We read them every day in our Facebook feed. “I can’t right now,” my former student proclaims. “I don’t understand the decision-making process,” a colleague writes delphically one morning. A famous writer tops quips with an ominous “Bored. Waiting on 10 things.”
Stripped of context, these status messages befuddle and intrigue readers at the same time. We have had a word for this: “vaguebooking.”
Defined by Urban Dictionary in 2009 as an “intentionally vague Facebook status update that prompts friends to ask what’s going on or is possibly a cry for help,” the vaguebook is perceived as the needy, less hip counterpart to the “subtweet,” in which someone is dissed anonymously on Twitter, and the “supertweet,” dubbed in a recent story in The Atlantic by Ian Boghost as a tweet “meaning to be clear to everyone, but to feign concealment from its target.” Boghost cites Azealia Banks’ sidelong tweet about “Igloo Australia” (i.e., Iggy Azalea) in the wake of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown killings as “the most famous supertweet.”
Vaguebooking’s reputation has has reached rock bottom in the past couple of months. Unlike “shade,” celebrated in the New York Times as “the art of the sidelong insult,” vaguebooking has been met with almost universal revulsion. Tech blogger Dave Parrack shot one of the first salvos a couple years ago with “What Is This Imbecilic Art of Vaguebooking?” in 2012, and the anti-vaguebook has only intensified. The Tumblr Vaguebook.org (its tagline reads, simply, “ugh”) showcases screenshots with such vague classics as “Sometimes it’s not what you expect, but it’s ok,” “Feeling irritated and annoyed by certain people,” and that old chestnut, “Sometimes you have to learn to just walk away when things are not healthy.”
But I am here to suggest that vaguebooking deserves a second look, not only as a valid way to communicate, but to keep our privacy. It’s already happening: Results from a study released this past March by the MRS Delphi Group revealed that teenagers, far from oversharing, now take an active role in safeguarding their privacy by “dirtying their data” with “social coding” such as in-jokes, false personal data or, yes, vaguebooking, all so their messages are understood only by their intended audience.
I have some bonus stuff as well, which I post soon.