Why I’m not on Facebook, at least for now.

Facebook is a behemoth, no doubt about it. Over one billion users, including everyone from the president and businesses to you and me, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Even in light of their recent manipulations of users, the apparent defections to other services, and the fact it’s led by a guy like Mark Zuckerberg, it’s still is a cultural phenomenon and an effective way to connect not just with friends and family but brands and public figures as well.

When I was on the east coast recently, I had at least seven different people tell – not ask; TELL – me to get back on Facebook. I said I’d think about it, but haven’t done it yet. Then, just yesterday, I got a text from someone asking if it was ok to have movie night at my house. I hadn’t heard from this person in three months, and I replied that while I was fine with it, the request was out of the blue.

She agreed, but said everyone else keeps talking about it so she figured she may as well ask me.

I was taken aback. For three months everyone has been talking about having a movie night at *my* house but no one ever asked me? I wasn’t part of the conversation?

It turns out that I wasn’t part of the conversation because I’m not on Facebook. Since they’re all 20 years younger than me, I guess that’s how the kids communicate these days when they’re not on my lawn. And because of that, I’m not made part of the conversation of which I’m the subject!

Earlier this year I wrote about a project titled “99 Days of Freedom” that asks people to go 99 days without Facebook, and explained why I deactivated (but not deleted) my account. It’s been odd; I’m out of touch in many ways, but quite free in others. So since the subject of Facebook has come up so many times in my personal life recently, I thought I would revive the post and see how many of you think you could last over three months without it, or have reasons of your own for leaving. It’s a very interesting socio-technical consideration.

This is long. I’m just warning you ahead of time that this is long. In fact, I’ve been working on it for a few days. I think it might be getting longer on its own – I’ve created the first living, breathing post. Bow down to your new overlord!

So, apparently Facebook is pretty popular. Over 1 billion users. The determinant of whether you are cool or uncool. The ability to affect your mood. Something known as Facebook Stalking. Academics using it for sneaky research. People all over the world, and even all over time, connecting. What I wouldn’t give to see how Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, whose 158th birthday is today (or July 10th for those reading later), would have argued over who invented what on Facebook. It would have been glorious.

Now, in response to the previously linked-to article about the social experiment Facebook was complicit in running, in which posts were selectively presented to affect users’ moods, there is a new movement that is asking people to leave Facebook for 99 days and see how they feel. Called ‘99 Days of Freedom,’ participants will be surveyed at equal intervals in their absence to see how their moods, and lives, have been affected. After all, some are saying Facebook makes you sad, so it makes sense giving it up for a while would have the opposite effect, right?

Could you go for 99 days without Facebook? It’s like the phone question I asked in the first class. If you feel you can, sign up at their site and keep us informed of your progress. Sadly, only about 4,000 people have signed up thus far.

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I was on Facebook for a little while. Not too long, and I was a serious latecomer, only signing up in, perhaps, 2011. Even then, I only did it at the behest of my now ex, who – just to add to my points above – claimed a relationship couldn’t be considered official until it was something known as “Facebook Official.” I didn’t know what that meant, but everyone else I knew was on it, they were all talking about how great it was, so I figured this was as good a reason as any to jump in to the fray.

Almost immediately I started getting friend requests. And not just from my regular friends, but from people I hadn’t seen in years. Sometimes many, many, MANY years. People from other countries I knew from my youth, my piano teacher when I was a kid, high school buddies, it was exciting.

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I made my first post with but a little trepidation, as I wasn’t familiar with this new social medium, but everyone who knew me knew me, and I assume knew the types of post I would make, and it went over well. Acceptance! That was quite nice too. I’d make posts about music, and random things that struck me, I’d read with interest what other people were up to, even administered a page with 500 followers that displayed incredible photographs of spiders. Over the couple of years I was a member, many interesting social experiences happened. I participated in a distant kind of way in weddings and even a funeral. Four of my exes, spanning the years from high school to college and all long since married sent friend requests, as did people I barely knew, or didn’t know at all (but they knew me). An old friend who lived in Sweden that I hadn’t seen or spoken with since I stayed with his family for a summer in 1983 sent a friend request, saying he had been looking everywhere for me, then never contacted me again. I watched a married couple I know have Facebook conversations with each other when they were clearly in the very same room. And that’s when it started to happen.

I became disenchanted. What was once a fun, interesting place to be where friends would share vacation and wedding photos and make posts about things that were interesting and fun to read about began to morph into a place that was not what it once was. Instead of a broad range of posts, I would see the same types of posts over and over, and they weren’t interesting, they were…irritating. This isn’t a condemnation of my friends (for the most part), but rather an effect of the medium; It doesn’t encourage deep, thoughtful conversation or meaningful debate, I’m of the opinion it actually discourages it. After a while, I had had enough, I was becoming agitated when I would log on because of the posts I was seeing, not entertained or enraptured, and it was then I knew I had to do it.

