In Defense of Mundane Details

I think Facebook is fun. Let me emphasize that I am not saying this to start  a debate about Facebook per se–why people should or should not be on Facebook, issues of privacy, what you think of the new layout, etc. I realize it’s not for everyone, for a variety of reasons, and I don’t want to hash that out here.

What I want to specifically talk about is a particular criticism of Facebook (or social networking in general) I’ve seen multiple times which I find somewhat jarring. It goes something like this: “I don’t want to hear about the mundane details of people’s lives. I don’t have time for such inanities.” In almost any article about Facebook, you can count on the fact that several smug-sounding people will appear in the comment section to brag that they aren’t among the masses of ridiculous people on Facebook who need to share what they ate for breakfast. (Or to assert that they have Real Lives and so don’t need to waste their time with virtual relationships, despite the fact that here they are online making comments to people whom they don’t know.)

These kinds of complaints frequently seem to see such minor chit-chat as getting in the way of Things That Matter, things which are Important. But when I look at the relationships in my life, including the ones that matter most to me, they largely consist of . . . the sharing of small life details. Sure, they also include serious conversations about difficult personal issues, discussions of challenging intellectual questions, and so forth. But it’s that regular sharing of those mundane details that keeps the relationships going.

The dismissal of small life details as unimportant also grates on me in that it reminds me of traditional gender stereotypes which portray women as the ones who go on and on about the trivial things in life, much to the dismay of the stoic male. In this paradigm, men, don’t “chatter” or “prattle,” don’t waste their time discussing such silly matters as who is mad at whom, or where the neighbors are planning to spend their vacation, or this crazy thing that happened to Sister-So-and-So the other day while she was driving to work. Rather, their conversations are Weighty and Serious (i.e., about topics that men find important). When I see studies which suggest that even in settings where men talk more, women are likely to be perceived as talking more, I wonder whether along with the problem of the (frequently debunked) stereotype that women are more talkative, this perception might be tied to a sense that female conversation is more trivial.

But regardless of the gender dynamics at work here–and I’ve certainly seen the “I’m too sophisticated to talk on Facebook” attitude from both sexes–I have to ask: what would it really be like to live in a world in which no one spoke until they had something profound or deeply meaningful to say? Some might view this as a utopia, but I have a hard time imagining any kind of thriving relationship based on this kind of approach to communication. For me, it’s precisely the small details, the random thoughts, and of course the pervasive silliness, that make me appreciate places like Facebook.

I was actually first enticed into signing up several years ago because of the number of Bloggernaclers there. Which on the face of it sounds somewhat odd–if the primary way you know people is online, one might ask, why would you seek out yet another online forum in which to talk to them?  After years of interacting with people on blogs, I often already know a lot about them, and often very personal stuff–their religious perspectives, and sometimes even their most challenging life struggles. But one of the appealing things about seeing bloggers in a different online context lies precisely in that you get more of those supposedly unimportant mundane details, that you see more day-to-day bits of people’s lives. When you have that, I think it’s harder to simply demonize those with whom you disagree.

My siblings are scattered around the country. We keep in touch in a variety of ways–we talk on the phone, we email, we have regular chats, and (of course) we blog. But one of the things I miss most about not being in close geographical proximity isn’t the long, complex conversations (as we seem to manage to still have those, at least occasionally). I miss the connection that comes from hearing regularly about the bits and pieces of their lives.

So I say, bring on the mundane details. I want to hear them.

Note: Thou shalt not hijack this conversation into an argument about other aspects of Facebook, lest ye stir up the wrath of the Bouncer.


  1. I had Grapes Nuts Flakes (GNF) for breakfast this morning. They are my favorite cereal of all time. But I’m really cheap, so I only buy cereal that’s on sale. So when GNF goes on sale about twice a year, you’ll see about 17 boxes of it scattered around my house. 🙂 I really, really love that stuff.

    Also, my favorite grocery store stopped carrying GNF recently, and I was very sad.

    I really do feel like you know me better, now, knowing about my crazy obsession for GNF. 🙂 Long live mundanity!

  2. I’m eating Total Cranberry Crunch for breakfast as I read this, though since we’re out of milk I’m just eating it dry.

    This has something that has long bothered me about the critiques of Facebook (and other social networks) out there, so brava, Lynette! I especially like this bit:

    But one of the appealing things about seeing bloggers in a different online context lies precisely in that you get more of those supposedly unimportant mundane details, that you see more day-to-day bits of people’s lives. When you have that, I think it’s harder to simply demonize those with whom you disagree.

    This is the power of Facebook for me: the different context. Some of that context may be mundane details, but some of it may also be important aspects of a person’s life that I might not otherwise know. I’m Facebook friends with most of my coworkers, and I love getting to see parts of their personal lives via their posts and photos. I think these extra glimpses into their lives and personalities improve our working relationships. My immediate manager, for example, can be incredibly intimidating, which at first made her hard to work with. When we became Facebook friends, though, and I started seeing pictures of her and her fiance on the weekends, recipes for bread she likes to bake, comments on books she’s read, etc, I started to build a more complete social relationship, and, in turn, found her less intimidating and easier to work with.

