This post is entirely my own, though usually I like to refer to Three Yards with the “royal we,” so bear that in mind.
One of my Twitter devotees, @JennCloud (great local St. Louis Internet denizen, found here) posted a link today to a story called “Now is the Time to Quit Facebook” and I immediately rose up on my social media soapbox.
The article talks about a website called http://www.im-not-on-facebook.com/, where users can buy t-shirts, mugs, and other assorted paraphernalia decrying their position on social networking. There’s also a Twitter account, @notonfacebook, where users can air their displeasure with Mark Zuckerberg’s ubiquitous network.
What struck me about the article, and its inclusion of the website, was the seemingly baldfaced shilling of crap for profit.
On their website, http://www.im-not-on-facebook.com/, they sell mugs and t-shirts (women’s available in four colors! Crew neck available in five colors and white!) for as little as $10.99 a piece. These rebels have banded together in a Facebook-centric culture focused on oversharing the mundane details of life.
The piece goes on to describe a scenario where the author attends a social gathering, excited to meet a Facebook-only friend. The man was, according to the author, soundly uninteresting; another attendee ended up being a “better friend” of sorts, and a Facebook friend request was not in the cards.
I turned to a woman sitting next to me, who I am not Facebook friends with, and proceeded to chat with her for at least an hour. After dinner she gave me a ride to my bike, which I had left down the street. I didn’t think we’d have so much in common. And I did not go home and friend her on Facebook later. In fact, I am happy not reading her status updates.
I have been a Facebook user since 2005, when it was still restricted to college students only, and even then there was anti-networking sentiment. The same problems that people complain about now existed then; embarrassing photos, misspelled status updates made while inebriated, and so on. My thoughts on the whole “FACEBOOK SUX! I QUIT NAO!” movement are as follows:
1. I have believed, from the very beginning, that Facebook (and all social media outlets, for that matter) are exactly what the user makes of it. Don’t like people seeing embarrassing photos of you? Don’t post them. Don’t take them. Don’t tag yourself in them. These are all options available to you, some added specifically at the request of Facebook users themselves. Don’t want “everyone seeing every little status update?” Don’t post mundane crap. We don’t care if you just had the greatest steak in recorded history, and don’t particularly care to see a photo of it.
2. Every Facebook user is different, because people are, by definition, unique. Like snowflakes.
What this means is everyone uses Facebook differently. In my own personal experience, there are people who use it exclusively for gaming. Some use it for self-promotion. Some, like myself, use it for everything from reading the news to posting funny memes. Also, promoting this awesome website I happen to run. You may have heard of it.
3. If you can’t find a way to use Facebook that you’re comfortable with, leave. The other 800 million users will carry on nicely. There are options, including but not limited to: Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, MeetUp, LinkedIn…oh, and this:
The main argument the article made was that Facebook has begun (and in some places, succeeded) to replace actual interpersonal communication. To me, this just seems to be general laziness. Yes, Facebook reminds you about your friends’ birthdays, and maybe that Timeline post is the only contact the two of you have all year, but it’s better than nothing. If you want interpersonal, make it happen. Pick up the phone. It doesn’t mean you have to make a big stink about how “Facebook is ruining my life!”
Yes, you may have 293 “friends” you’ve never actually met, but who added them? You did. So you hang out with friends and you have nothing to talk about because you read it all already through your News Feed? Find something else to talk about. It’s not rocket surgery.
Cindy La Ferle, an anti-Facebook blogger, says:
Real friends do more than punch the ‘like’ key on your status updates. Real friends call you directly on the phone, send cards, help you move furniture, meet you for breakfast, babysit your cats, or otherwise make three-dimensional efforts to be there for you.
Which I completely agree with. I just don’t feel that’s enough of an impetus to decry an entire social network. What about those friends who live a state, country, or world away? They can’t help you move your damn furniture, and some may not be able to call.
For those of you who may be arguing with me, never fear; in the interests of journalistic integrity (and my innate instincts to present all sides of a story) I requested feedback from some local St. Louis bloggers as to their thoughts on the issue.
