Facebook drops "is" status updates, poetry dies

Farhad is hoping Facebook reconsiders.

Published November 20, 2007 11:31PM (EST)

Facebook-following blog AllFacebook.com reports that the popular social-networking site has caved to some silly people's demand to remove the mandatory "is" from status updates. Soon, you won't be forced to use an "is" when telling your friends what you're up to.

Don't understand what that means? The skinny: Members of Facebook can send out little messages to their associates that, per the network's convention, must take the form, Member is {fill in the blank}. Things like:

Farhad is tired of social networking.
Farhad is the funk-soul brother.
Farhad is wondering why more people do not appreciate the French press.

But some people didn't like that forced "is." Folks regularly ignore it, writing status updates as if it weren't there. This leads to messages like "Sarah is likes to dance," a nice example put forth by Wired News' Betsy Schiffman.

Schiffman also notes that hundreds of Facebook groups have formed to protest the verb. One of the most popular -- Campaign to lose the mandatory "is" from status updates! -- has attracted more than 64,000 members.

They argue that people would write more "creative" messages under an is-less regime. As examples of the sort of creativity they expect to flourish, the group offers these status updates:

Nick wants a sandwich.
Nick has lost his phone.
Nick remembers what you did last summer.

Philistines! Have these people had never heard of haikus or sonnets or villanelles? Have they never heard of a dude named Gustave Flaubert, who once pointed out, "One must not always think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form"?

What Flaubert meant was that it is precisely an artform's constraints -- and not the lack of constraints -- that juice people's creativity; the Facebook "is," no differently from Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, forces people to look for interesting ways to say things.

Sure, if there were no "is," you'd be free to write, "Nick wants a sandwich." Boy, that really stretches the language, doesn't it? Witness the creativity!

Instead of "Nick wants a sandwich," why not, "Nick is starving for a sandwich," which has the advantage of greater intensity. Or one of these others:

Nick is amazed at the sudden intensity of his desire for a sandwich.

Nick is broke, famished, an old sandwich his only hope for survival.

Nick is thinking that a sandwich may be something he wants but does not need.

Nick is reconsidering: Pizza?

Nick is not Nick but rather a hungry monster from another realm, come to plunder all your people's sandwiches.

Nick is probably not the only man in the world who wants a sandwich, but why does he feel so alone?

Farhad is hoping Facebook reconsiders this self-evidently misguided move.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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