Saturday, January 30, 2010

Facebook: Opinions, Observations, Rants, Bullcrap

For me, Internet socializing has come a long way from my days of being on GEnie network, posting impassioned messages and opinions on R.E.M., Dungeons and Dragons, Babylon 5, and DC Comics on various BBS message boards.

I use Facebook now as my primary means of online communicating with people. In fact, it's even sort of replaced some of my opportunities to use E-mail. But, like anything else that's part of my life for more than five seconds, I've developed opinions, observations, and tactics unique to the subject at hand. Some come from first-hand experience, some from second or even third-hand. Read on...

1. Facebook cannot, must not, should not, replace actual contact with people. Yes, it's a nice way for some of us lazy folk to maintain some form of contact with those people that we don't hear from often, but it musn't be used as a crutch or as a replacement for real social contact.

2. It's just an online service, not the end-all be-all. I've seen people get FB burnout, where they're on it constantly, thinking of it as some sort of ultimate wow experience, only to crash and burn and become disgusted with it. It's simply a means to communicate, nothing more, nothing less. All things in moderation.

3. Show some restraint if many of the people you are friends with in "real life" also read your FB stuff. While I haven't seen this as much on FB as I have on Myspace, this is crucial. Your online presence is probably not the place you want to admit to kinky sexual practices, for instance. It's called WTMI, or I like to refer to it as, "You're being a disc jockey on radio station WTMI, Way Too Much Information, 24 hours a day!" All I know is, if a friend of mine admits on some survey or quiz about what they and their significant other have done in a sleeping bag on a median strip on I-93, it'll be difficult when seeing them in person to not think to myself "Sleeping bag, highway, median strip, 2 am, jar of mayo, duck, windup monkey, UGH!!!" restraint. It's cool to sometimes imply that you can be a little daring, a little naughty, sure, and it's always nice to tell the world "Hey, my spouse and I still have a lot of fun!", but specifics needed, thanks.

4. Don't forget who reads your stuff. This is a corollary to #3. But whereas #3 is about too much information of a personal nature, this observation/rule is more aimed at "Things that aren't inappropriate per se, but may get you in trouble anyway!" While it may make you feel better to "yell" out in a post and say "I'm sick of how often my co-workers belch, fart, and sneeze loudly around me!", well, what if your co-workers are also on Facebook? Or "My family is composed of idiots; it's amazing I turned out as well as I did, and not end up on a clock tower with a high powered rifle", and your parents, siblings, grandparents read it. Again, a little forethought goes a long way. Who's reading your stuff? What if you're posting about how you love to goof off at work and make yourself look busy, and some prospective new employer reads that?

5. Facebook is not going to charge you!!! Really, I'm sick of this. People say "But John, Facebook has 250,000,000 members! You can't tell me that some exec isn't thinking 'If we charge five bucks per person, we're set for life! Mwahahah!'" Yes. I'm sure there are greedy corporate types sitting in a chair, stroking a cat, wearing a monocle, and going "If we charge for Facebook, we'll get sixty bill-y-un dollars!" But do you know why Facebook has a quarter-billion members? Because it's free. As soon as they'd charge anything, I'd guess that the vast majority of people would conduct an exodus that would've made Moses and the Children of Israel proud. And they'd go off to the next hot, happening free social site.

In fact, many of those Facebook-will-charge-you "cause" pages actually have viruses/trojans/other bad things. Not only did you just get suckered into thinking Facebook is charging, your computer now has something evil lurking in it. Nice.

6. Slacktivism sucks. A friend of mine on Facebook turned me on to that word. No, not "sucks", "slacktivism," wise guy! There is an argument that says that, when it comes to worthy causes, there's nothing that can be done for their sake that should be considered useless, ridiculous, lame, etc. And indeed, one faces an uphill battle if one derides an activity being done for the sake of a cause, just because that someone thinks it's kind of ridiculous. All of a sudden it's "What, you WANT people to die in earthquakes?", or "What, you don't like gay people?", or "Oh, so you want women to die of breast cancer?", ad nauseum. Really, you can't win. In matters of emotion and passion, logic is about as welcome as a PETA member at a deer hunting party.

