WASHINGTON — Critics contend I am unfair to Facebook merely because I have described it as an ocean of banalities shared among persons with lives so empty they echo. I defend my thesis but admit my evidence has been unscientific — entirely anecdotal — based on my occasional dips into this tepid, lifeless lagoon of dishwater-dull discourse.
But that has changed. I find that it is now possible to mathematically quantify the tedium, thanks to a new website. Openbook, at youropenbook.org, is a search engine for Facebook "status alerts" — the prime way Facebookers communicate with their friends. With Openbook, it is now possible to search for a word or phrase and find out not only how often it has been used in status alerts, but also when and by whom.
The creators of this site intend it as a cautionary implement, to warn people that the social medium is not adequately protecting their privacy. But in the hands of an objective researcher such as myself, Openbook can be a valuable hermeneutic tool. Through it, one can analyze Facebook anthropologically.
I have done so and am here to make my report.
• When people find it necessary to inform their friends about how unbearably arid and stultifying their lives are — which they do at a rate of roughly 2,000 status updates an hour — the word they choose most often is "boring." They tend to spell it with extra o's or r's, for emphasis. If you check for "boooring" and then keep adding one o, you find at least one hit, until you get to 31 consecutive o's. When you try "borrrring" and keep adding r's, you get to 47. Just for the record, the person who, by this metric, suffers the most crippling ennui on the planet, boring with 51 r's, is Heather S. of Waterloo, Ontario.
• Over the course of 16 days, 130 people alerted their friends to the fact that they "have a pimple." The location of the blemish is usually specified, as is the size. The most frequent location is the forehead, followed closely by the earlobe and then the buttock, most often the left one. The most colorful size comparison was to a tomato, but the largest was "Jupiter." M. Mandel of New York named her pimple Steve. (She also is a fan of Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers, and, under favorite books, notes: "I don't like readingg.")
• Literally thousands of people send out communiques describing their excretory imperatives. Frequently, these involve the phrase "have to go to the bathroom." It would be incorrect and unfair to conclude that all of the people using this phrase are vulgarians and/or boors. The rigorous researcher discovers, for example, John Paul Weisinger of Lufkin, Texas, wasn't discussing his own biology at all. He was merely sharing with his friends a joke he finds funny: "A pig walks into a bar and orders drink after drink after drink and never goes to the bathroom. The bartender asks, 'Don't you ever have to go to the bathroom?' and the pig replies, 'Nah, I go wee wee wee all the way home.' "
• It is possible to mathematically gauge the relative strength of people's love by observing the number of o's they use in the expression "so much." For example, Katherine Baker-Hernandez of Lakewood, Colo., loves her kitty more (57 o's) than Lorne D. Stevens of Detroit loves sour Jolly Ranchers (10 o's). There does not appear to be an upper limit to people's love.
• Facebook users may be bored, but, paradoxically, they also are easily amused. We know this, because they are always laughing out loud. LOLs occur with such frequency they are literally impossible to count: Dozens arrive every second. A subset of those laughers are simultaneously rolling on the floor — but still in numbers too large to tally. It is only with a third winnowing — those both rolling and laughing their behinds off — that the numbers become manageable: 390 per day.
• In a five-day period, 266 people referenced the chief executive of the United States as President "Oboma." Sixty-seven others called him President "Obamma." Almost all of these people were making the point that he is a stupid incompetent.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat with him online at noon Oct. 26 at washingtonpost.com.