Here in the office, we have this neat little tradition where we compete to see which one of us can do the least work in the most amount of time. I usually win, but I have an advantage over everyone else because in addition to my job title, my job description also puts me on the janitor's staff, which comes in after hours (as an English major, I honed my janitorial skilllz so that I would have some sort of marketable quality). My ability to clean, not my ability to write, was what got me this job, but I digress.  So while the others can only waste time from, say 10:30 to 4:00, I can screw around and not get things done from 10:30 to 7 or 8:00.  

Seriously, when you have a computer at your disposal and it's hooked up to the internet, what you have is a fertile breeding ground for massively mismanaged time. I scan my browser limitlessly, learning more about mullets, booty shorts, Britney Spears' latest oops-oops, anything.

Enter Facebook. Perhaps the greatest time sucking mechanisms available to man since the invention of cricket, Facebook promises minute-to-minute updates on the goings-on of my friends and many others who I do not know but who have opened their doors and the intimate details of their lives to me by calling me their Facebook friend. And with 200 friends, I thought I was doing well.  I was wrong.

I recently took the time to scroll all the way to the bottom of my profile homepage. My wall was inscribed with comments like "Hi I don't know you but you kind of look like my cat Ernesto, want to be Facebook Friends?" and "I think we may have gone to pre-school together except your name back then was Franklin Peebles. Do you remember me and did you recently have a sex change?"

When I got to the bottom of the page, where I noticed a feature that I had not previously remembered. There it was, in no uncertain terms.

Popularity: Wallflower

Wallflower??? What was up with that? Yes, my last social outing had coincided with OJ Simpson trial, and perhaps I had been spending more nights with Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia than with Ben and Jerry Garcia's cherry, but still. I had 208 Facebook friends. So where had I gone wrong? And more importantly, why did a Facebook proclamation about my social status bother me?

Launched in 2004, the Facebook website describes itself as "a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet."

Whatever. I'm sure that Facebook does all those things too. But the primary utility of Facebook is self validation. And based on my popularity rating, I was starting to feel pretty invalid.

Facebook has become a social barometer- a tool that we can use to measure who we are in our virtual world. As we become more and more dependent on the internet for information and for community, we also have become more dependent on the internet to establish connections and exchange interactions.

I met recently met Annie at a party. Although she was shy and a bit awkward looking (the kind of girl your mom would urge you to date while telling you that she was a nice girl with a great personality), she seemed to know the majority of people there. How? They were Facebook friends, people she had met once or twice before, and had connected with through Facebook. People wrote on her wall regularly and she received notices about events and parties frequently.

The next morning, I had a message in my Facebook inbox from Annie, asking me to confirm my friendship with her. I checked out her profile. She had over 900 friends and the number of posted photos in which she had been tagged was greater than the number of total pictures of me in my childhood. Which is a considerable number, considering I am the oldest, and therefore most loved and documented child in my family. Annie's popularity rating indicated that she was more beloved than Princess Diana of Wales, with something like 200 Facebook personalities calling her a "top" friend.  Suddenly, Annie had become the "it" girl.

Having no shame, great ambition, and the desire to bask in the glow of such a sun, I asked Annie if she would like to grab lunch. Ulterior motive: learn from the Facebook Guru and steal the secrets of internet celebrity for myself. There was no way that this girl was going to best me in the game of popularity. Annie had a thing for donuts, so we met up at a local fine dining café that I'll just call "Chunk ˜n Go Nuts" to protect the identity of the sublime.

We got to talking, and I steered the conversation toward my intended agenda: the secrets behind her Facebook success. Not surprisingly, Annie loved Facebook. "I'm really shy and I don't meet people easily," she said.  

"And when I do, it's awkward to ask them for their phone number or contact information, especially if I'm meeting them casually. But if I can find them on Facebook, it's easy to just make them my friend on the site, and then they can see what I'm about- and then if they see that I'm interested in, like, a party they are having or if I'm going to a concert of a band they say that they like on their profile, we can chill."

Interesting. I thought to myself. Facebook has essentially allowed us to circumnavigate our physical persona. In fact, it seemed that the path to social success had been rerouted, relying less heavily on first impressions and charisma than the ability to follow up and construct consistent correspondence. Annie had a greater and broader social network than I, although my social skills and gregariousness are generally considered to be off the charts. But was she more socially successful than me? Does a broad online network of friendships translate into social success?

Annie was still talking, telling me about the upcoming dinner parties, weekend trips at the lake, and book clubs that she had been invited to in the upcoming weeks. She told me that she would love to get together soon, but that her social calendar was totally booked until, it seemed, mid November.

I suddenly needed another donut. Annie wanted one too, so we went up to the counter to order. She got a chocolate jelly filled concoction, I went for one with buttercream frosting. She paid, and then stood aside for me to order. I smiled at the pimply-faced teen behind the counter. He turned that pinkish color of a teen in lust, and told me that the donut was on the house. So maybe Annie is a Facebook goddess. But what chance does having 6 bajillion Facebook friends stand against natural charm and physical prowess? Facebook can't buy you love. Or pimp you free donuts. For that, you gotta know how to shake it., and you just can't shake it in cyberspace.