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the cult of eff
bearing facebook's existential weight
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture


It's two in the morning. My 5-year-old daughter has been in school exactly one week, and she's already brought home a lovely collection of drawings, handwriting worksheets, and the requisite headcold, which is now keeping me awake, along with the surprisingly annoying pitterpat of rain on asphalt and a Sudafed-induced psychedelia of voices and images swirling 'round my poor, stuffy skull.

I'm a bit of a worrier, and at my age and life stage (the two aren't exactly in sync thanks to my spending all of my twenties and, yes, even some of my thirties trying to be a professional musician) there's plenty of nourishment for the big green monster loving in Binkley's Anxiety Closet.

Still, I was somewhat shocked - enough so to prop myself up and subject my watery eyes to the microwave blaze of the iPad - to discover I was not only lying awake, suffering the indignities of late-night snot and Psuedoephedrine night terrors, I was also sweating the increasing burden and exponential, existential complexity of Facebook.

So long had I been meditating on this, flip flopping around in my bed like a sneezy fish the whole while, that I had formed an image in my mind of a stooped, naked human figure climbing uphill, struggling to keep ahold of a giant, stone, lower-case "f" that wobbled precariously atop his broad, scarred shoulders.

Worse than the curious image of this prone man and his weighty alphabet was the knowledge that his is a voluntary burden.

He's strong for having carried the monolithic Eff so far - yet his back is criss-crossed with the scars of social foibles past; regretful, embarrassing, and narcissistic status updates and unflattering photos his so-called friends had tagged him in, not to mention botched app requests that spammed everyone in the network he so cautiously and deliberately constructed out of family, friends, coworkers, and old highschool chums, all in the spirit of self publishing and habitual early adoption.

He trucks The Eff uphill, always climbing, his legs bent under the weight of it. His knees pop and crackle and stinging sweat trickles into his eyes. This is effort, after all, The Cult of Eff demands a consistent degree of studious dedication. One must be expert in the ways of Quip & Snark, but one must also deftly intuit the delicate, ever-morphing Etiquette of Eff, because the abysmal threat of being someone who just doesn't get it is always there.

And he is naked, of course, because he's been stripped of his privacy. For all the personal boundaries he's been willing to set aside in the names of Transparency, Being Sociable, and plain old Good Fun, he's been awarded a set of tools so convoluted, so obviously, consciously designed to inspire apathy and avoidance, that he has simply forsaken them, leaving them behind to rust in the exposed desert of Unmanaged Settings where marketing buzzards and intel gathering bots conspire to dine upon our boy's increasingly public behaviors.

Now, I realize this is all a bit dramatic, but I told you, I'm on drugs.

The Cult of Eff

For those of us paying attention this week, Facebook gave us an awful lot to think about. First, they made the same kind of glaring, in-yo-interface feature changes they always do, heedless of the consequences, and maybe rightly so. There is something admirable in the Fuck 'Em if They Don't Like It approach, I think. This ain't no IBM, after all, right? None of us signed up for this so we could enjoy quarterly, soothing, non-threatening bug fixes, did we? Hell no, we signed up because it was a wild frontier, a bold new take on what the Internet was for.

And while I'll admit to having a bug up my ass about the ticker, and it's clunky sidekick Sidebar, what Facebook unveiled this week is nothing short of visionary experience design. However, I'm not gonna get into evangelizing for Timeline, and Open Graph Apps & Verbs - not just yet.

What's nagging at me tonight - aside from terminal cotton-mouth and what seems to be a smallish bee taking up residence in my right nostril - is that Facebook claims to have 750 MILLION users, and an average 50 percent of that base logging in daily. All those people - all of us in The Cult of Eff - will have to work hard to add shape and texture to Facebook's vision, otherwise, they'll shape it for us.

Furthermore, anyone really committed to Eff is going to put in some serious time making sure that what's being reflected as "Uniquely Me" is in any way accurate. I'm already playing around with the new developer tools, messing about with Timeline, experimenting with my new, WAY richer profile. My casual first impression is that all this new stuff that might someday be a super-transparent, passively personalizing artificial intelligence…well, right now it takes a lot of clicking on a whole lot of doodads to make the thing tick.

Innocently, Facebook has always been about personal branding as a byproduct of social interaction. But when 750 million people are "into" personal brand, what does that even mean? It's one thing to have a personal brand - but it's another thing entirely to actively sculpt one, day in and day out, remotely, from an electronic box. I'm not judging, I'm obviously in this up to my tickly little nose hairs. But how do we wrap our heads around this evolutionary concept? This incredibly widespread, mainstream, workaday adoption of remote, detailed self expression reflects something important about us - but what?

And it begs another question - why do so many of us willingly take on the burden?

Have you ever called someone out for having more style than substance? Even if you haven't, you probably get the idea. Some people spend a lot of time on appearances and not enough on the stuff that matters, the human stuff. Personal development. Talent cultivation. Experiential living. Trust. Love. Relationships.

On the one hand, it's easy to view all this Facebooking though the cynical lens of narcissistic self-gratification. I paint a picture of myself every day so you can listen to what I listen to, watch what I watch, and react to my opinions. Who? Me, that's who.

On the other hand (maybe it's the one clutching a damp Kleenex while I type), there's the more hopeful lens of creative self-exploration. I paint a picture of myself every day so I can understand myself better. I.

Maybe one scenario feeds the other, and the contiguous relationship between Me and I is the secret sauce that's fueling the minions of the Cult of Eff.

Substance vs. style. Who I Really Am vs. My Facebook Profile. For 750 Million people, this just became a more complex proposition.


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


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tracey kelley
11.7.11 @ 11:21p

Awesome. Simply awesome.

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