    I am curious about the possible gender implications here: there are actually more women than men among the daily active users on Facebook, which would seem to reinforce the stereotypes. I’d love to see the stats on what people actually post, though, since in my network I’ve definitely got plenty of men as well as women who frequently post “mundane details.”

  3. I had leftover pad Thai for breakfast.

    Great post. I really like Facebook. I agree that it’s nice to know the little details about people’s lives. And my Bloggernacle participation has been enhanced now that I’m Facebook friends with a lot of the ‘nacclers.

  4. i only post about Very Important Things on facebook, like rolling an entire container of play-doh into tiny balls just to watch my 4-yr-old grand daughter open it.

    and i had salad bar for breakfast because i forgot to eat til lunch time.

  5. Kaimi, you’ve obviously never eaten a pine tree. If you had, you’d know that they’re called Grape Nuts, because they taste like wild hickory nuts.

  6. Here’s a mundane detail: a Latin version of your post title might be something like:

    Apologia pro minutiis mundanis.

    (Lit. “a defense of mundane trifles”).

  7. I totally agree with your argument, Lynnette. I love reading the mundane details of my friends’ lives on Facebook, or hearing about them in person, for that matter. This connection is probably a bit of a stretch, but your point here reminds me somewhat of your Testimony Bearing and Storytelling post from a few years ago. Would we rather hear people bear testimony of Very Important Abstract Propositional Statements, or would we rather hear the stories of how they came to believe? Similarly, I think the stories of our friends’ lives (and our lives as they get mixed together) are made up mostly of mundane details (with perhaps a dash of Very Important Things).

  8. Ziff, I actually thought of that post as well. I’m all for abstract discussion–heck, it’s much of what I do academically–but I’m suspicious at the extent to which it gets privileged, especially if it’s used as a way to dismiss all other kinds of conversation.

    I currently have nine boxes of cereal on top of my fridge. None of them are Grape Nuts, nor will they ever be. If I wanted to eat gravel, I would just go outside and get it.

    Kevin, I think I’d classify that as a “completely random” detail. Which are also very important; I can’t imagine a family conversation without them.

    Petra, exactly. Getting to know people in a more complete context can really make a difference. I’ve actually found some bloggernaclers less intimidating after I’ve met them in person and realized that actually they’re lunatics just like me. 😉

    Keri, I agree–I think the overlap between Facebook and the Bloggernacle has been a good thing for me. Though perhaps not so good for my blogging, since it’s easier to write a status update than an entire post.

    And here is a top-secret mundane detail that might be useful for some of our readers: years ago, when one of Ziff’s kids was younger, he called brownies “gaga.” It’s a name that has stuck. That might not entirely explain Lady Gaga Eating Gaga, but some things in life are simply inexplicable.

  9. my husband is obsessed with grape nuts! i think they resemble chicken feed.

    starfoxy, we need to train our TEETH? i never knew. i bet i have the flabbiest teeth in the world.

    i usually have toast for breakfast. wonderful, wonderful toast.

  10. nat kelly, have you had Grape Nut O’s? They’ve been discontinued for years, but I’m pretty sure they were the cereal of the Gods.

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who likes to read the little bits from people’s lives.

    As far as my own experience with trivialities on Facebook, I have recently learned that my husband’s love for The Wonder Years is more common than I thought, because my Facebook feed had an explosion of joy when it (The Wonder Years) became available for online streaming on Netflix.

  11. Left Field is a wonderful breakfast cook. He prepares something like pancakes, or waffles, or french toast, or egg burritos, or a veggie omelet. I was out of town all last week, and had microwave breakfast sandwiches for breakfast. It wasn’t the same. Just one of several reasons I’m happy to be home.

  12. there are actually more women than men among the daily active users on Facebook

    Conversely, according to this, only 13% of Wikipedia editors are women.

  13. Sad to say, but that only reinforces some of the stereotypes we’re talking about here, where women are social connectors concerned with mundane details and gossip and men are rational factual beings concerned with Very Important Abstract Propositional Statements And the Facts Supporting Them (to paraphrase Ziff).

  14. Petra, that’s what I was thinking too. Do you have any stats on what percentage of active daily users on Facebook are women?

  15. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s daily active users or just monthly active users, but this claims that women are 58% of Facebook’s users, plus 18% of women update their status daily, opposed to 11% of men. There are some other stats out there (I was just Googling things like “Facebook men women,” but I’m not sure how reliable they all are.)

  16. Thanks. Facebook certainly skews female, but not nearly as lopsidedly as Wikipedia skews male.


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