One morning over coffee I went to read my wall posts. Two items caught my eye: one a prayer, the other a flyer for a gay S&M party. I decided to shut down my Facebook page. I posted a message on my wall to let everyone know I was leaving, and I wrote private messages to people I’d recently met to be sure I had everyone’s real contact information – address, phone number, the old fashioned stuff. Strangely, I was nervous about leaving Facebook, and some of my friends’ responses confirmed my own vague impression that I was about to perform the social equivalent of forsaking electricity and running water. Why would I possibly want to leave Facebook?
My response was usually not as eloquent as I would’ve liked because, well, I want to leave Facebook due to everything you’ve just read above. As a man who values life in its precious, complex glory, who is already frustrated by the limitations of the telephone as opposed to the wonder of face-to-face discussions, this web site is not for me, and I’m amazed that it even served me for a short time.
Dear internet: social networking is nothing new. It happens every time you talk to another person in your sphere. I have built a social network with my friends, the local grocer and baker, my barista and my building superintendent. All without machines and without money. Social networking in the context of the www is yet another marketing concept invented to turn everyday life into a sellable commodity.
The Facebook trend is an insidious pyramid scheme: it appeals to our human need to feel connected (an experience often denied to us in hectic modern life), then uses our personal lives as “content” to generate income with no return to the user (content creator) except in the form of purported improved user experience.
How Did This Happen?
So how did Facebook come to be so popular? What need does it fill that has drawn hundreds of millions of users into a site with visible security issues, a site targeted by Congress for the gaping holes in its data defense?
A look at the origins of Facebook reveals a clue to its nature. It’s a virtual yearbook, founded by a college student in his dorm. A yearbook is a compendium of who did what and how, with a clearly competitive slant. There’s only one valedictorian. Suddenly we are brought back to our teenage years of pimples and awkward photos, that long and grueling popularity contest that (spoiler!) nobody ever truly wins.
Facebook is thus a yearbook of faces, a list of the people you know and what they have accomplished. There is an obvious propensity toward painting oneself in the best light, posting only the best photographs. Even I will admit to this practice. So what are we competing for now that school is over? Are we still trying to be popular? Have we flipped the old roles in favor of something better, or are we perpetuating the same tired categories?
And what is the point of all of this incessant micro-communication? Chatting over coffee about anything and everything is one of my favorite things in life. Dinner party conversation is an art form in France and I got schooled more than once. But the sound of 100 friends tweeting their haiku-length opinions on the subject du jour quickly turns into babble without the context of shared physical space.
When we click that “Like” button, what are we saying? What is the point of making all of these lists of what we like, and what are they being used for? And where the hell is the “Dislike” button?
Facebook is user content-generated, but their choice of information fields guides the user into giving up the type of data they can sell. Once posted on my personal page, my thoughts, ideas, favorite things, photos, messages and even chat conversations belong to Facebook. I’ve just given away a segment of my life, for free.
Mainstream news estimates put the value of this six-year-old company at a potential $25B (I am highly skeptical, but whatever). That’s a fabulous sum for a company whose value is provided almost exclusively by its users. With all due respect to the programmers and the rest of the staff at Facebook, without our faces you’re just a bunch of blank pages. So where is our dividend?
Not only will there not be a payoff for users, Mark Zuckerman has announced plans to sell Facebook dollars that users will only be able to purchase online with their credit cards – adding a brand new layer of risk to an already unsafe site. Will someone please take away their Thawte certificate?
Thanks, I’ve Got This
We are constantly asking algorhythms to do work that we used to do for ourselves. If we’re talking about complex math, I’m all in favor. However, Facebook is currently using a Pandora internet radio app that can analyze your friends’ musical tastes and create radio stations based on their favorite artists. (Of course, Pandora is corporate radio, devoted to promoting selected artists and pointedly unable to do something so basic as to play the actual song you request – it only plays similar artists.) Well, the other day my brother and I bought some old vinyl for $4 and spent the afternoon discovering great songs we’d never heard before. There’s no app for that.
I am leaving Facebook to launch my own web site. If Facebook is not trading and selling our data, it sure seems like they do so. Anyone who believes that a corporation would disinterestedly provide them with a complex software tool, without cost, may well be too naïve to survive the 21st century.
Facebook seems to be leading the wave of the new internet, where everything is linked and shared and everyone is represented – like it or not. Sadly, they are the worst possible guides for this new age. It’s a pity that so much of the American public is too busy obsessing over the site to care about the risks.
Where’s the Off Switch?
This time around, when I “deactivated” my account, Facebook showed me a few photos of various friends with a message telling me that these friends were going to miss me. Creepy! A few minutes later, I got an email reading: You can reactivate your account at any time by logging into Facebook using your old login email and password. You will be able to use the site like you used to.
Dissatisfied with the idea of merely deactivating my account, I finally found a way to delete it entirely. I was informed by an automated message that if I did not log in for 15 days, my account would be deleted altogether. I was satisfied by this outcome.
Two months later, my brother sent me an message through Facebook to my e-mail, with a link to photos he had recently taken of us at a party. Facebook told me that I would need to re-join the site in order to view the photos, with suggestions of the people with whom I could communicate once I was again part of the site. Of the eight people they suggested, five had been my “friends” on Facebook, two were “friends” of those “friends” and one was a business contact whose “friend” request I had never accepted.
Obviously, Facebook did not delete my information but kept everything intact, expecting that I would return. I cannot express the anger and indignation I felt, not to mention the strange sense that I was being stalked, pressured into participating in something of which I wanted no part. I clicked a link to opt out of future messages, but something in me senses that this is not the end of my adventures with this site.
Just a few weeks ago, two of my childhood friends contacted my mother through Facebook, wanting to get in touch with me. I got their emails and wrote to both of them. We exchanged phone numbers. One friend has two daughters, and when I wrote to ask her to e-mail me some photos of her family, she replied that I should just re-join Facebook to see them. When I suggested that we talk on the phone, she said that it probably wouldn’t happen as she was just too busy. That was the last I heard of her. The other friend wrote one email, to which I replied promptly. She never responded.
And how many Facebook “friends” have kept in touch with me since I left?
If you answered zero, you win.