I took on Facebook one last time in this week’s Perpetual Post. See Akie’s response as soon as it’s up on Monday at midnight.
I think I know what it must have felt like for the people who hated television when it was in its infant stages. They probably recognized that this was the direction in which the world was headed, and that this new phenomenon was only going to become more and more popular. But that knowledge didn’t stop them from hating it, and from feeling sad as they watched it become more omnipresent every day.
It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about Facebook. I think a large part of the problem is that every time I visited the site when I was a member, I got the distinct feeling that I was indulging some sort of guilty pleasure. And not a fun, silly guilty pleasure, like watching a Lifetime made-for-TV movie or eating an entire plate full of hot wings. I love that kind of guilty pleasure, but this felt different. It was a dirty, wrong kind of pleasure, like stepping on a worm on the sidewalk or cutting someone off in traffic.
Not only did it feel like a bad guilty pleasure, but it also felt kind of like walking down a high-school corridor, lined with lockers and filled with frenetic teenagers. Suddenly, you were back in a world in which it was ok to make snap judgments, to snoop around and find dirt on people and then talk about it; to base your opinions of others on superficial criteria. Suddenly, I felt like I was in an adolescent echo chamber, and none of the echoes were particularly worthwhile, and many were simply cries for attention. This may not be everyone’s experience with Facebook, but can you see why I wanted out?
Even if your Facebook friends really are your actual friends, which I think is dubious for many, the types of exchanges the website fosters are the social equivalent of Cheetos; tasty at first, but also dry, artificial, and not particularly nourishing. Don’t think so? Here’s a typical Facebook exchange, re-imagined as an actual face-to-face conversation between three people:
Bob: “I am a fan of Cheese.”
Jill: “I like this.”
Pete: “I have given Bob a pretend Rum and Coke.”
Bob: “On Saturday I am going to this party.”
Is this where technology has brought us? Is this how far we’ve come? I think people probably had more interesting conversations with telegraphs.
Facebook’s utter ubiquity is also a large part of the driving force behind its popularity. After all, how could something be bad or harmful if everyone is using it? You might be wasting hours of your sweet young life on Facebook every day, but so is everyone else, so it must be ok. You might question the usefulness of giving someone a flower that doesn’t exist for them to plant in their virtual Facebook garden, but that’s just what people are doing these days, so it must have some validity.
I am also astounded by the way in which Facebook manages to make us look at data through the wrong end of a telescope. The notion of saving the rainforest is reduced to a vehicle to get people to download applications which enable them to plant more worthless virtual flowers. You join the cause to fight world hunger with the same level of interest and concentration you use while taking a test to find out what kind of Pirate you would be. Things that matter in the real world are reduced to empty, baseless concepts.
On the flip side, trivial information is given the star treatment and insignificant facts are trumpeted to the skies. On Facebook, commenting that you are sleepy, or in the mood for a muffin, or that you partied way too hard last weekend, is expected—and is bound to be recognized and commented on by numerous people. Terse, staccato snippets of conversation rule the day, and all the while, the amount of useful information we are really learning about each other, and our actual closeness to one another, continues to stagnate.
Human beings love drama; they love gossip, they love secrets and allies and conflicts. Facebook provides them with all of those things, and more—but at a price. It sets the stage for a living, breathing soap opera, and in return, it gives our lives the same amount of depth, dignity and meaning as you would find on an episode of General Hospital. Devotees to the site, I’m sure, would like to tell me that I don’t have to be a member of Facebook if I hate it so much, and they’re right. I just wish more people would question exactly why they do choose to be members.
March 31, 2009 at 4:21 pm
I largely agree, but I am now friends with my mom on Facebook. It feels wrong to me to cancel my membership, and by extension, my friendship with my mom. I somehow think she would take it personally.
March 31, 2009 at 5:30 pm
once again, you’ve hit the nail on the… face.
April 1, 2009 at 6:28 am
Agreed also. But!
1. Events! (Because who uses evite anymore?)
2. Photos! (OMG YR BABIEZ R SOOOO CUTE)
I just can’t throw access to these things away. Also, I communicate with my sister like twice as much now because of it.
April 4, 2009 at 4:08 am
I am agreeing with Marck. My mum has joined the ranks and thinks its fabulous.
You can de-friend their mom? Only a meany-face.
April 21, 2009 at 8:29 pm
I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Fbook. I took a class about 3 years ago that surveyed the internet in American culture. My professor thought it would die out after a few years. I couldn’t imagine it then, but it has certainly died for me! I barely use it anymore, and I’m as astonished as you about its ubiquity.
However, like you mentioned in your TV analogy, maybe it’s still in its primitive phase. All of the seemingly ‘pointless’ things like virtual plants are valid in that they ARE experiments, at least. Pioneering any new territory requires experimenting in all (even pointless) directions in order to find the direction that works. Plus virtual plants are novel, and all these pointless virtual social interactions are happening so much because there’s next to nothing at stake for the people performing them!
Maybe the online social dynamic is set up in such a way that exacerbates people’s fear of being alone and out of touch. So all this lo-stakes attention-grabbing is what people are doing to survive! So yeah, what direction is this heading???
Then there’s Second Life. The deeper, sub rosa, anonymous Facebook.