Linda D. (@citydiva on Twitter, found at http://stlcitydiva.blogspot.com/) had the following to say:
I was a relatively late adapter to Facebook, joining in January of 2009. I studied abroad and have friends and family scattered all over the world, so I wanted an easy way to keep up with them and share photos. But in recent months, I’ve un-friended people I only know by casual acquaintance or those “friends” from high school that I was re-introduced to at our class reunion. In short, I use Facebook to keep up with friends & family who live outside of St. Louis. I see the “anti” crowd being those users who first logged in during college. You have a lot to share at that point in your life: weekend plans, pics from last night’s party, and “stalking” that hot guy in your class. Now? Those same early adopters are growing up, getting married, getting real jobs and having kids. There comes a point when sharing becomes over-sharing and no one outside of your immediate circle really cares how your day is going or that your pregnant wife is having a boy (I don’t want to see photos of your future child while they are still in utero). I once read that all forms of social media allow you to present yourself as the person you want to be or wish you were. I think this is definitely true for Facebook. There’s one extreme where users put on a certain act when they post status updates and there’s the other extreme where users complain and use Facebook as their own personal journal.
Jenn Cloud, as well, had thoughts on the issue (which were too amazing to edit or chop much, so bear with this giant amount of reading because I thought she made some really great points):
Facebook started off as a way for kids in college to scope each other out, honestly. It became quickly apparent, though, that the scope of the connectivity Facebook could provide was much broader than the mechanisms of twenty-somethings scoping out their next hookup. Those of us who joined with our college emails back in 2004 and thought we were hot shit witnessed the transformation of the “real world” as we expected it before we had even graduated into it. And the tidal wave of the last eight years certainly didn’t stop at the twenty-somethings. Many people are now finding their online world has become crowded, confusing and overwhelming and are choosing to just tap out completely in some cases.
Timeline is too much, too late. They constructed it as an answer to why Facebook’s growth rate was slowing and how people were starting to feel emotionally disconnected from what was going there and they sort of missed the point entirely. What we all need now is not MORE clutter and widgets and crap, but way, way less.
Facebook is used really differently by many age groups, but one thing I know is being utilized more than many of us probably realize is its “unsubscribe” or essentially “muting” abilities. People can now ignore each other without insulting them with an “un-friend,” and that person will be none the wiser. I think our social networks are starting to grow up and many of us are starting to act like awkward teenagers who don’t know what to say or do to keep everyone happy online now, no matter what our age.
I probably won’t stop using Facebook, though Twitter is indisputably my social network of choice. This “social network of choice” is really different for everyone and with new sites and apps coming out all the time, this “niche-ing up” is only going to continue.
I think the anti-Facebook movement has grown so quickly because no one REALLY knows how to behave in this world that can easily be overtaken by weak ties and acquaintances and leave us feeling dry and crusty because we’ve neglected to ALSO pursue real, time-grown intimacy in meatspace. This doesn’t mean that we should just shut out all weak ties and acquaintances, it just means that we need to learn how to more easily identify, categorize and be able to respond to them according to who they really ARE to us and not broadcast our most profound feelings to all of them at once like they are ALL our BFFs. Weak ties like this have been an enormous part of my professional growth in the past 3 years and as a result, I have a network that would have been the envy of more experienced professionals even just 10 years ago. These connections have gotten me jobs, information, resources, support, inspiration and brought real life-changing energy that I wouldn’t want to force these connections into a context of gut-spilling soul-bonds because they’re beautiful and necessary as exactly what they are. The next phase will be us all getting past the novelty of OMG I HAD A CRUSH ON THIS PERSON IN 6TH GRADE!! and feeling compelled to respond to EVERY post or comment to a settling into a more mature and coherent relationship with these people. We are essentially going from crushing on to dating to settling down and getting married to our social networks.
So there’s that. Like I wrote up in this post, the question these days is “how much is too much?” Google Plus, at the moment, doesn’t have nearly the same user base that Facebook does, which is why examining Facebook as a statistical representative of social media is, well, wonky.
As for the self-promotion argument, what’s so wrong with that? I run a website a) because I love writing and b) I want to become Internet famous and get paid for doing what I love. I’m not ashamed to admit that, and the millions of people who use Facebook to promote their cupcakes/modeling/restaurant/tranny prostitute service are merely reaching out to almost 1 billion potential customers/consumers, and advertising (which is, in most cases, completely free) is one of the hallmarks of a free market economy. Who are we to say it’s inappropriate? If you don’t like pastries/hot girls/whatever, DON’T SUBSCRIBE TO THEM. If you don’t know how, here’s a wonderful page which will answer all your questions.
If you do, after all that, decide to leave Facebook for good, take a picture of your t-shirt and send it to us. Or, alternately, you could send us the $23.09 instead. Either way.