Sunday, May 16, 2010

Facebook is ridiculous

I was well into my old age (like, 21?) when Facebook appeared, so I never created a Facebook account until earlier this year. I was lured in by the walled garden effect; the Franklin Humanities Institute would post event details on Facebook, and you could only see them if you had an account, so I created one. Then my adorable young cousin friended me and I was sunk, i.e. Facebookified. (I still love you, FHI. You too, Brookie!)

While I've come to be a big fan of Twitter and, of course, blogs, I've never found a reason to relinquish my suspicion of Facebook. Even before the privacy controversies, it always seemed to me that Facebook only gave the illusion of privacy, leaving you with limited control of your identity and none of the advantages of total openness that you get with blogs and Twitter (which is of course simply microblogging).

I also find the "friend" relation on Facebook, frankly, creepy. Facebook requires that this relation be symmetrical; it actively tries to dissolve the distinctions between acquaintances, colleagues, family, and friends. This contrasts with Twitter and RSS feeds (and Zotero), in which you control whom you follow but not who follows you.

Asymmetrical relationships encourage professional connections; I follow my friends and they often follow me back, but I also follow some scholars who have no idea who I am (and that's fine). Some people follow me and I have no idea who they are; that's fine too, because we're not "friends." Twitter is largely for sharing links, so people who subscribe to my Twitter feed generally do so because they want the kinds of things I find interesting to come across their radar. It is, in other words, an intellectual relation. A Twitter connection is primarily formal, not emotional, and that's a good thing.

What a difference between Twitter's asymmetrical "following" and the ways Facebook tries to guilt you into being "friends" with everybody you've ever known or could plausibly know. The classic example is being Facebook "friends" with your parents--always an awkward thing, even if you get along well with your parents, because after all, a parent is something other than and beyond a friend. A whole bunch of French Canadian C├ęcires, charming people but of no known relation to me, have tried to friend me on Facebook. Of course! That's how Facebook works; that's how "friending" works. Nobody would ever follow my Twitter feed on the basis of a surname. On the basis of tweet contents (limerick, a mention of Marianne Moore, the use of a conference hashtag), yes. A possible genealogical connection, no.

I never posted much of anything on Facebook (I think I made two status updates: one to post a CFP and one to say that I was deactivating my account). I deactivated my account a few weeks ago, which isn't the same as deleting the account. I think my short and apathetic tenure on Facebook has me fairly safe, although of course I could be kidding myself (Byzantine instructions for actually deleting an account are linked below).

Typical of its penchant for confusing the personal with business, Facebook attempts some pretty funny emotional manipulation when you deactivate an account. Below, I'm told that a friend from college; my best friend from second grade, now an actor in L.A.; a good local friend; my sister-in-law; and my youngest brother are going to miss me. They won't be able to keep in touch with me.

It could be just me, but it strikes me that if the only thing keeping me in touch with someone is Facebook, then that person is not going to miss me, and I'm not going to miss them either. I think my friends and family and I are going to manage.

Some recent Facebook-related links:


Anonymous said...

however, Linda will in fact miss you (and your like clicks and occasional snarky comment) on Facebook.

Natalia said...

Ha. Well, I have a blog and a Twitter feed, and I would actually see you in real life if my voice would ever come back.

Anonymous said...

So true, facebook is not the only source of communication and it's manipulation in making a person feel so is just plain stupid.

siam said...

Thank you so, so much.
I just deleted my FB account (well, I should say I only "deactivated" it...) and I couldn't precisely put in words why I did it.
Reading your post made it more clear (while I have also other griefs against FB and its fans)

But, thank you for providing the link to "how permanently delete" a FB account.
When I deactivated mine, I felt like it was strange that the system told me that if I change my mind, I'll just have to sign up again with my e-mail address...

And thanks for the laugh at how FB tries to play on the guilt with all our (so-called) friends or family missing us..yadayadayada...

Rain Wilber said...

I always love reading articles about how Facebook is not the "all in all" That is an important peice of information to keep in mind as we experience this part of collective evolution (let us all face the fact that this piece of 'social software' is important {right now} to many members of society.

I deleted my acount a few times, but now I just maintain a slim profile (don't say anything) and have a profile picture that mocks Facebook by saying: "Facebook = illusion" . That is just encouragement for people stuck on there that think Facebook is more important than their own hearts.