Facebook is a never-ending virtual gathering. Often times, it is filled with engagement announcements, inspirational messages, event invites, groups, cute LOL kitties and political banter. But why do people actually use it?
In the online aspect of our lives, the social media site fulfills users’ two primary needs: a virtual sense of belonging and the need for self-presentation. Everyone just wants to belong, right?
It’s very easy for someone to present the world with the person they want to appear to be. Even if 90 percent of that person is a lie.
On Labor Day four years ago, Dave Cicirelli, a creative professional from New York City, decided to find out what would happen if he tapped into the “unreality” of social media. While sitting around with a few friends discussing their upcoming high school reunion, Cicirelli got the brilliant idea to start making up stuff on Facebook so that he’d be the life of the party. He announced his decision to quit his job and hitchhike across the US, with only his laptop and cellphone to document his journey.
“Everyone would have this crazy notion about who I was and what I have been up to,” he explains while trying to convince me that it all started out as a joke. “It was nothing more than a funny way to have a conversation. I wasn’t trying to deceive people.”
At his own expense, Cicirelli embarked upon a six month journey that, not only led him deep into the vast world of social media, but also allowed him to rediscover a sense of self, a part of him he thought he lost. What he created wasn’t a fake identity. It was a real identity based on fake events. One that began unraveling, not because of his questionable Photoshop skills or outrageous premise, but because he failed to pay attention to the color of his Amish girlfriend’s hair.
His recent social media memoir Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies describes how his intellectual curiosity and general immaturity led him to draft a story with the intention of being the butt of the joke.
When scrolling through your Facebook timeline, how often do you feel like it’s simply a window to a world that’s swiftly passing you by? While you sit there in your room all alone on a Saturday night hitting “Like” on every single post you find amusing, or at job you completely hate, you get a glimpse into the lives of your “friends” who are advancing in their careers, accomplishing goals and traveling the world. It’s easy to become envious.
Facebook is a community of billions of people and it’s run on the honor system. Interestingly enough, we all know that one person who is constantly posting pictures of an extraordinary life or updating their status to highlight their testaments to success and fame. From Photoshopping memories to make themselves look more fabulous or talking about how much they love their jobs, there is constant fronting going on.
“It’s especially powerful when you are talking about childhood connections and the people that you were a lab partner with in 10th grade,” admits Cicirelli. “Your memories and perception of that person are already grounded in your mind but now they are living in Brussels and driving a cool car, and you think to yourself, “How did that happen?”‘
When you really give it some thought, social media is incredibly powerful, especially when considering how it has changed what community means and how all of these relationships are simultaneously compelling and absurd. Initially, Cicirelli had an unsophisticated view about the scheme of things and how he would unleash this fake version of himself. In a way, living his travels in real-time for an online audience was like producing his own reality show. Except in this version, everything wasn’t glorious all of the time.
“I was very surprised by all of it, which is why I chose to write a book about my experience. My fantasies became real,” he says laughing. “Despite my best efforts, fake Dave was far more popular than I ever remember being in real life by just being myself. This fake version I created was a bigger hit,” the talented graphic artist adds. “I always thought the distance between your real life and your profile were a bit skewed; that it was frivolous and arbitrary. We tend to leave out the less interesting, less attractive aspects of ourselves.”
Upon realizing that his old friends were admiring what fake Dave was doing, Cicirelli really resented his Facebook profile. There was this part of him that responded to the virtual self he created in his mind. He began desiring for his fantasy to actually become reality–to live that nomadic life for a while, explore and let the world “surprise him around every corner.”
“I think it was always there but this project became more about self-expression than anything else. By the end, I kind of took lessons from my fictional life and applied them to my real one,” Cicirelli acknowledges. “It’s not so much the travel that inspired me, it was making my own art again. This whole process has reconnected me to the process of making something new.”
His fictitious self forced him to live exclusively online and offline at the same time, and so much of his book is about how this online life directly impacted his real offline life, which he says was “fairly difficult.” What he did was extremely demanding. In fact, he had to post every single day, up to four times a day, otherwise people would begin to get concerned that something horrible had happened to him. At one point, he pretended to get bit by a rabid coyote while wandering through the desert. “I never reported anything until after the fact, because it’s just too cruel to have the outcome of my situations be uncertain to the audience,” Cicirelli says.
Of course, there was a cap on how far he could take his social experiment. If he pretended to be an astronaut that probably wouldn’t fly since he’d have to reenact that life. As far as Cicirelli was concerned, his quest was an open ended premise with tremendous appeal.
“Without my close friends, family members and collaborators from the beginning, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Cicirelli says. “My dad played one of the best parts. He would always leave great posts like, “Quit this bohemian bullshit and go to law school… stuff like that. Those closest to me allowed the community around me to flourish and be multidimensional.”
At the end of the day, he is still optimistic about Facebook but can assure you that he has learned his lesson from one go-around of playing with peoples’ minds.
“I don’t completely buy into the idea that social media is making us more isolated. If anything, it is still building roads not walls. Although, there does seem to be a new etiquette forming around our virtual lives. Our community, identity and self, and these other huge parts of who we are, are continuously shifting, but I still think it’s for the greater good. It’s still becoming a habitable place. We are adjusting to it. Ultimately, I think we will be fine.”
On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource and a place for people to often times just relieve boredom. But for Cicirelli, the network has broadened his sense of what’s possible. It has inspired him to seek, explore and create. He has come to appreciate all those loose ends and connections social media has created that he was once dismissive of.
So, what ever happened with his Amish girlfriend’s hair? And how did his followers and distant friends react when they finally found out he was lying to them about his adventures? What about that one guy who caught on to his long-running joke and instead of calling him out began sending flowers to his apartment? I guess you’ll have to read Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies and find out for yourself.