The End of Carnality is the Beginning of Facebook

Christopher Hsu
The End of Carnality is the Beginning of Facebook



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It is not only by negating the need or desire for sex that the problem of sex—too little for too many, too much for too few—could be resolved. An alternative solution might be found, one which would employ such steps as those taken to eradicate hunger and disease during the past few centuries: mass industrialized techniques, scientific breakthrough, international colloquy. Whether bionic or synaptic or collaborative, the solution would be post-pornographic. All would be able to stroll and browse veritable supermarkets of coitus, free to choose among raw materials and products pre-prepared for their erotic satisfaction, free to become libidinally obese or narcissistically abstemious as they wished. There would be no need for genetic or existential tinkering to bring about some future generation of nobly evolved asexuals. Everyone could actually copulate like the Beatles did in 1963. Whenever, whomever, however.

It is true that a solution to the problem of sex would do little to relieve the fundamental conflicts of committed human relationships. Sex is transient; conflicts are eternal. So any solution to the problem of sex would be of interest, strictly speaking, only to those for whom sex is a problem. One thinks of those parties, for example, who have entered into private arrangements with in other respects uninteresting, perhaps even unbearable, partners—arrangements that are essentially makeshift solutions to the problem of sex and that fall apart as dependably as the body does.

The industrial or international solution of the problem of sex would nevertheless bring ancillary benefits to humanity. The majority of films, first novels, websites, magazines, records, and the rest, would be precluded. As our culture dwindled, the world could conceivably witness the rebirth of ritual on a vast scale and see the original question, the problem of death, insoluble by technology as by syllogism, restored to its position at the aesthetic center of civilization. The outsized fear of a violent end to life that is a symptom of a sex-based culture would then diminish accordingly, as would all manner of desperate contriving to banish the thought of it. The solution of the problem of sex thus augurs the return of death to life.

Which brings us to Facebook, the website. Its original promise was compactly simple, and dovetailed nicely with the primary rationale of the internet itself: the acceleration of information transfer. The intimate social data it had taken teens of the last century weeks, if not months, of misdirection and excruciating blunder to obtain (likes and dislikes, friends with whom, favorite films, teams, music) would now be instantly available. Henceforth, it seemed, there would be no more staring at her shoes to figure out if she read poetry. But it turned out that this information, so treasured in the past, became less precious, less central, as users found themselves conducting the majority of their Facebook-archived relationships over Facebook. The facts of personality went from being the teleology of Facebook to its mere currency. Exposed in the public domain, the mythopoeic looked banal.

Where the primogenitor, Friendster, sought to achieve a directly networked form of dating, the online equivalent of a private party, and the second-born, MySpace, an infinitely manipulable, almost chaotic social locus—the after-school shopping mall—Facebook flourished by eschewing these eroticized approaches. The atrophy of the personal information section since Friendster, for example, has been highly noticeable on Facebook, as has been the dereliction of the once-critical relationship status indicator. And where MySpace assaults you with noise and visual gaucheness, Facebook remains austere.

For in its true essence, Facebook seeks to replace the physical exertions of human interaction with the more somber, autumnal tasks of arrangement and custodianship, of adding and snipping, a sort of ikebana. That is why browsing the site feels much like scanning a list of obituaries, observing the departed as they commune with one another. The carefully chosen photos of the user in his or her pomp; the snippets of language; the guestbook in which respectful or humorous codicils and encomia may be inscribed; the games, little trinkets, and other offerings that adorn the profile: it is all reminiscent of a Buddhist funerary altar. Picture the hundreds of thousands of Facebook users sitting in silent rooms, tapping at keyboards to maintain and direct their discarnate forms. A Facebook with a physical aspect would be self-contradictory and disastrous.

Facebook is preparing us for a future of social behavior from which carnality has been evicted, taking with it all the instinctual crises, the earthly terrors and joys we have come to know. In the Facebook future, socializing will no longer be the cogent, purpose-driven, and hierarchical activity that has ordered our ways of living and the construction of our cities. What will be left to us will be the stewardship of its residues—the comparison of likes and dislikes, the rituals of gift-giving, the exchange of perfunctories, and above all the keeping of lists of names of friends and acquaintances, their quantities. And Facebook, in its genius, has seen that all of this can be done in aggregate, consecutively, and in remote solitude.

Acres of time will open up. Facebook looks to fill them with Brain Quiz, Compare Movie Tastes, Sign My Petition. It would perhaps be more apt for programmers to design applications for chanting, meditation, a schedule of ablutions. Facebook has also seen that the business of cataloguing interpersonal relations and broader social networks, establishing family trees of relationships and lineages, remains as important to ordinary people alive today as it was to the Plantagenets. “You know Vikram through a friend” is conclusive proof of existence in a way that a name, a place, a date of birth are not. Add that to “You went to high school together” or “You are in Hyung’s extended family,” and the most basic, mundane outlines of life start to form.

It is foreseeable that social life senza carne—today, the exclusive province of the devoutly celibate or monogamous, infants, the senescent, and certain professionals—will be pervasive tomorrow. In private, a boundless gourmet or gourmand sex life might obtain; but it is Facebook that will cater to the remainder, calmly proctoring our necessary and now insipid ways of public intercourse.