human behavior

Adios Facebook

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Habits & Manners by humanb on June 5, 2010

“I need friends that I can scratch and sniff.” – Dr. Roger Fransecky in Are 5,001 Friends One Too Many?

So I quit Facebook, the #1 most visited website on the internet. I didn’t ‘deactivate’. Nope, that’s a trap. When you de-activate, nothing is deleted and all that changes is your profile picture to a gray human silhouette. This inevitably leads to your Facebook ‘friends’ enquiring via email as to why on earth you abandoned your precious Facebook account. And the moment you inadvertently reply to a Facebook-related email alert, everything becomes reactivated as if you’ve never left.

So no, I actually quit Facebook.

Of course, Facebook is sneaky. It’s almost impossible to navigate to the page that lets you quit entirely. I had to Google “How to quit Facebook” to find the link.

And even after you’ve quit, it takes two weeks of inactivity on your part for the deletion to become certain. If you inadvertently click on any Facebook-related link during that time, all bets are off. You’re reactivated sucka! This makes me wonder if my information is ever truly deleted.

Well it’s been two weeks now. I can’t be sure my information has been deleted, but I won’t take the risk of checking, for fear I’ll be reactivated like some iRobot who’s been programmed to poke people and send electronic teddy bears. So I’ve deleted the Facebook App from my iPhone.

Facebook was invented by two undergraduates at Harvard. I remember the original Harvard Face Book. It was a slim, black and white A2 booklet filled with the names, pictures, addresses and high schools of each student in the incoming freshman class. A small minority of the students would refuse to submit a photo, and in the place of their faces would be a standard black-and-white moustached avatar. These were the few who thought themselves too cool for such things, or who were desperate to appear mysterious.

The arrival of the Freshman Face Book was a moment of great excitement, as that yearbook-like volume contained the basic information of the people who would inhabit your universe for the next four years. These were not mere profiles to browse. These were the people with whom you’d eat, sleep, study, war and mature. Among these would be your friends, lovers and enemies.

In that original Freshman Face Book I would find a best friend (who remains so 16 years later), a coming-of-age lover (who I gratefully haven’t seen since graduation), and a spiritual partner with whom I’d travel across physical and mystical terrain after graduation, from Savannah to Jerusalem. (Those travels have ended, but their impact remains.) Interestingly, the latter two boys were among those who had refused to show their faces in that Freshman Face Book, and I had predictably and dutifully found them both cool and mysterious. All three of these people have shaped me, and in ways more positive than negative, more deep than shallow. They’ve matured me.

These three Face Book friends mattered.

I’ve always been a loner. I’ve never managed to maintain at any one time more than 1.5 female friends (one regular, one irregular) and 1.5 male friends (one romantic, one platonic). And yet according to Facebook, I had over 200 friends and counting. This always annoyed me.

I would often be flattered but bemused when someone from my past would befriend me – particularly when the overwhelming majority of such people were barely acquaintances or known only by name. In truth, quite a few of them I didn’t remember at all, but if they remembered me, I felt I should thank them for once noticing me when I failed to notice them. So I accepted their ‘friendship’. Of course I would also be frustrated by the fact that my manners compelled me to accept all friend requests – including those from people I did remember and wished I didn’t. It seemed too cruel to reject someone who offered me reconciliation. It takes some degree of courage after all, and what harm would it do to add someone to a meaningless list?

As the list of ‘friends’ began to grow, I began to feel exposed. I was never one of those girls to post provocative pictures of herself  in a bikini, or pictures of herself at a fantastic party having an amazing time with a multitude of best friends who adore her. I tended to post pictures of street scenes and Obama events in Sydney. My last photo upload was more personal: a few pictures of me with Aussie footy players who visited my hospital one happy day.

I was also never one of those people who posted the minutiae of her daily life: what I just ate, what I just saw on TV, what I just thought to myself after some random person did some random thing.  I tended to post links to political articles in order to spread my center-left positions on issues I deemed of social import. But no one was reading those. Very occasionally, I might put up a status, only to regret having shared a private thought with 200 people I didn’t really know.

