GateHouse – As the sixth-oldest person on Earth to participate in social networking sites, what bothers me most about sites like Facebook is not the level of access they offer to my personal information. Nor is it how they make it so I constantly and accidentally learn absurdly minor details about my Friends’ days (“Abby is having a muffin — a banana muffin“). Nor is it the insanely constant flood of requests to add third-party applications of questionable value (to all my Friends, I beg you to listen to me: I AM NOT ADDING SCRABULOUS. LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE.)
No, what bothers me is that Facebook, by virtue of its ability to add (and subtract) Friends, assigns math to what has historically, and pleasingly, been a shapeless, unquantifiable process. It’s no longer than you don’t have many Friends; it’s that you don’t have many Friends, and you have way fewer Friends than everyone else, whose Friends you can see because it’s easy to find out how many Friends they have and how many you do not. On some scale, you can rank yourself by Friendship count like you’re seeding the NCAA tournament. Listen, I’ve just broken 100, and I’ve been on this thing for a year and am scraping up people that I barely keep in contact with and in many cases do not even like. I remain quietly resentful of those in the 400-500 range, who I’m telling myself are lying to me about their popularity, though that’s mostly to stave off the crippling insecurity.
But apparently this sort of behavior has been going on in other online arenas as well, unbeknownst to me but evidently knownst to people with whom I’ve been e-mailing: It came to my attention recently that at least one co-worker I am forced to interact with regularly files her e-mail according to Levels.
It’s not just basic, garden-variety Levels like Important, Not-Important, File Until Later or That Exiled Prince From Nairobi Who Keeps Enthusiastically Pleading For My Checking Account Number. No, there’s apparently a level for important work e-mails, a level for non-important work e-mails, a level for possibly important work e-mails, a level for work e-mails too stupid to actually open, and so on. There are also separate levels for personal e-mails, and, in the case that alerted me to this hierarchy in the first place, a level for forwarded summer movie trailers, which is apparently Level 3. That seems high to me for “The Incredible Hulk,” but I’m not the oracle assigning numerical importance here. Besides, what do I know; I have just one stupid mammoth inbox).
Now, the Level 3 e-mail that was being replied to was sent exactly one week prior, offering a brief but revealing glimpse into the inner machinations of the recipient’s e-mail organization schematics. Level 3 e-mails don’t even get tended to in the same WEEK. Do you know how LONG that is in cyber-time? Last week, HILLARY CLINTON was still in the race. THAT LONG.
As you might expect, the sender of the original e-mail — which was not me, I was a mere CC: in this conversation — issued his distaste at being filed Level 3. This led to a transparent and sort of pathetic attempt on the part of the recipient to assure him that Level 3 was actually much cooler than Level 2, which is sort of like telling your little brother than the broken G.I. Joe figures were more fun for some reason. (She never did hint at what was going on in Level 1, which is, as near as I can tell, reserved solely for e-mails from Jesus.)
So when you hear that this is going on, that somewhere — at least once, and probably way, way more than that — out in cyberspace your communications, and thusly, yourself, are being regularly evaluated and filed in some amorphous virtual filing system, you naturally find yourself asking the question: What Level am I in, and why isn’t it higher?
So I am registering my discomfort once and for all, here in this column, and, of course, immediately via my Facebook status.