But here's my take, and I feel comforted to know that there's at least one other person on Facebook who agrees with this. While there's certainly people out there whose acts of compassion and charity are definitely not limited to just posting something cute online, I believe that a large number of people would go "OK, this issue is important, so I'll join this cause/page/change my status, and there...I've done my part! I'm all set! I've made the world a better place, even if just a tiny bit."

No. No you haven't. And that is my big problem with slacktivism. Someone can shake their fists and say "By golly, waterboarding torture/abused animals/breast cancer/prostate cancer/AIDS/war/earthquake devastation/evil corporations is a bad thing, and I'm going to do something about it!" So they join a FB page, take part in the latest cutesy status thing that ostensibly raises awareness, and they feel like they've done their part, and need do no more.

That's why I, personally, do not join cause pages, even if it's a cause I feel passionate about (and believe me, I have a few!). For me, it's a matter of personal taste, to each his own, sure, and I certainly don't hold it against those who do participate.

7. You get what you pay for. Facebook is free. Therefore, there are going to be problems that would not show up on a social site that charges and is therefore able to afford better technology to avoid those problems in the first place. It's annoying, but you can't beat the price. And as far as the ads they run, some of them I find aggravating, but since they don't charge me for being on, they have to pay the bills somehow, and they do have bills. So it's a trade-off. Beats the Hell out of Myspace, in any event.

8. Wow, look at all the people from all over! Ever have one of those dreams where you have all of these people you've known from various times in your past, all together, talking to you about something like, oh, I don't know, needlepoint? It's where you go "Yeah I had this dream where my sister, my high-school biology teacher, my rabbi from when I was a kid, my college sweetheart, a former boss of mine, and one of my business partners all got together and were advising me on what sort of curtains I should put up in the dining room! It was weird!" The one thing about Facebook that really strikes me as cool above all other things is the number of people from so many different areas of my life, all together in one spot, people who don't know each other, and yet are having posted conversations together on some of my statuses! It's bizarre, and yet also thoroughly amazing. I've found so many people from so many times and places in my life (or they've found me), and it's really fantastic. For instance, if anyone had told me that a girl I kind of sort of knew in high school would eventually become a friend of mine on Facebook and would advise, nay demand, that I undergo a colonoscopy, I'd say that person was smoking crack. Hey, I consider myself a "people person", and frankly, I love the fact that I'm in contact with so many people from my past.

9. Who are you and why should I care? One of the biggest advantages of Facebook is that it puts you in contact with people you'd thought you'd never hear from again. One of the biggest drawbacks of Facebook is that it puts you in contact with people you'd thought you'd never hear from again. And yes, this is a counterpoint to #8.

We all have those people in our lives that while we never really disliked, we also never really connected with. But, by virtue of you having gone to school with them, or worked with them, or belonged to the same group as, or, and this one's more often the case than not, you and they are closer friends with a common third person and so you all hung out and accepted each other by default, you end up tripping over them on Facebook.

And really, when those people Friend me, I find myself at a loss. While I can't think of any reason why I should turn down the request, I also can't think of any reason why I shouldn't. But, in the spirit of trying to be nice, and to stay open to the possibility that we could become better friends now than we were in earlier times, I accept. And yes, sometimes we have indeed improved contact, and I like to think I've had a second chance of being friends with some people, a chance I may have passed up the first time around.

10. To me, unfriending people is like a company having rounds of layoffs. So yeah, I think I can honestly say I've never turned down a Friend request, provided I had a reasonably clear idea who the person was (or if they know someone that I know). But, while some people love having 1,575 friends, I actually prefer a smaller group, and have been known to winnow down the ranks from time to time. Hey, if you're reading this and are a Facebook friend of mine, then you've already made it through four rounds of cuts! Woo hoo! Don't you feel all warm and special and loved?

Here's the reasons I've unfriended people:

People who Friend me, so I accept and make multiple attempts at talking with them and they never respond, even though I know for a fact that they've been on repeatedly? You're outta here!

