The Drama of Friends

    I first encountered Zuckerberg’s Friend function in about 2004 while doing research as a graduate student in interactive media.

    It was unique, but I failed to see its brilliance.

    To me it felt like a retreat to the social habits of high school and, to some extent, I suppose it was for us all. Or at least about a billion of us.

    The Facebook platform had yet to hit campus at The University of Southern California, and it seemed ripe to be exploited by it. So I sent a note to Mark and stated he should expand to other campuses, an idea he was probably already on top of.

    I never heard back.

    Over the years since, I’ve stepped in and out of the Facebook scene. My current account and series of pages being the latest edition. Most recently over the course of the past two years, my casual research has turned into performance. I call it ‘transmedia storytelling’.

    You see, I’m an interactive dramaturge. I started working in interactive drama at USC’s Annenberg Center under one Marsha Kinder in 2003.

    I design interactive systems to convey meaning, and so that a user might speak of their experience as a story, one well told.

    It took me by surprise recently to realize the Friend function may be the most dramatic function in interactive media today.

    More so than the flame wars of internet trolls, or the recoil on a virtual rifle in Call of Duty, Friending (and Unfriending) is so powerfully dramatic it echoes into real life. It’s now taken so seriously people have a hard time differentiating between real friends and social media Friends.

    I’ve learned this through a series of experiments using social media for performance, culminating in a crowdfunding campaign I ran a little while back and the subsequent product development.

    Though I understand why say, my niece or twenty-something cousin might take it all too seriously, I find it compelling even my professional associates do.

    My performance was so on-point that they were like putty in my hands, even when I’d explain that it was a performance, a game, a story, a system, they’d cower, call me crazy, or even yet worse assume I was some hacker bot.

    I didn’t intend to be malicious or hurtful, but I’ve had several old real-world friends tell me off as a result. Such is life.

    Part of the beauty I believe is the simple binary of Friend and Unfriend. I’d like to see Facebook implement a system like Google Plus. The Circles function is/was helpful in disseminating content unto targeted social groups. Sure Facebook has ‘security’ measures, but again with limited variability.

    To some extent this realization has humbled me, I’ve worked really hard to create interactive opera, but it seems Zuck might have me beat.

    We once thought that interactive media was moving into the creation of synthetic worlds, what in fact it has done is made the world more synthetic. The two now bleed together and for the most part people have a hard time cognitively differentiating between the screen and real life. The study of mirror-neurons in this context I imagine would only reinforce such a thesis. Read mine @ NarrativeDesing.org

    Though I remain skeptical of the commodification of ‘friend’ and friends. The ‘Unfriend’ has become one of the most dramatic functions in social media.

    What Disney did to fairy tales and fables, Zukerberg has done to our social lives.

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