Month: June 2009

Un – Facebooking

Imagine seeing all your friends at once: photo by Cаvin 〄 at Flickr
Imagine seeing all your friends at once: photo by Cаvin 〄 at Flickr

My friend Anton (who blogs here)posted a note on Facebook, as a prelude to leaving it entirely. It’s written with feeling and concern, of having lost something due to how Facebook operates. His opinions felt like a very timely (and probably shared) feeling about Facebook specifically, and social networking in general. I felt the need to share that, and to react to it. His main points are a loss of privacy and control of our own information, how that information is perceived, the inherent devaluing of that privacy (and maybe the information as well) by sharing it, and the likewise devaluing of those we call friends, when the interaction only consists of short messages instead of longer conversations and visits.

I see his point. I also think it’s too late.

Facebook is already ubiquitous for most of it’s users; we check it with the same regularity as their e-mail. We arrange gatherings and meetups, post pictures of recent events, share opinions (such as this note) and play games. On top of this, Facebook keeps bringing new applications under it’s umbrella, and as it does, there will be less reason to go elsewhere… unless you’re following a link someone posted on Facebook.

I don’t expect Facebook to last forever. In the Darwinian cyberscape, I expect it will last until the next social networking program renders it obsolete. (For some, this has already happened in the form of Twitter.) The style of networking and socializing, though, will become even more of the same. More sharing, more connections, more contacts, and more visibility. Now that people have it, they won’t let it be taken away; this genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back. The only reaction is to adapt to it.

Facebook is still under your control; some of the more annoying or repetitive updates can be turned off or ignored. The problems of not connecting to someone, or in letting your interactions become small, are not evils of Facebook. How it is being seen is up to the user. It’s their right and responsibility to be aware, of having let that word or image go out into the digital world when posting.  When you’ve got many people on your contacts list, it requires a new sort of discipline to focus on just one person, write them a longer message, or make the time to see them in person. I will agree that Facebook makes that very difficult, and makes it very easy to passively watch the updates roll in. But I can’t blame my mouse for clicking the homepage button…

Social networking programs demand a new set of social skills. A savvy awareness of how your profile update can be read, or remembering that writing on someone’s wall is a public act, whereas a message is a private one. A deeper reading or filtering of what other people are writing on their own updates, trying to get context from snippets of conversations over-‘heard’ through walls. These kinds of skills are going to be mandatory learning for some of us, and an intuitive understanding for others. It’s our right and responsibility to be aware, of  letting that word or image go out into the digital world when posting.

I’ll agree that Facebook possibly lowers the stock of the word ‘friend.’ There are many people I’ve added that I’ve only met in person once. The other side of this are the connections that are made, friendships that are fostered on Facebook conversations, relationships that might not have existed otherwise. The friends of friends can mean that you’ll meet someone you never would have spoken to, only because you’ve both arrived at the same event, invited through Facebook, and the somewhat youthful desire to define oneself by your standing in society. I would prefer the word ‘friend’ be changed to something like ‘contact,’ but part of this has to do with the college-themed origins of Facebook itself.

I’m content to embrace a wide definition of what I consider a friend, from those I’ve known for years and who know me well, to someone I had a great conversation with at a party. It’s those unpredictable connections that are actually the greatest strength of social networking programs. I’m not sure I’d want to lose the synchronicity and beautiful coincidence that Facebook can create. (Another friend of mine, Paula, seems to have perfected a kind of Facebook-status-update-poetry, by turns funny or fascinating. Even when we don’t have a chance to visit, I welcome this tiny dose of friendship from her to all of us, whenever it comes.)

As an example of the value of these random connections, I have made a recent connection with my sisters in Edmonton. That connection was made by my sister Katie with one of the coolest messages I’ve ever got, Facebook or otherwise: “hello jason. I believe that I am your sister.”  (I’m was raised an only child, so I was fairly thunderstruck to get a message like this.) It’s possible that we might have connected some other way, but Facebook made it very easy, and easy to keep connected across the vast distance of Calgary to Edmonton.

Facebook and how it’s used certainly changes how we deal with people in our lives. The sphere of influence we have, and the speed that it spreads, is something that we need to learn to get used to. For those of us in the arts, it’s practically mandatory as a way of getting the word out about a show or event.

Lastly, removing an emerging technology doesn’t necessarily mean the return of what it replaced. Getting rid of Facebook doesn’t mean that your connections to people become deeper or more meaningful, the same way that getting rid of your cell phone and land line won’t mean you’ll write more snail-mail letters.

I’ve invited Anton to respond to this in the comments; feel free to do the same. Or, you know, comment the note on Facebook…

(Anton’s post follows below.)

Goodbye Facebook. Please read this.

I wanted to explain myself quick before I go.
This sudden disillusionment with Facebook, and by extension all social networking tools (like Twitter) is because the complete and total disregard of privacy. And I’m not talking at all about these ideas linking Facebook to the CIA and other intelligence organizations. Nor am I particularly worried that anything we post on this site becomes property of Facebook, pictures, stories, notes, and the results of those awful quizzes.
Social networking tools share everything with everyone. I am awed by how the notion of privacy is skewed by these sites. There is such a false sense of privacy on these kind of sites. They broadcast our minute thoughts and feelings to a legion of seemingly faceless followers. Indeed there are ways of policing our profiles, making only certain things visible to certain people. And I encourage anyone deciding to remain posted here to meticulously look at your privacy settings and make sure you know who is able to see what. But here are the dangers as I see them: status changes, relationship status updates, etc. bare you in ways you can’t expect. No one knows from where the comments spring from, be they in sarcasm, anger, jest, or honesty. A simple comment can be misconstrued by a friend or colleague; a comment intended in jest only can be seen as hurtful or even slanderous.
Our privacy is not a commodity. It deserves more of our respect. It deserves to be spent with those we choose. I would like to see a move towards a much more human way of communication. To have real friends and to cultivate those relationships. Take back the word “friend” and see it for what it is. A friend is not someone you knew once but don’t talk to anymore. A friend is not someone you add. A friend is not someone you only keep tabs on during 15 minutes of downtime at work or before bed.
Here is a quick update for you: I will be leaving for Europe on July 18 to return August 18. I may reactivate my account at that time. I need to see just how much this site has affected how I keep in touch with the world. I really do not want Facebook to have been the only means of communication, and I do not want to lose contact with some wonderful people I have found here. My email is ******@***. My phone number is ***-***-****. My Skype ID is ***. I will answer every email and call and I look forward to hearing from you and not losing touch.
Please take a moment to consider how Facebook and other social networking tools affect your life. If they enrich it, I am very happy. But consider this: if you take the time you spend on these sites and use it to develop the relationships to the friends and family in your life, you might be so much happier for it. Use your privacy wisely, and spend it on/with the people that matter.
Send me your email addresses and phone numbers!! And tell everyone I know to do the same. I’ve relied on this too long and probably don’t have them. Terrible. And spread the word if you feel it should be spread.