People who Friend me, and subject everyone to an unrelenting barrage of "life sucks" and other complaints, PWMing to the exclusion of anything else? You're outta here!

People who use Facebook as a platform to brag about how wonderful their lives are, and how much they're kids are super-geniuses and so superior, and furthermore we've never had any real decent conversations of any sort? You're outta here!

People who Friend me even though my connections with them have been tenuous at best, and we never really talk, and there seems to be no common ground? Sorry, but you're outta here!

It's true that I have a bunch of Facebook friends that I don't speak to with anything even vaguely approaching regularity. And there's also people who I've friended who are actually friends of family members or friends of friends, or perhaps are people who share a common interest (and appropriate real-life group participation) with me, who I may not talk to very often, but that's okay too. There's common ground, and the knowledge that eventually, there'll be stuff to talk about.

At this point, I can say that I'm happy with everyone I have on my Friends list, and don't see myself doing any further "winnowing".

11. There still are some weird situations... OK, so you're friends with some people on Facebook. And they're friends with some people that you have unresolved issues with, sometimes up to the point of there being mutual non-speaking terms, people who in fact used to be real life friends with you. That is weird. A friend posts some comment, or link, and you chime in, and this other person who used to be a friend until a falling out, chimes in as well. You know he's there, he knows you're there. But neither talks to the other. It's like being at a party, talking to people in a small group, yet you and two other people in the group are at odds, so you just ignore each other even though you're all standing right there, talking about the same subject to the same people!

That to me is one of Facebook's biggest disadvantages. Before the advent of social networking, if you and someone were at odds with each other, you just stopped talking, and simply avoided each other. You could confidently say that you'd never have to deal with this person again, or have any reminders, or even the most off-handed contact. But watch out! Now there's! Now they're always there!

Happily, there's not too many people that fall in that category for me. And even that small number would dwindle by a couple if only I left Carol or at the very least, turned a blind eye to the fact that a former friend bears an irrational grudge against her and doesn't want to even acknowledge her existence. Yeah, that's all it'd take. Fortunately, I'm not alone in this; all Carol would have to do to get back into contact with this other couple would be to leave me. Again, small potatoes, a trifle really.

So yes, Facebook has the chance to be a little awkward sometimes, especially for people like me who don't like leaving things unresolved, or bearing grudges, or harboring dislikes. Alas, sometimes peace and co-existence comes at too high a price, and you have to put your foot down, make a stand, and in your best Gregory House voice declare, "You're an idiot!"

Another example of Facebook weirdness is those people that you know in real life, most likely have some sort of history with, and who know that you're on Facebook, and vice versa, and yet neither of you have made a move to friend the other. Furthermore, you have little if any contact with them in any other circumstance. It's almost like there's this mutual, unspoken message of "Yeah I know you're there, but I really don't want to be your friend, because when you get right down to it, I really don't like you and/or have much to say to you".

The final example of Facebook awkwardness is the "I thought we were closer friends than this" syndrome. That's where you find out that a friend had a party, and you weren't invited (even though you live less than an hour away, for instance). Or if a friend from out of state visited your area and got together with mutual friends, and you weren't even aware that they were in your area until you read the posts or saw photos on Facebook after the gathering. That's when you go "Hm. Well then. I thought we were better friends than that. Guess not. Thanks, Facebook, for illuminating my path with your online truths!"

So, like many other things in life, Facebook is a mixed blessing. And, like things such as guns, cars, free speech, or stuffed badgers, it's a tool that can be used for good or evil.

Be good...


  1. It was a *battery-operated* monkey. Jeez. ;)

    As an activist in both my personal and professional life, "slacktivism" drives me crazy. Some status updates do raise awareness (such as the cutesy bra one that I hope caused at least one woman to give herself an exam or make an appointment) but others won't achieve anything by their posting (such as the childhood autism meme). There's nothing wrong with not being an activist, but I do think there's a clear disconnect between what activism truly is and "slacktivism."

    Someday ask me about the "Jesus meme." Maybe when we all have dinner, over drinks.

  2. Good points all, and I'll make a note to ask! My curiosity is piqued now! ;-)