Every day some new memoir breeze seems to sweep through our culture–or so it seems when the memoir windsock is in place. I have already commented on the six-word memoir, on memoir in the political campaign, and memoir controversies (see categories on the right-hand side of this entry). Now there is the 25 Things About Me craze on Facebook.
I’ve been on Facebook for about a year, having signed up during a great Northern Voice social networking conference I attended last year. Since we at the Fetzer Institute want to tell stories about the power of love and forgiveness, we have been learning about numerous types of social media–podcasts, blogs, social networking, etc. Even though I am an old dog, I love learning new tricks. Teach me how to do something younger people take for granted, and I am delighted.
Somewhere in the middle of a learning curve, one reaches a tipping point when insights now longer come one at a time but in rushes. Now that I know how to navigate the basics in Facebook, I can step back and think about what it represents in our culture. Among many other possibilities, Facebook is a form of ongoing memoir. It makes the stages of our lives visible to ourselves and to others. The progression of how our network expands illustrates the point. Our relatives and close friends make up the core group. Then we gradually add all the old networks and relationships from previous jobs, locations, and institutions other than our professional one (churches, schools, hobbies, service clubs, etc.) Facebook makes possible a layering and simultanaity previously less visible and less extensive. For example, we professors usually keep up with a handful of former students. But Facebook makes it possible to find, be found, and to stay connected with many. We do not yet fully understand either the negative and positive elements of our interwoven autobiographies. The form is too young for that.
The “status reports” posted by one’s “friends” are 140-character opportunities for documentation of a life and self-expression of that life. Twitter takes that function and concentrates it. I am not active on Twitter, so I have not reached the same level of experience with it.
A friend new to Facebook recently commented that all the status reports seemed like they are reaching for witty one-liners. She prefers poetry and reflection. I encouraged her to be herself online. And I love the quotes she shares. Facebook has potential to flatten our characters into sameness. But it also allow us to innovate and rebel.
I have been “tagged” and asked to tell my friends 25 Things About Me. I chose not to accept the first invitation, but as I read more and more postings from friends, I an intriqued. I just might follow Robert Lanham’s example (see link below) of moving from skepticism to appreciation to application. Something about the boundaries of the form seems to pull out hidden memories and reflections. Even close friends do not know some of these memories and confessions included on these lists.
Muriel Ruykeyser said the universe is made of stories, not atoms. Could it be that every human being simply waits for the invitation and the right form, deeply desiring to use a voice never heard before in the world?
Learn more about this form by reading Robert Lanham’s witty examination at Salon.com.