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If any American literary movement or canonical author might seem relevant to the modern phenomenon of Facebook, the movement might be American Romanticism (or Transcendentalism) and the author might be Walt Whitman. Facebook reflects the common Romantic assumption that self-identity and self-expression are worthy values. Facebook also reflects Whitman's assumption that each individual person is the center of his own universe but should also strive to reach out to others and discover common ground with them. Facebook seems to support, and provide a venue for, both of these assumptions.
Many Romantic or Transcendentalist authors might be seen as forerunners of the rise of Facebook. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau might particularly be mentioned, since both authors endorsed the importance of individualism, of "marching to the beat of one's own drummer." Facebook is a forum that allows hundreds of millions of individuals to do just that -- to proclaim their unique distinctiveness. Facebook reflects Emerson's ideal of "self-reliance."
Yet the American author who might seem most at home on Facebook -- and who would certainly have a highly interesting "wall" -- might be Walt Whitman. One thinks of the famous opening lines of Whitman's aptly titled Song of Myself:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
This, essentially, might be called “The Facebook Philosophy”: one expresses oneself, but one also invites the self-expression of others. One constantly updates one’s status, reads the status updates of others, comments on their status updates, and welcomes comments by them on the updates of one’s own status. Moreover, it is assumed that one is speaking for oneself and that others are speaking for themselves; there is (usually) no attempt at anonymity or disguised identities. Whitman seems the perfect canonical “Facebook poet” because he so obviously, in his poems, is Walt Whitman, not an invented persona. Thus, a few lines below the ones just quoted, he refers to
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death. [emphasis added]
Whitman is not writing under a nom-de-plume or pseudonym; he is writing, openly and proudly, as Walt Whitman. Indeed, he goes even farther than do many people on Facebook: he publishes his work for anyone and everyone to read. He doesn’t choose “friends” or exclude anyone, nor can he delete or refuse his readers. Surely Whitman would have been one of the first of the now half-a-billion members of Facebook, and surely he would have been one of the most interesting, and one with many, many "friends." He would probably exclude no one.
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