Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stepping away from the Facebook Kool-Aid

I made up my mind last night to finally put into action a long-considered plan:  shutting down my Facebook accounts.  But, before doing so, I thought I'd give myself one last night to sleep on it.

I pulled the plug this morning.

And, fully cognizant that I may yet be in the intoxicating, initial throes of having thumbed my nose at The Man, I can happily report that it feels goooood.

You may have noticed that I wrote Facebook accounts, as in plural.  In retrospect, this cleaving of my Facebook self into two, differently-oriented personae was really the beginning of the end; but, at the time, it simply seemed like a reasonable attempt to stem online angst -- mine and my friends'.

It worked for a time.

Like many of my generation (give or take), I came to Facebook via earlier attempts at what would become known as social networking at Friendster and My Space.  They were essentially dating sites -- a huge improvement over print personals ads (remember those!?) -- and I was newly single.  Why not?  Word soon came down the ivy grapevine that some Harvard guy had started something that was allowing non-Harvard types to join and...well, you know the rest.

Again, seemed like a reasonable idea.  And all the cool kids were doing it.  Let's face it:  it's fun to "self publish".  You get to define yourself -- self-editing here, sharp-focusing or air-brushing there as needed.  And next to your online resume, you could define yourself further by posting some fun-filled pictures from your trip to Italy, amusing bon mots, political diatribes, and thoughts about the weather.  It felt good to have one of your friends like what you had posted, even more so if they commented in agreement (decidedly less so if they commented to the effect that you were full of crap); but, in the end it didn't matter.  You had held forth, and that was the important thing.

And you didn't mind so much that, all the while, your content and contributions were being fed into a matrix that produced specially-tailored ads just for you.  It should have been creepy, but you had grown inured to flashing banners and sidebars, and it didn't bother you so much.

But then something funny and unexpected happened:  your mother joined.  And the rest of your family.  Then friends of the family.  It had been enough navigating the rocky shoals of "friends" you last saw in high school (the ones who were not even friends then), but now you had to deal with the husband of one of your mother's childhood friends making snarky comments about the person you were supporting for president.

What started out as a light-hearted lark became a daily minefield of decisions to engage or not engage.  You discover, probably to your chagrin, that not everyone is in sync with your particular perspective.  When this happens, you are luckiest when they simply ignore you -- perhaps they even employ the increasingly-detailed mechanisms Facebook has helpfully provided to control what they see or "hide" you altogether.  Sometimes, however, friends pointedly and publicly disagree.  They might tell you outright that they think you're full of crap, or they might more politely suggest that you are full of crap.  Either way, do you ignore and walk away?  Do you respond?  Do you do so in a conciliatory manner...or do you shoot to kill?  And perhaps more importantly, do you post something like this in the future, knowing that a similar cascade of circumstances will most likely be triggered again?

It is one thing to tell the Facebook world what you think, but do you really want to hear what they think about what you think? And, if you are brutally honest, how much do you really care about their latest trip/baby/meal/sporting event/jog/book/ online petition?

In the end, it didn't much matter that I had split my Facebook presence into family and friends; the problem was the same:  my presence in both places was ultimately an exercise in narcissism. And, whereas I am more than willing to entertain the notion that I am the most self-centered person on the planet, the odds are against it.

For all the reasons above and no doubt others that will soon become clearer, the plain truth is that I have been nursing a bad attitude over the whole enterprise for some time.  Yes, there are a handful of friends and family with whom I enjoy interacting on Facebook; but, if the terms friend and family truly mean anything, I'll find a way to maintain the relationships without Mark Zuckerberg's midwifery.  We all have people in our lives who have withstood the Facebook siren call and have managed to remain firmly planted on the face of this earth, so we can be assured there is hope.

Regardless, here's hope that the daily voices will thin out.  Let's face it:  the only people who should have the benefit of/pay the price for you in their lives on a daily basis are your immediately-nuclear loved ones -- your spouse, your kids, your pets, others living with you (and even they deserve a break now and again). It's simply not normal to maintain daily interaction with...everyone. For me, and I suspect many others, it's actually harmful.

To be continued....