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.