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The cult of me

March 1, 2009
by Gary Tetz
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We all have dreams and aspirations. We're human, after all. I believe it was the poet Robert Browning who postulated that “a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” though few remember what he said next-“You want to do what? That's ridiculous. Stop kidding yourself.”

Me, I've always longed to be a cult leader. Nothing sinister or creepy. No Nikes or Kool-Aid. I just yearn to hold a large, adoring group of spineless supplicants under my spell and bend them to my capricious will. For years, I've kept this dream shrouded in my heart, never believing it could ever come true. Until now. Until Facebook.

For those who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it's what so-called experts with empty lives sitting in windowless rooms call a social networking Web site. Simply translated, that means that with a few well-chosen keystrokes and mouse clicks, you can create your own vibrant, nurturing, self-perpetuating virtual community/cult. If everything goes according to plan, you'll never need to see, touch, or talk to an actual person ever again.

Here's how it works, step by step. First, like millions of http://Facebook.com pioneers before you, you'll need to create your personal profile-what you want prospective cult members to know, or at least believe, about you. This is no time to be bashful, so spare no detail. Be creative. Lie even if you don't think you need to. It's the Internet, after all, where everything's true.

What should you include? Start with all your religious and political views at excruciating length, then add lists of your favorites in every imaginable category and lab results from your last physical. Disclose an uncomfortable level of personal information, including PIN numbers and home security system access codes. In the real world, you'd be boring people to tears. But in cyberspace, no one can hear them snore.

Now it's time to choose your cult members. This is done through an act of unsolicited social and grammatical aggression called “friending,” and there are two things you need to know about this unfamiliar word. First, it's not a gerund. And second, it has very little to do with “friends” or “friendship.” Until now, you've probably believed a “friend” to be someone you could count on, someone you have history with, someone who might drive you home from prison or offer you a kidney. But that incredibly naïve perspective is so early 2004 that, frankly, I'm embarrassed for you.

“Friending” has destroyed its root word like a parasitoid consumes its host. In modern Facebook parlance, “friend” can now mean anything from “inseparable soulmate” or “trusted pal” to “irrelevant passing acquaintance,” “unwelcome high school classmate,” or “creepy stalker.” On the surface, this may seem bad. Imagine for instance what life would have been like in the Old West if “Hi, friend” meant the same thing as “Howdy, stranger.” But in this new “friending” frontier, it opens a world of possibilities.

Acquiring your own cult members is accomplished via the “Add as Friend” button, which turns out to be not unlike walking up to people you don't know at a cocktail party and asking them to touch you. You're also given the option to send a personal message with your friend request, a step I highly recommend. It should be brief, and point out the reason you think a cult relationship would be appropriate. For example, you might say, “I notice you have a ‘g’ in your name. So do I. We should be friends,” or “This isn't a violation of the restraining order, is it?” Then you just sit back smugly and wait for affirmative responses.

When it happens for the first time, it's a feeling you'll never forget. “Biff Loman confirmed you as a friend on Facebook,” the notification e-mail will say, and a wave of euphoria will wash across your screen. Biff wants to join my cult! He accepts me as his leader! Soon “friends” of Biff will want to be your “friend,” and then “friends of friends of his friends' friends” will beg to be included. At this point, congratulations are in order. Your cult has swollen to critical mass and is fully operational, awaiting only your first pronouncement.

If you share my cult leader aspiration, and who doesn't, this is the moment you've been waiting for your whole life. So stand tall, take a deep breath, and like the self-appointed charismatic figurehead you now are, step boldly to the podium. Gaze upon the fawning, riveted multitudes of friends, pseudo-friends and friend-strangers, clear your throat with gravitas and-follow me carefully here-just tell them what you're doing RIGHT NOW! That's it. It's so simple. Whatever your current activity, just type it in the text box provided. “Gary Tetz is peeling a banana.” “Gary Tetz is flossing the dog.” “Gary Tetz is pretending mundane trivialities of daily existence will be viewed with unwarranted fascination by people he doesn't even know that well, if at all.” Update this status information every few minutes, or more frequently if you're engaged in something particularly pointless.

Trust me, your awestruck cult members will be transfixed and grateful. They'll hang on your every word. They'll look to you for daily inspiration and direction. They'll make embarrassing comments for all to see, ask inappropriately personal questions, and pester you with online Scrabble invitations. Best of all, as a token of thanks, they may even upload and publicly post without your permission compromising pictures that will destroy your personal and professional life. It will be a beautiful, mutually satisfying experience.

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