire of updating and maintaining your profile, and making sure that it reflects some version of the real you without giving away too much, trying too hard, or acting like you actually care, which would mean you’re taking this online profile thing way too seriously.
“MySpace and Facebook have really taken over as the first step in getting to know someone,” says Paige Newman, associate editor of the Zandl Group’s trend and planning report the Hot Sheet. “Much of the vetting process is done online. In order to create a whole out of a static Web page, young adults are editing their interests to include an eclectic mix of tastes and styles. Favorites must include: something serious (There Will Be Blood), a smart comedy (Arrested Development), something lowbrow (Kelly Clarkson), and the right guilty pleasure (Point Break).”
“Some of [these anxieties about how you’re perceived have] always existed, certainly as long as we had personal ads,” says Ellen Langer, a social psychology professor at Harvard University and the author of Mindfulness, a book about how “mindful” thinking can break the painful errors that come out of mindless routine. “We will evolve with these social networks just the way we did with personal ads — nobody really believes that, when they read six lines, the person has said exactly who they are all the time, and exactly who they want. The information isn’t, ‘Here’s who I am’; in some sense, the information is, ‘Here are the things I find important.’ ”
Until we reach that point, though, not only are you encouraged to admit you’re a 24-year-old bass player in an extremely edgy noise-rock band who happens to love High School Musical, it might help you score a date.
Friendship (with possible benefits)
In mid May, Facebook quietly introduced a sort of Internet peeping-Tom tool that Radar magazine nicknamed the “Stalker Feature.” It was a drop-down list that appeared when you started typing a name in Facebook’s search box. It didn’t survive for more than a couple of days, so negative was the reaction, as many were suspicious that the drop-down list contained the names of the five individuals who checked your profile the most. Others theorized that it was the top-five profiles you visit, or that the names were randomly generated.