Something Facebook-related happened today, and since I closed my account three months ago, it was time for an update.
This morning, one of my former coworkers emailed me to let me know that another former coworker had died recently. She very helpfully included some information, including a link to his memorial website, which mentions that his family and friends are posting photographs to his Facebook page.
We weren’t close, but I still wanted to see the photos and remember him a little. This exemplifies the only thing I really resent about Facebook. It functions just as it is supposed to – show these things to only these people, and exclude the rest – but in the case of someone’s death, the assumption is that only the person’s closest friends are the ones who want to say goodbye.
Otherwise, I am not suffering from FOMO. My social life is just fine. I am lucky that I have had a website for a while, so folks can find me if they look. But if they are not around to look …
Last Friday, I deactivated my Facebook account. I have been complaining about Facebook for a while now, so it was time for action. I opted for deactivation first before deletion because I wanted to see how a trial breakup would go. As it turns out, Facebook will still keep and mine my data! So hooray. Except the opposite of that.
To be clear, Facebook isn’t evil, but it is a deeply flawed tool, and my use of it was making me more negative, paranoid, passive-aggressive, and a whole host of other things I do not want to be. I feel sad yet certain that I need to add this disclaimer: this post is about me and my opinion of Facebook. Perhaps you will relate to it, and perhaps not. I am not advising that you quit Facebook. Your comments, as always, are encouraged.
Now that that is out of the way, here are some of the reasons why I left …
Status updates, photos, “likes”, and links are not the most valuable parts of someone’s persona. The assumption that they are is a dangerous one; people not immediately engaged with Facebook are forgotten about quickly in this fast-paced, information-dense world. Facebook itself helps with this amnesia by providing a news feed option that only shows updates from people one interacts with the most. These self-perpetuating blinders are clique-enforcing, not community-building. Since I already use better tools for communicating with cliques – like Twitter, Plurk, and Flickr – dealing with Facebook’s news feed and messaging is a consistent waste of my time. I would rather spend that time actually interacting with friends.
Speaking of friends, the concept of friendship as interpreted by Facebook is so removed from its offline counterpart that I often hear people distinguish between “friends” and “Facebook friends” in conversation. I understand that language is mutable, but I take issue with the use of “friend” for “contact” when they are obviously not interchangeable. Has friendship already changed in the wake of blurred terminology? Perhaps I am just shaking my fist at the kids on my metaphorical lawn here, but I believe that the decline of nuanced language impacts nuanced thought.
Related to the friend issue is “de-friending”, or severing Facebook ties with someone else. De-friending is done silently, absolving the de-friender from the awkward friend-breakup. Is this an acceptable type of social lying, or is it connected to the dilution of friendship? I have been both the de-friended and the de-friender, and I can see no long-term benefit to this type of anonymity. De-friending isn’t even its most objectionable incarnation. Far more worrisome are sites like AboutEveryone.com, where people can leave anonymous comments about Facebook users, and BreakupNotifier.com, which alerts a user when the object of one’s affection changes relationship status.
I shouldn’t be all that surprised at the ethical ambiguities around Facebook. After all, it is a product of a company interested in mining and monetizing personal data, and it changes its core functionality because of this, regardless of usability and in open defiance of privacy. (Who could forget last year’s privacy fiasco, or that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that the age of privacy is over?) Perhaps the most insidious part of Facebook is how it preys on the desire to be a part of a larger community, invited to events, up on all the latest music and movies, and visibly connected to people one admires. One of the reasons why I did not want to leave is because I knew I would no longer be listed on FunkyPlaid’s profile as his spouse. It had no bearing on our actual relationship, but it felt like it did. That is how much the mentality of belonging permeated my life.
It has been almost a week. My Twitter usage has increased as I find myself replying to people in lieu of “liking” their Facebook status updates. I have a hell of a lot more free time, which is time I should have been spending on homework and writing anyway. And I am hyper-aware that now I only see part of the conversation, but I tell myself that when my friends want to connect with me, they know where to find me.
How much do I love information? So much. How much do I love using Facebook’s craptilious interface to get that information? Not much. Hi, PostPost. You let me filter my Facebook stream by links, pictures, or videos. Therefore I like you a lot. Not love yet. But like.
I know this is an old and tired subject, but it has been on my mind all day, and I am participating in NaBloPoMo so I don’t have time to talk myself out of writing it.
Today I posted a note on my Facebook profile stating that while WordPress, Tumblr, and Twitter would be automatically updating my wall, I would not be present. Thus I began my Facebook vacation.
I don’t hate Facebook, but I dislike the false knowledge I glean from it, the pretense of knowing who my contacts are by reading arbitrary updates, photos, and links they post. I also wonder about the reverse: which assumptions are my contacts making about me from my blurbs?
Eventually I will return, but not without reconsidering Facebook’s importance in my life, and severely limiting the time I spend with it.
Has Facebook changed your life?
It wasn’t a compliment when an acquaintance told me that I live more of my life online than anyone else she knows. These words have been haunting me lately as I examine my life and my priorities. Then I read “Facebook Exodus” on NYTimes.com, this quote in particular:
“The more dependent we allow ourselves to become to something like Facebook — and Facebook does everything in its power to make you more dependent — the more Facebook can and does abuse us,” Harmsen explained by indignant e-mail. “It is not ‘your’ Facebook profile. It is Facebook’s profile about you.”
Facebook isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, online community to be abandoned en masse. Will we divulge even more of ourselves via the next, or will we begin to withdraw in favor of offline connection?
In this episode, Matt and I discuss Facebook and Twitter. I also misuse the word “demographic”, overuse the words “literally” and “honestly”, and make up a whole new word – “foresaw” for the past tense of “foresee”. There, now I don’t have to tweet about it!
We graciously accept requests for future topics, so leave a comment if you have something you are dying for us to dissect.
[Edited to add: A kind commenter pointed out that “foresaw” is a word after all! Serves me right for using a pocket dictionary offline.]