Remember when I said I didn’t need a social network? Okay, maybe you don’t remember. I likely don’t have a lot of regular readers and those I do have probably don’t recall some vague post I made on the social networking phenomenon back in 2008. Yet, somehow I seem to have found myself on Facebook.
Those social networking psychologists, they sure are tricky. They hit me at my Achilles Heel. I take pride in not having a whole lot of friends but some of the friends I do have are on Facebook. Some of them (I won’t mention any names) kept persisting month after month by sending me these electronic invitations to join Facebook. Sometimes they actually sent me personal emails to try to convince me to join. Think of how much better we’ll be connected, they told me.
One day a few months ago, it just became easier for me to join Facebook than it was to decline and hurt my friends’ feelings yet again. The peer pressure finally got to me. I had hardly set up my account on Facebook before my sister and one of my friends started chatting away with me in Facebook. For a brief moment, I was impressed. I never got this much attention from them until I joined them in the Facebook enclave. I could feel the love.
Now they knew I kept up on every aspect of their lives, or at least those parts they were willing to post in Facebook. Ah, and there’s the rub. I wasn’t on more than a couple hours before I started tinkering with Facebook’s privacy settings. How much about myself was I willing to share with the world? I quickly decided: as little as possible. Would I be like many on Facebook and have hundreds or thousands of friends? Would I keep up with the friend of someone I know vaguely from church? No way! I decided that if I were going to share things about myself on Facebook then they would have to be a real friend, not some casual acquaintance.
So my list of friends is unimpressive. I regularly decline or ignore friend requests because, quite frankly, I consider them acquaintances, not friends. I currently have twenty-five friends, and nine of them are relatives, which means I have only 14 real Facebook friends. The good part is that all my Facebook friends are real friends. They are people I have interacted significantly with in real life, who I want to keep in touch with (albeit not necessarily every day) and whose opinions I respect. Frankly, I didn’t know I had that many friends.
In some cases, they are now distant friends. They include a now 37-year-old woman who nearly a quarter century ago was our foster child and who rarely got more from me than a Christmas card with a family newsletter. Now I get to read her daily psychic horoscope. They include some cyber friends who I actually have met in person over the years but otherwise rarely chat with regularly. They include some former coworkers who I liked so much we traded email addresses when I left. In addition, they include a couple current coworkers with whom my relationship is more than superficial.
Still, even with my privacy settings up to very high, just how much about myself am I willing to post on Facebook? It turns out: not a whole lot. If I have marital issues, I’m not going to tell them about it via Facebook. I’m not even going to tell my family, but if I do it will probably be over a landline or in person and certainly not on Facebook. What sort of interesting stuff am I willing to share with my friends? I link them to a Jon Stewart video. I tell them I painted the garage door this weekend. I ask for vacation suggestions. It’s very innocuous stuff.
It is true that via Facebook that I am learning things about my friends that I would probably not otherwise know. Renee is looking to rent her townhouse and escape to third world countries. My nephew got a new set of glasses. Sometimes I learn interesting things. What is lacking is the sort of intimate details that you might glean over a cup of coffee. It seems my Facebook friends understand that posts on Facebook could come back to haunt them if they are not careful. With Facebook free to change its terms of service anytime it wants, it’s best to keep conversation pretty superficial. Who knows what future employer might check me out in Facebook and find out I was recently in the hospital for clinical depression? (Umm, I wasn’t really, at least as far as you know, but you get the idea.)
I have also joined a few Facebook groups and fan sites, but for the most part, I don’t have the time to delve into these groups. They are mainly means to alert my friends about what interests me. I do tend to check Facebook most days because it comes up as a browser tab automatically, but sometimes I forget. Moreover, as I use Facebook more often, I find it less and less compelling.
The truth is, I regret getting on Facebook. My instincts were correct. I am not yet courageous enough to close my account. Why? I am a weenie. I don’t like confrontation. For my friends might feel that if I closed my account, I don’t think learning the details of their lives are that important. While I appreciate those nuggets I have learned about my friends, Facebook has a high signal to noise ratio. At best maybe five percent of the things I learn about my friends truly engages me.
I also find plenty of things that annoy me about Facebook. What annoys me the most is simply its commercial nature. Of course, Facebook needs to make a profit, so they throw ads at me in the right sidebar. They want me to rate ads on whether I like or do not like them. Like hell. The last thing I am going to do is volunteer more information about how to successfully market to me.
As for its user interface, I have to wonder if a bunch of trolls created it. Truly, it is baffling confusing. Perhaps it is one of these interfaces that if you have been in it for a few years would make complete sense. There are endless notifications. You have a home page, but you also have a wall, and it’s unclear what the difference is. I find myself posting stuff on other people’s walls that I should have put on mine because pages can’t be customized, so they all look the same. I can’t edit posts or comments. It reminds me of software, like Microsoft Project, that are largely baffling and frustrating for the average user, but who has to use it anyhow. I just don’t get the interface. I find it annoying. What is “Top News”? How does Facebook decide? Why not just show “Most Recent” all the time? Why do I get all these notifications I don’t care about?
My suspicion is that within the next few months I will just give it up. It will have to be done carefully. Perhaps I will go from checking daily to once a week, and then once a month, and then once a quarter. If one of my friends asks, I will sheepishly admit I find the site largely a waste of my time and could they please email me, call me on the phone or meet me for a cup of coffee? Perhaps if there were a non-commercial version of Facebook that actually was usable, I would migrate to it.
I frankly don’t understand the fuss about Facebook. If it died tomorrow, I would be fine and even happy. I would not miss it at all. I hope that enough people who agree with me will find the courage I currently lack, and just get off it altogether. Facebook, like other technologies like Twitter, or for that matter Craigslist’s Casual Encounters section, I find to be largely a waste of my time.