Facebook Nation

Essay by Leonidas Donskis in the Hedgehog Review: “A German anthropologist who lived in England and was studying the society and culture of Kosovo Albanians once said something that lodged firmly in my memory: Whenever she wanted to make an interesting thought or position available to Albanian students or intellectuals, she simply published it on her Facebook page. “You don’t have to add a comment or explain anything,” she said with a smile. “The posting of it on Facebook is a sure sign that the message is a good one.”
She promised to perform this operation with a few thoughts of mine she had heard and liked in one of my lectures. When she noticed my surprise, she cheerfully explained that the Albanians considers themselves such a particularly dispersed lot, such a diaspora nation par excellence, that they are inclined to view themselves as a coherent collectivity only on Facebook. Without it, their friends, relatives, and family members living in Albania and elsewhere would have no tangible ties to one another.
This made me think that today’s version of Ahasver, the Wandering Jew of legend, is a Facebook user, and that Facebook—not the physical world—is where that displaced person wanders.
The Facebook Nation is host to an ongoing referendum in which its denizens cast their ballots daily, hourly, even minute by minute. Let’s make no mistake about what it means to be in this peculiar digital republic. For a lover, as Milan Kundera put it, to be is to live in the eye of one’s beloved. And what is it to be for people who don’t know where they are or where they want to be or even if they exist at all? Quite simply, it is to be liked on Facebook.
Facebook is where everyone becomes his or her own journalist, a situation that has forced real journalists to become Facebooking and tweeting simulacra of their former selves, or else to abandon journalism for other pursuits, whether literary or academic or something altogether different. Évariste Gamelin, the protagonist of Anatole France’s 1912 novel Les dieux ont soif (The Gods Are Thirsty), is a painter, a passionate disciple of Jacques Louis David, and a young fanatic who doesn’t know whether he is fatally in love with his charming girlfriend or with his mother, the Revolution. He believes that after the Revolution every citizen will become a judge of himself and of the Republic. But modernity plays a joke on him: It does not fulfill this promise. It had no intention of doing so. Instead of turning into judges, we all became journalists…”