Facebook is the lamest kind of voyeurism. You read someone’s status updates and surf through their pictures and wall posts to try to get some sense of who they are. But you only do this to see how understanding them can help you better understand yourself. You’re making comparisons. You want to know how you’ve stood the test of time, how you rate on scales of beauty, success and popularity. That’s lame in itself, but it’s even lamer when you consider that the voyeurism isn’t true. Everyone shapes their profile to reflect the person they want to show to the world. They choose and Photoshop their pictures carefully. They contemplate their status updates, they edit their wall posts, they craft their list of favorite things, they build their friends list to a respectable number that bears no resemblance to their true popularity. Of course how someone has shaped their online persona does say something about her, but even this is a far less reliable way to understand someone than a face-to-face conversation. I miss those.

Facebook defenders will no doubt argue that the online social networking engine enables you to connect to people who you can’t connect with face-to-face. This was certainly my reason for joining, seeing as I live on the other/under-side of the planet now. But I found that the only times in which I truly did connect to people, were when we used Facebook’s mail feature or when we ignored Facebook altogether and used regular email once the connection was established. That’s telling I think.

Since I left Facebook, one of my Facebook friends, who happened to have been a face in my original Harvard Face Book, had trouble contacting me. He was traveling all the way down here to Sydney from the U.S. and wanted to re-connect, but with my Facebook account deleted, he had no idea how to contact me. So he Googled me, and to both our surprise, the results included multiple references to me as well as my email address. Problem solved.

This is the 21st century. If someone wants to find you, he can. If you really matter to him, he will.

Now that I’ve left Facebook and the persona I created there, I feel like myself again. I feel free. I fee like I have a private life. I feel like the contact I have with others is limited, but meaningful. I even feel cool.

And a little mysterious. 😉

UPDATE: Darn. Now I have ‘but’ face (BTVS reference): Mom Finds Missing Kids After 15 Years Using Facebook.

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5 Responses

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  1. bcrowderjackson said, on June 6, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    That is funny! You hermit! lol I love Facebook! It gives me a chance to speak to people I would normally ignore! lol

    • humanb said, on June 7, 2010 at 2:55 am

      I know you do, and your status updates were among the more entertaining. Different strokes for different folks. 😉

  2. Anonymous said, on June 7, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Yeah it is rather annoying . . . that is why I posted, I am making toast on April 19. I admit, I don’t like it for myself but it is very good to snoop on others (smile). I’m making toast again.

  3. humanb said, on June 13, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Yeah, but that’s the thing. It’s not real snooping when the people on Facebook are selectively making things public. It’s like reality TV. The people know they’re on camera and behave accordingly. Also, when you read about someone’s life on Facebook, you speculate wildly about what their life must be like. In the end, you’re probably wrong. You can’t really know someone unless you actually talk to them.

  4. Terri Meeker said, on October 19, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    You wrote this a long time ago, but I revisit this post every now and then when I’m thinking about fb. You make so many excellent points and I love the concept of having genuine interaction with a few people rather than superficial posturing with a lot of people. 🙂

    For me, one of the rare and strange aspects of social media is when a user places more importance on the image of themselves than their actual self. My niece was married to a very narcissistic man for a short while. And this man had the most amazing life, on-line. He was in an up-and-coming rock band that was going to be huge. All the biggest people were interested in him. He was going on a world tour. His youtube video was getting huge play in many LA markets. And yet … you didn’t have to look closely to see what a fabrication it was. That video had less than 30 hits. Even if the ‘LA markets’ were supermarkets, this still wasn’t huge play. The world tour clearly consisted of couch surfing with a few relatives in Idaho and Oregon …

    He still persists with it. As if social media is the reality and he can shout down the reality of his real life. “If you tweat a lie long enough, it becomes truth.”

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