When I logged on, I was presented with pictures of a world of people I know who are already on Facebook. Then I noticed something: In a funny way, each of them had chosen the perfect picture to represent themselves. The triathlete, muscles bulging, damp paper number pulled out proudly from his chest. The business-school graduate, smiling from under his alma mater baseball cap. The new mom with baby front and center. The ex-model and girl-about-town being fawned over by adoring boys. The searching-for-what's-next 20-something in a moody side profile.
This moment took me back to another aha moment earlier in the year when one of my planners wore an "MTV: The Hills" t-shirt to work.
(Just to set context, the wearer was recent advertising convert having spent years practicing law before she escaped and did a career 180 to become a planner.)
"What's with that shirt?" I asked her, curious.
"Oh, I don't know. My sister picked it up at the airport I think. She thought it was cute."
The ex-lawyer then said with slow deliberateness: "I think I've moved from an environment where a t-shirt was just a t-shirt, into an environment where a t-shirt actually means something."
I had the same pause perusing my friends' photos on Facebook. Do the photos there actually mean something? First of all, everyone wants to look good. We all know the horror story equivalent of the callously indifferent woman taking photos at the Miami DMV who sticks you with the worst possible picture ("Really? I can't retake it? But it's digital"). Facebook is the opportunity to amend this egregious wrong.
But are these just casual photos, or are they messages? Doubtless, for some normal, non-advertising/marketing people who aren't obsessed with their own brands, there is such a thing as casual photos on Facebook. But honestly, for the rest of us, the game is on.
I trolled through the photo options on my computer. The pickings were slim. I had recently dropped my home computer on the floor so most of my personal photos were somewhere in laptop never-neverland. More recent photos were of me and my dog, me at Disneyworld for our work holiday Xmas party or me with my husband's family in Mexico. I contemplated taking a new photo specifically for Facebook. But I had the vague sense that this was cheating.
Besides, what is really emblematic of me? My bookshelf? (Too pompously academic.) A self-portrait I've painted? (Too pompously artsy.) Me with a cocktail at the pool? (Too alcoholic.)
In the end, I chose a snippet from a photo from the Disneyworld trip. I look tan and smiley and like a good version of myself. I'm sure it says something about me. At least whatever it means is so 2007.