It was in March of this year that I deactivated my Facebook account, although since I didn’t delete it outright if I log back in it will apparently all come back. There were doubts; Facebook is so popular that I wonder if I have missed out on someone who is trying to find me, although I have a LinkedIn account they could find. Honestly, LinkedIn is no better, it’s the same inanity couched in the thin veil of professional networking, as opposed to Facebook’s social networking. I even had someone I used to know contact me through LinkedIn, tell me how excited they were to have finally found me, then never responded to my response, just like what happened on Facebook. Maybe it’s me.

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Perhaps.

Anyway, I realized that part of the problem is that there were really only about ten different kinds of posts/posters I was seeing, the variety that used to be there was gone. Occasionally there would be a gem among the nonsense, but it was rare. So I have decided, for cathartic as well as informative reasons, to share with you my take on the most common types of posts and posters I saw. These had to make up at least 90 percent of everything that came across my feed. They may not apply to everyone, they may simply be a result of the type of people I know, but that made them no less aggravating.

Here we go:

The Foursquare Check-In

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Foursquare, apparently, allows you to check in at a location so friends know where you are. But does anyone really care? Is being with your significant other or family or friends not enough? You have to tell the ones who aren’t there? I’d see them all the time: “So-and-so is with their husband/wife/Significant other/dog/cat/religious leader/function/whatever.” Do people actually see that and say “Hey, so-and-so is there, let’s go there too and interrupt them!” Why would you want people to know where you are all the time? Isn’t one of the privileges of adulthood *not* having to do that? One person would make these Foursquare posts ten times a day, letting us know every movie/restaurant/retail store/dog park/wedding/whatever else they were doing at all times. All it told me is they weren’t home and their house was unprotected. Thanks, that’s good to know.

The “One-like-equals-one-prayer” post

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This might be not only one of the most offensive types of posts that can be made, but one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen. A picture will be posted of someone suffering from a terrible disease, and the poster will have the audacity to claim that if you ‘Like’ the post that is the equivalent of one prayer, and if you ‘Share’ the post, that is the equivalent of ten prayers.

Everything is wrong with this, and nothing is right. First of all, who designated these quantities? What authority came up with these numbers? Why is one ‘Like’ not two prayers? Or four? or one hundred? Same for shares. Also, is this really implying that G-d himself is sitting up there somewhere allocating prayer reserves based on Facebook interaction? Is it implying there may be some hope for a terminal disease if enough people just ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ hard enough?

The intention behind these posts may be genuine, but the result is nauseating.

The self-promotion flood

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One of my friends plays in a band. A good band. Another friend plays in the same good band. I liked the band page to be supportive. The problem was, when there was a gig, or after a gig, all the members would blast each other with “Awesome gig dudes!” and “We were tearin’ it up at Vamp’d tonight!” and post tons of pictures and that kind of thing. The problem was, they’d all share each others posts and soon my wall was flooded with 75 copies of the same pictures, the same posts and the same people over and over. I didn’t want to block them completely, but when these happened Facebook was almost unusable. It was like being at one of their shows.

The deliberately vague plea for sympathy

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These were the first types of posts that really started getting under my skin. This is the post that clearly lets EVERYONE  know something is wrong, yet provides exactly no information. Posts like “Well this sucks” or “I guess it’s all happening again” or “Could it get any worse?” Instead of simply confessing the problem, this type of posts begs you to respond and shower pity on the poster. You’re supposed to say things like “Oh no, what’s wrong?” and “Is there anything I can do to help?” and “I’m here for you!”

These bug me because they’re asking for expressions of generic pity. If something is wrong, say it. I don’t mean to sound like a heartless jackass, if someone needs my support I will be right there for them. I am very aware that a support structure is the most important thing anyone can have in a time of crisis, but you need to tell me what’s happening, don’t require me to deduce the situation. If you tell me what’s wrong I can help; if you don’t, I can’t.

It’s like the person who runs up to you completely agitated saying “Oh god, oh god, this is terrible” and when you ask them what’s wrong they say “I can’t talk about it right now!”

The “Please Like and Share!” posts

facebook-needs-this-buttonDon’t tell me what to do with your post. First of all, the concept of Facebook ‘Likes’ rubs me the wrong way. Saying “Like my page” or “Like me on Facebook” sounds so pleading and desperate I don’t even ‘Like’ the use of the word ‘Like.’ I dislike ‘Like.’ I’m also not sure why I keep putting the word ‘Like’ in quotes. Or capitalizing it. I don’t ‘Like’ that.

