Facebook is like a tsunami swirling around everyone’s feet, thick with cultural debris and sucking at yours. What started as a local network for Harvard undergrads, now engulfs the planet. Mark Zuckerberg, its CEO, has his photo in business pages expounding to stockholders. Its success is grounded in the need people have to bare their souls, the same need that powers Catholic confessionals or drives artists make art. In hindsight, its triumph seems inevitable, yet I don’t think anyone could have predicted it, even Zuckerberg.
In the 1940s, a dance guru named Louis Horst said, “There’s one great dance in everyone.” In 1987, Erving Polster wrote a book: “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel.” And each Facebook user seems to be trying to create that dance or write that novel. It’s a wistfully romantic notion, but I don’t buy it. No matter how much of yourself you put on your “wall,” “I had lemon meringue pie for breakfast” is not on a par with “Out of lemon flowers loosed on the moonlight, love's lashed and insatiable essences, sodden with fragrance, the lemon tree's yellow emerges.” [Pablo Neruda]
Facebook asks for no skills beyond fifth grade English. You state your likes, dislikes, where you are, what you want, and somewhere along the way “You” are supposed to emerge. Advertisers salivate, because to them, you are what you want. It’s made Zuckerberg the world’s youngest billionaire.
The meteoric rise of graffiti, which followed the pioneering Taki 183, made it clear that the urge to leave a “tag” is as powerful in people as leaving a mark on a fireplug or tree trunk is in dogs. So the Facebook designers obligingly offered all users their own “wall.”
As for me, I never considered human graffiti more interesting than the canine variety. But what do you know?, among those little pissers some genuine artists lurked, and now “graffiti art” can be found hanging in museums. Which means that tucked away in the vast folds and recesses of Facebook, a new art form may be shyly showing its face to the world.