“Facebook is the new smoking. Everyone wants to quit.”
Last weekend we had a brunch at our house and I brought up that I was thinking of leaving Facebook. It was a popular subject, and everyone chimed in, all but one sharing that they too are sick of Facebook (the one who isn’t “uses the internet like an old person,” meaning that he only taps into a tiny bit of it when needed and isn’t aware of the social aspects). When we got to talking about what it is that keeps people on Facebook, the two reasons I heard were 1) to create events and keep in the loop about events, and 2) organizing and participating in groups. After we’d been talking (okay, bitching) about Facebook for 10 minutes or so, Lucas pointed something really interesting out. None of us were thinking of leaving Facebook because of the thought experiments or the browser tracking or the targeted ads (you know, the stuff we should actually be concerned about). Everyone was sick of it because it was a time suck, or because they didn’t like the reality it created for them.
Back in the olden days, aka 2004, people I knew referred to time spent socializing in chat rooms, playing Sims, and cruising Myspace as something of a diversion; an interesting, slightly nerdy (in the case of Sims and chat rooms) or needy (in the case of Myspace) pastime in a false or manufactured reality. Nowadays, it’s easier to spend more time in online social networks than it is to go out and have coffee with friends. The internet’s social scene is, to put it mildly, robust. And it’s hard to say that it’s any less real than an actual gathering in the physical world. It’s different, to be sure; you can gather in one place at one time with people who are actually very far from you physically. Some of you can be in pajamas, some can be dressed to the nines, and some could be naked, for all you know. Even time itself is not a factor; conversations can take days to unfold, as new people find the conversation and join in, and original contributors who might not have internet connection for a couple of days rejoin the banter. Very real friendships can form online, and big grudges and hurts can be birthed there, as well.
Recently a friend of mine planned a get together with a few of us. Everyone responded enthusiastically. As the date neared, people started bailing one by one. When it got down to the last few hours before the event, all but two of us had bowed out. She wound up canceling the event, and I know that must have been a bummer for her. But to add insult to injury, some of the very same people who had canceled started posting pictures: out on the town, with other friends, having fun at whatever event they chose to attend over hers. That’s shitty. In no way would you or I find it acceptable to cancel on a friend’s invitation last minute, and then the next time we saw her, brag to her what a great night we had that same night and show her a bunch of pictures as proof. But that’s how things work these days. Facebook has somehow made it ok for us all to become wafflers and assholes. And I don’t like it.
It comes down to this: I don’t like living in Facebook’s world. I don’t like the rules, or what passes for rules. I don’t like the ethics. I don’t like the behavior that seems to be largely agreed upon as acceptable. I don’t like the trite bumper sticker sayings people post on their walls, and the click bait, and yes, of course when I think about it I absolutely hate the idea of my emotions being manipulated by Facebook (or anyone, for that matter). And from the brunch conversation my friends and I had the other day, I’m not the only one.
I didn’t want this to turn into a rant about Facebook, necessarily. I wanted it to be about what I am seeking in my life now, which is deeper connection. Meaningful connection. Selective connection. The kind of connecting where a friend calls me up and says “I hurt, and I need a friend,” and I am there for them. Not a broadcast all over Facebook lamenting a breakup just to see who responds with sympathy. I want to be a person, and I want to be wanted. I am not just one more to add to your friend list. I am not a smiling face to have in the picture of your event. I am not a body to fill space at your show. I don’t care about your <hugs>. I hate that I care how many likes any of my posts get. No. I want to know you and spend time with you. I want to know myself and spend time with myself. I want you to enjoy knowing me and spending time with me. Facebook is getting in the way of all of that.
How to leave Facebook? All the way? Halfway? Just the tip? I do still think it can be a really powerful tool for keeping in touch with distant friends and organizing groups that include members from all over the world. I think the biggest thing getting under my skin is the way it impedes my personal relationships with my actual friends here in Portland, and interrupts my process of getting to know new people by telling me way too much about them, way too soon. I want friends to hang out with IRL. I don’t want to know everything about what you did last weekend before I see you – I want to sit down over coffee and have you tell me what’s going on in your life, face to face.
Right now I’m going to take a small step towards leaving Facebook. I’m going to unfollow all of my friends here in Portland. And I’m going to stop using Facebook as a way to make plans with local friends. My hope is that in doing so, I will be forced to connect with the people I want to spend time with in a more personal way. A wonderful side benefit will hopefully be that I will spend far less time cruising Facebook seeing what my friends are up to. Instead, I can use it more as a tool for good: staying in touch with distant friends, contributing the the groups I belong to, and staying informed about things that interest me through the pages I follow. And I can find out what’s new in my friend’s lives by, you know, actually talking to them face to face, like the pioneers did.
The final nail in the Facebook coffin was something Lucas said to me last weekend as I was still thinking things through. He said, “I think that when the next generation looks back at all of the great minds that came out of our time, one of the commonalities will be that none of them used social media.” And I agree. Any time spent cruising Facebook out of boredom or unwillingness to face my interior landscape is time completely wasted. I know this is only a small step, but I’m really hoping that it works out well. I might not be one of the great minds of our time, but I’d like to at least have a passing chance at being a decent one.