36 Likes and 12 Comments
by Ahmed Atef Megahed, Cairo: Rewaq Publishing, 2012. 150pp.
Megahed’s book presents a cynical view of Facebook and how it is being adopted and used by Egyptians. Starting with a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, he explains that the social network is being used in ways never before imagined by its own makers. "Inside your website there are codes that neither you nor your designers know anything about. These are codes invented by the nations."
Talking to a small crowd in Alef Bookstore in the middle class Cairene suburb of Heliopolis, Megahed shared the very beginning of the story. His Facebook status contained a joke: "Do you know this girl? Yes? Are you friends on Facebook? No! Then you don't know her."
After the many "shares" and "likes" he received for this status, Megahed started contemplating the idea and collecting insights later to become this piece of work he's sharing. As he explained to the audience, it was nearly finished before the revolution and had no prophecies or insinuations about this possibility, but was merely a look at the Egyptian style of using Facebook.
Spending hours on the internet, Megahed mixes designs and pictures in a book that he fills with his own interpretation of what is implied by each of Facebook’s diverse features, such as comments, likes, statuses and many others.
"A post is evaluated by the number of comments and likes it receives," Megahed shared in his book, explaining that the title of the book 36 Likes and 12 Comments is just trying to give an impression of popularity, but there is no particular meaning to the numbers 36 or 12.
One section in the book takes a sarcastic look at how different people deal with their Facebook profiles, choosing photos and what to include or not include, interests and other elements to make it as unique as the individual can, yet sending common messages in between the lines about relationships and other personal matters.
Another section, "Facebook Saying" is all about jokes that include Facebook material, such as "don't trust a girl despite the many comments and likes" and the like. "Nudges," chat and "pokes" also received their own sections, also one about "the etiquette of removing."
The "Facebook in History" section imagines a funny Pharaonic or Greek world in which Facebook had existed, where kings and queens have profiles and make conversations. It also imagines Facebook in advertising in the middle of the 20th century, using the themes of cigarette and nightclub advertising that existed then in Egypt, with Facebook as the hero.
Megahed also tracks the behaviours of various types of people: those who befriend everyone, those who are seeking a particular woman, some who live on "copy and paste" and many other behaviours Egyptians are used to in dealing with on Facebook.
Megahed also diagnoses some Facebook diseases, such as "unintentional likes," "narcissism," "low activity" and others.
A few Facebook poems are included, with funny notes, such as the thoughts of a Facebooker whose girlfriend left him, removed their pictures from Facebook and wrote "single" as her relationship status, leading him to decide to write a note and tag her in it.
To give one solid example of localisation of Facebook use, Megahed discusses the tendency to use photos instead of Facebook notes to share things, given that photos are shared and spread much faster, they are used with huge comments and multiple tags to spread the message, instead of the notes which were originally intended for this reason.
For a while after publishing the book, Megahed had doubts about his own profile as a result of the complete focus on those of other people, wondering what would be the reaction upon seeing posts and feeds, feeling that maybe some people were watching him and tracking his activity.
Megahed admits the book was nearly completed before the revolution, and that he had in mind the idea of adding a section on that matter, but he stopped at the few pages on the possibility of nationalising Facebook.
Imagine if the revolution had failed and Facebook was blocked in revenge against the population - it would have resulted in another kind of revolution, Megahed believes.
The book was described by Emad El-Adly, the cultural consultant of Alef Bookstores, as "an entertaining and enjoyable read," reminding the audience about the old idea that the Facebook generation was nothing but airheads, worried about cyber-chat and the latest fashions, and how the revolution seems to have changed this. This turned to the conversation into a political discussion.
El-Adly asked whether, with the rising religious current, new laws could be enacted that would restrict freedoms related to the internet, and what reaction this would have. Megahed could not predict what would happen, but guessed it would not be well-received.
"The conservative environment resulting from religious rule is probably going to be the problem, not so much the laws," commented artist Waleed Taher, who was a guest speaker at the book signing, explaining that this could force a certain conservative style and taste that would eventually be adopted by the public.