So when a post wouldn’t just make its point but also ask me to “Please Like and Share!” I immediately didn’t want to do either. The post is on Facebook, that’s what people do. They ‘Like’ and they Share. You don’t need to make a pathetic plea for validation. If I like it, I’ll ‘Like’ it, and if I want others to see it, I’ll share it. But if I don’t think it warrants either of those, or even one but not the other, I’ll take care of it.

I don’t ‘Like’ those.

The Drinker

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All this person does is make posts about alcohol. Where they’re drinking, what they’re drinking, why they’re drinking, where they’ll be drinking next, where they were drinking before they were drinking, where they’ll be drinking tomorrow, who they are drinking with, where they were drinking yesterday, where they’d rather be drinking, what they’d rather be drinking, who they’d rather be drinking with, why aren’t you drinking with them, drinking is awesome, they can’t wait to start drinking.

And now they’re hungover. There’s a pot and sports version of this person as well. In fairness to them, I don’t drink, use drugs or follow sports and never have, so maybe I’m just missing the point.

The out-of-nowhere (or phony) sorrow

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It’s always sad when someone passes away, even the posts about animals moving on to the great beyond are heart-wrenching. However, when a person who used to play a bit-part in a 70’s sitcom passes away, while I don’t get any joy from it, I wonder why some people seem to be devastated. “I just heard the guy who played drunk #21 in Barney Miller passed away. Very sad. You were one of the funny ones, you’ll be greatly missed.”

Yes, by his family and friends. But prior to today, I never heard you mention Barney Miller, never knew you to watch Barney Miller, never heard you mention that actor’s name, now all of a sudden it’s a great loss and you’re in mourning? Again, I’m not minimizing anyone’s death, but where does this come from?

I hope I get the same recognition when My time comes. Don’t let me down! I can see the posts now: “I just heard that dude with the hair who taught me about disk drives at NSC bit the dust. Very sad day. I think his name was Hank. Maybe Bill.”

The chronic petitioner

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Some of us convinced a mutual friend of ours to sign up for Facebook since we were all scattered all over the country. We had entered into a venture with him and it was a good way to communicate. Once he joined, the only thing he ever posted were pleas for us to sign various petitions. Random petitions, too, no apparent theme. Petition to not tear down a drive-in, petition to remove Soylent Green from chocolate milk, petition to require penguins to wear long pants, petitions to change the spelling of ‘turtle’ to ‘blarty,’ and any other weird sort of petition you can imagine. And he meant business; each post came with a lengthy, passionate explanation of the cause and why he believed in it. He wasn’t being facetious, he really felt that penguins should wear long pants.

The generally inappropriate post

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Random posts can be really funny. With this classification however I’m referring to the posts that just make you want to shower, or go outside, or call your mom, or something to dilute what you just read. “Met a girl last night, ended up back at my place doin’ the worm.” “Hey everyone, look at this picture and tell me if this is a wart or a boil, I can’t tell. Part of it came off in the bed if that helps.” “It’s time to overthrow the Communist American government! Who’s with me? Meet up at Bennigans to begin the assault!” “I’M DRUNK!”

These are the types of posts and people that finally caused me to deactivate, but not delete, my account.

When I tell people the things I’ve expressed in this post, I get a lot of feedback about how I can just block people or unfriend them. I get that, but why would I do that? I’m glad to have connected or reconnected with them, why would I accept a friend request and then block or unfriend them? I’ll say it again, it sounds like this is a condemnation of the people I know, but it isn’t. They’re not dumb, they’re not inane, they’re not vacant, if they were we wouldn’t be casual acquaintances, let alone friends. Everyone is idiosyncratic and has their own character, that’s what makes us great. What I needed was a general break from the overall experience. I haven’t missed it.

I also haven’t tried the new, trendier networks like Instagram or Snapchat or even Ello (great landing page, by the way), although I did finally set up a Twitter account for this class, although I’m not convinced of its value as a pedagogical tool.

My very close circle of friends, who frankly you could count on one hand, I am still in touch with through email, texts and calls. They were all very understanding of my thoughts about Facebook, and even expressed some similar feelings. In fact, I found out that Mr. petition Guy mentioned above has since deactivated his Facebook account as well.

Let me say again that I have nothing inherently against Facebook, and I’m not one of the virulent anti-Facebook preachers either. It actually is a great way to keep in touch with, and reconnect with, people from all over the world and even across time that you may not have seen in ages. I just needed a break. Perhaps someday I’ll take another look and see what’s going on.

(This was my cover image. Bask in its glory.)

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