Finding the face behind the Facebook

Armageddon is in. From the nightly news to summer blockbusters, the end of worlds both real and fictional is around every corner. Nobody knows when or how we will go, but everyone is very, very anxious to find out. Personally, I am convinced that humanity will not be given a chance to end before it undergoes a complete existential transformation. Call me a sci-fi extremist, but it seems that every technological and cultural step we take brings us closer to a purely metaphysical existence. What’s more, one need not board the Enterprise to witness first-hand the way that non-spatial existence has already become customary for nearly every college student in the country. It’s called Facebook (as if you didn’t know already), and in short, its function is to replace a real person with a digital counterpart – a physical human with a metaphysical profile.

However, there is one big difference between a person and his or her Facebook, and it’s the issue of autopoiesis – a person’s Facebook is as much a result of their own creativity as it is that of their creator. If the real you isn’t who you want to be, you can easily construct a profile that is. While not without its advantages, this is clearly a cause for concern, and as long as we are to some extent tied down to physical being, inconsistencies between one’s profile and true self will likely lead to unfavorable social circumstances. To observe the ways in which the real life-Facebook duality plays out at Williams, I talked to Kevin Dewar ’09, but only after I did some extensive cyber-research.

The first thing that struck me as odd about Kevin’s Facebook was that I couldn’t even view it without being his friend. However, the quickness with which he answered my friend request immediately quelled my initial apprehension. Once I gained access, the first thing I saw was, naturally, his profile picture, in which he stands, clearly posing, in the foreground of a foggy city skyline, which I don’t recognize. He is calm and in control, and a slight smile suggests a reserved yet sincere satisfaction. Although I am generally inclined to favor candid shots, the modesty of his self-presentation reveals a definite level of maturity. Instead of going for a sexy and misleading mystique that will only compromise his true appearance, he’s doing his best to give us the real deal. I silently commend his honesty and move on to his personal information.

Despite the exclusiveness of his profile, the information contained therein is impressively thorough. Everything from his birthday to his sexual preference is indicated, and each possible “favorite” provides a lengthy, though not overwhelming, list of his preferred music groups, books, movies, etc. I discovered that he is Christian and a political moderate; he’s single but only looking for “friendship” and “networking,” and he enjoys the music of the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Nas. The inclusion of Sportscenter in his favorite shows was all I needed to revel in the affirmation that “Yes, Kevin Dewar is not only a Williams student, but a NICE GUY!”

However, as I scroll down to his favorites quotes, as well as the all-important “about me” section, another dimension of Kevin’s character is revealed. These sections of his profile show that he values things like liberty and self-respect, yet seems to think that the opponents of these values are residing in our very own country! Is the Kevin Dewar who I know so well from a limited set of personal data truly the kind of guy who would not only say things like “get out of my way,” but regard it as one of his favorite quotes? The kind of guy who would berate politicians and civilians alike as druggers and druggies, respectively? Of course, there was only one way to find out who is the real Kevin Dewar, but since my laptop had finally run out of battery I was forced to confront him in person instead.

Meeting Kevin wasn’t much different from seeing his profile picture for the first time – a convincing but not exaggerated smile and a moderately firm handshake were exactly what I expected from a guy who had appeared so easygoing and inviting. His Facebook, as he told me, has been around for about three years, and although he makes minor periodic changes, the core has remained much the same. What has changed is his own view of the Web site’s function. For Kevin, Facebook has become a tool more for his future than for his present. Getting invitations to parties and meeting cute girls has taken a back seat to networking, and he even confessed to frequently ignoring birthday notifications. “It’s good to have the site as a way to keep tabs on the people you know,” he explained. “Not in a creepy Big Brother kind of sense, but merely as a way to establish and maintain contact with friends, potential business associates and guys who are just good to know.”

As far as honesty goes, I was not surprised to hear that Kevin considers his profile to be a pretty accurate portrayal of himself. While it might not contain everything there is to know about him (nor should it), it does much to show the man from a few different angles. Kevin, who considers himself “absolutely” outspoken and “absolutely” open-minded, feels that the inclusion of his political and social views, bold as they may be, are nonetheless important pieces of who he is. He noted that, “Unless someone is very open-minded, they’re not going to get anything deep out of it.” Nonetheless, Kevin still thinks that the presence of such potential controversy “helps to show where people stand.”

By the end of our meeting I was convinced that Kevin is the kind of guy who should be on Facebook. Though he doesn’t seem to take it too seriously, he does recognize the need for sincerity. And he knows all too well the capacity for intentional inaccuracy on the site.

“Facebook is the same as a job interview,” he said. “People put what they want others to see, what they are comfortable sharing about themselves.” If there’s something Kevin’s hiding from us he’s doing a great job of it, for neither in his profile nor in his physical existence could I find inconsistencies, and I am always on the lookout for fraud. Although our opinions of the apocalypse differ (his money is riding on supervirus), I couldn’t agree more with his approach to Facebook, and when the rest of humanity is rushing to embrace their neo-meta-existences, I trust Kevin Dewar will be among the last remaining true men, whose autopoietic selves need not be a perversion of who they really are.