I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
— Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Did Walt Whitman predict Facebook? Given the uncanny descriptive accuracy of the opening lines to Song of Myself, it certainly appears so.
Scrolling through my Facebook "newsfeed," it occurs to me that it is almost entirely a catalogue of my friends and acquaintances "singing" themselves. It's the ultimate in branding, only we are both the ad agency and the product. We're marketing ourselves, consciously or not, creating a self-portrait that we want others to see — our triumphs, our beautiful children, our vacations, funny goofs, moments of pride and joy, even times of pain and loss.
In a closet in my house are boxes and boxes of photos, stacked on shelves and on the floor, almost all of them taken before 2007 — before smartphones, before all our photos were on our computers or mobile devices or sent to the "cloud," wherever the hell that is. (That cloud must be getting heavy, is all I can say. Our trip to France last year had to have added several zillion gigabytes.)
I remember when you'd go to someone's house for dinner and after dessert, the host would say what were at that time the most dreaded words in the English language: "Would you like to see the slides of our vacation?"
"No, we wouldn't," we thought. But "yes, of course, we would," we said. Then, lights dimmed, we'd sit staring at photos of sunsets, seaside dinners, cathedrals, hotel pools, that crazy waiter that spilled the Pinot Grigio on Merle, etc. What fun.
Now, if you want to see someone's vacation photos, well, you can just go to their Facebook page and click through them — and, most important, you can stop any time.
And I feel sure Facebook is responsible for the death of those interminable "our family's year in review" letters you used to get from friends at Christmas. For that alone, we owe Mark Zuckerberg large thanks. We already have everyone's year in review at our fingertips, if we choose to look.
You can learn a lot from looking at your Facebook friends' profiles: their favorite movies, books, albums, their relationship status, their family members. And, more interesting, at least to me, you learn what they value and how they want to be perceived by the world. Foodies post lots of food pictures. Political junkies post political stuff. Music people post music and videos. Young parents post baby pictures. There are sports people, funny socks people, pet people, travel people, religious/inspirational people, funny meme people, and people who update their profile picture three times a week. You are what you post.
"I celebrate myself, and sing myself," wrote Whitman. And it was never more true, never more universal. Though, today, he'd probably post his masterpiece online and call it, "Song of My Selfie."