FNQ and the promise of Facebook

Posted on | August 14, 2007 | No Comments

North Queensland Pub

Townsville is nothing like Hobart where I grew up–the climate, the landscape, the wildlife, the architecture and the serious military presence are just some of the things that set it apart. Still, visiting there on the weekend brought to mind lots of feelings and questions about home, ones that I usually don’t entertain for very long for fear of getting confused and paralysed by increasingly estranged choices. Some of these things are intensely personal: whether or not I will be having kids, whether or not I will have a house of my own in the suburbs one day, whether blood relations are ever likely to be close by me again, and what those things mean given my family’s background. Getting an education may have expanded my knowledge and opportunities, but it hasn’t given me any capacity to navigate such fundamental life questions with any sense of purpose or conviction. This is a bad news for a Libran hopeless at making choices at the best of times!

Other things are more abstract: my trajectory out of a small town to a couple of bigger ones helps me recognise in Townsville the pride and patriotism peculiar to an isolated city — important values to have, but which inevitably impact on the aspiration and motivation of young people living there who may not share the same priorities.

Cowboys public art

Which brings me to Facebook. As I’m finding more and more of my old friends online, I’m wondering what factors are compelling us to make contact again. Is it the notion of connecting to a previous form of (enforced?) community? A recognition, in that Before Sunset kind of way, that life doesn’t have as many opportunities as you may have thought, especially growing up in a small town dreaming of the city? Is it a completely egotistical curiosity about how I got from There to Here, and whether I am still the same person? For me, this sheds some light on why Facebook is currently so beguiling (unlike some of the current commentary!): my present friends (in both senses) already know everything there is to know about me online, in my career, in my love life, down to my city and suburb of residence. But my past friends and acquaintances haven’t the slightest idea of the “identity” I have here, for instance, let alone elsewhere online. What do they think? And do they like what they see? Maybe if they do, I won’t feel I’ve traveled quite so far from what and where I must once have imagined home is or could be. If they don’t, perhaps it proves something of the authenticity behind the need to escape and pursue another kind of life.

In any case, for my purposes the promise of Facebook is surely its capacity to render transparent the progressively restricted circles of academic success and specialisation — the very factors which work against sympathetic studies of online cultures on the one hand and public intellectual practice on the other. Academics’ common-sense familiarity with and participation in networks logics whether on or offline prior to Facebook is precisely what left them so unprepared for its popularity with a wider public. Of course, even that expanded public is still far from constituting a significant social group in the sense that it is hardly the most in need of further benefits from the existing distribution of social and cultural capital. The question now is whether the current moment of popularity will enable us to recognise or exacerbate the gulf between the information economy of Facebook Friends and the manual labour still central to so many other places — from FNQ to my own island home, and so many of the towns and cities in between.

ALP campaign headquarters

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