Facebook has been around for long enough now to feel like just another aspect of the media landscape to those of us who are regular users. But for a long time I’ve been taken by the idea that there is something about Facebook that is, somehow, strangely literary.
Like writing itself, Facebook is both contemplative and frantic; it encourages paranoia (What? Did she de-friend me?) and spying (Who are his friends anyway?) while at the same time enabling sharing and networking.
Despite the fact that the platform is capable of hosting all manner of media, it is the Status Update -- or whatever they call it now -- that reigns over the Kingdom of Facebook, and it’s the Clever Status Update (with its attendant deluge of comments) that is Facebook at its most literary.
The status update offers a direct channel into the thoughts of my Facebook friends who are writers, as well as allowing real-time monitoring of their capacity for diversion and procrastination.
Here’s a random sample of writers’ updates that have come my way of late: They range from the beguiling "what does memory look like?" to the concrete poetics of "sun sun sun and me = work work work – will it ever end?" to the amusing "this morning's work involves going back to bed to read a book. heh," and the desperate "today I wrote 1000 words before lunch; after lunch I read what I wrote and then deleted it."
Digital artists and writers have attempted to coopt Facebook for their own creative purposes, using it to find new ways to tell stories. In 2007, for instance, artist Kate Armstrong created the Facebook application "Why Some Dolls Are Bad," enabling users to create captioned photo-stories using randomized texts and photographs. This was a popular application that allowed early adopters to play with creating stories, as well as encouraging us to think hard about the storytelling potential for social networks.
However, Facebook management, while encouraging this kind of innovation by promoting Facebook as an open development platform, has also had a hand in destroying innovation, with their virtually unannounced redesigns that break this and other story-telling applications like it, rendering them unusable overnight.
Until Facebook pays more heed to informing its users about changes, it’s hard to see why any writer would continue to try to innovate using the platform; for the time being, we’ll stick to the status update.
Of course, with the growth of Twitter many updates are now actually Tweets; and for awhile, I worried that the proliferation of Tweets -- mine included -- all over my Facebook pages would drive out the Zen-like atmosphere engendered by the random juxtaposition of updates.
But it’s usually easy to separate the Tweets from the actual Facebook updates; if you look closely, there’s a definite difference of tone and mood, with “RT@#" Tweets tending toward information, and updates remaining elliptical, soft-focus, and often downright sweet. One writer I know "is good at going backwards slowly," while another "bears it out even to the edge of doom."
It’s possible to make a writerly impact on Facebook without posting updates; instead some writers allow us access to their literary lives through the friends they make, the events they attend, and the groups they join. One doyen of the New York Downtown scene is attending "BOMB and Granta’s BookExpo BlowOut Bash," became a Fan of the Housing Works Bookstore Café, and joined The Literary Review -- and I was able to watch her progress through the literary landscape from afar.
— Kate Pullinger, works both in print and new media. Her most recent novels include A Little Stranger (2006), Weird Sister (1999), and the short-story collection, My Life as a Girl in a Men's Prison (1997).