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Facebook Groups Provide a Kind of Cliffsnotes on How Society Operates

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I'm not sure if old people can speak with authority about being young. True, we were that once, but our memories have been redacted and edited, and we were young in a different time and sometimes a different place.

I say this because it seems to me a young person trying to get the hang of navigating the shoals and deeps of the world, making friends, getting along with the world's various circles, its codes, its in-groups, and out-groups, its haves and have-nots, its societies, clubs, churches and protected interests would do well to make a study of Facebook.

I notice that the various conversation strings on Facebook closely resemble what we encounter every day of our lives. Why wouldn't they? But on Facebook it's all there in black and white, uncomplicated by subtleties and distractions, by body language and micro-expressions. It's rather like CliffsNotes. It's raw material, unpolished gems. We're profiling each other within the parameters of the word.

Some ongoing discourses are hospitable to outsiders, to newcomers, to contributors who are unknown to the usual participants. But some cold-shoulder newcomers, and these are the ones, curiously, that are most worth studying, because in their pandering self-centeredness and intent to cozy up to one another they reflect what daunts us in our encounters at school, at church, at work and almost everywhere else. Facebook groups are the cliques and claques we confront on our first day at a new school or church or club. We have a decision to make. When I was young my decision was to seek ways to prise open the circle, to ingratiate myself. In my old age I detest these less than porous fortresses and consign them to their narrow intents. I feel as the Bedouins felt about the French building a string of forts across the Sahara: If the Franks wish to build ovens to bake themselves in, let them.

unfriendly groups

In these often jocular, ingratiating exchanges you often see men and women buttering up colleagues, kissing the asses of former teachers, making room for themselves at an admired table, and in the course of it, brushing off the outsider who falls short of name recognition, who has nothing to do for the insiders. Politics as usual. Why should we complain of it in Washington when we are willing conspirators in the office, church and club?

The strained bonhomie is often referential, and so the outsider is rather like a Baptist up against Episcopal liturgy. They're fellow Protestants, but that and a dime isn't going to get our Baptist a cup of coffee because he has encountered people who are taking care of business, their business, and he is an annoyance. The attitude of these circles might be put this way, They're okay, but would you want your daughter to marry one? Who are they? Well, on Facebook, as in life, they are either the ones to whom you're not quite acceptable or you're one of them.

It's a dose of life. If it's snarky and mean, and it is on occasion, so is life. But its beauty on Facebook is that it has no clothes. It's naked. There need be no confusion about it or what it's really about. There is no priest at the exit to say how glad he is you came while your head is spinning about how unwelcome you felt. We read each other very well, but we often pretend we don't and we call that gymnastic "getting along" or going along to get along.

There are two essential ways for a Facebook group to behave: its participants can party within the circle they have drawn or they welcome the overtures of strangers. This duality is starkly on display. It operates much like high school or office cliques. It either creates unenviable outsiders or it embraces difference. In this sense it's not unlike our body politic. It may be true that information is power, but it's just as true that gate-keeping is the exercise of that power. And Facebook gives us some rather stark choices: Like, Hide, Share, Spam, etc. We can't waffle. Perhaps that's why when my Facebook Hide This Post button started to malfunction it kicked off all my paranoia-an anonymous beast was force-feeding me all kinds of trivia and nastiness.

My own practice, adopted after a great deal of witness, is to ban groups from my Facebook pages no matter how they seem to be allied to my interests if they consistently reveal a predisposition towards patting themselves on the back and smarting off about notions and experiences to which the rest of us are not privy. There are a disconcerting number of that drawn circle ilk, even among academics where you would expect a more inclusive and generous mindset. They have shared experiences and they are being exhibitionistic about it. Nyah, nyah, we know something you don't know.

In this respect, I think Facebook can give the novice participant in society a distinct edge. There's no covering up the cold shoulders and downright snottiness you encounter from a digital group that regards you as an intruder, and there's no covering up the plain fact that if you had something they wanted they would have let you in.

We treat young people to a great deal of bullshit about the truth of things. It confuses and angers them, and often-rightly so-it puts them on guard against a society that will not recognize the elephant in the room. But on Facebook the elephant is often tromping around and even stampeding, and a young person has a chance of grasping that society is most often quite different from its public face.

Djelloul Marbrook

Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, was published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia's Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller's Room, in 1999.

Del's book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal Latté's fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother's art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt's art: http://www.irenericepereira.com

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