To Facebook or Not to Facebook

Presently, this is my great dilemma.

More accurately, actually, my struggle is whether I should quit Facebook or not, but “To Quit Facebook or Not to Quit Facebook” wasn’t as catchy a title.

A friend of mine has already written a much more eloquent post on this subject, and if the title doesn’t give it away, he went with the second option. (Also, since he will undoubtedly notice the pingback (or whatever it’s called) from this post and since he wasn’t aware of this blog previously: Hello, Mr. Watson. Yes, it is I.)

Where was I? Right — I think, deep down, we all realize that Facebook is terrible. Ultimately, I would love to be able to compartmentalize my life such that I could close the little set of doors (or slam them, for added effect) that represent my life with Facebook, saying with a pleasant sigh, “Well, now that that’s over!” and stride confidently into my post-Facebook life. But is it the smart thing to do? There are compelling arguments on both sides, and as I said on a recent post to the damnable website itself, I am rather in a deadlock right now. Maybe in writing this post I can unravel the issue and arrive at a satisfying decision.

Let’s get to it, then. First, the pros.

To Facebook

See, Facebook is just so gosh darn useful. I was originally asked to join by a puppy dog-eyed co-worker who was leaving our comfortable little world in order to head off to college. I, of course — being a sentimental sap — wanted to stay in touch, and so I agreed to this arrangement despite my earlier misgivings about social networking in general. Sadly, Facebook does provide a near-universal system for keeping up with old friends. There are places that do it better but nowhere that does it on a wider scale.

If you keep up with this blog, you may remember the New Year’s resolutions I made this year (I’ve held to two of them so far! (And the last remaining one can still be fulfilled if I get to work.)) I bring this up because whenever I get to thinking that I really would be better off leaving Facebook in the dust, Resolution #3 rears its ugly head and complicates the matter. While there’s nothing there saying anything directly about social networking, I can’t ignore the fact that to quit Facebook, unfortunately, would run quite contrary to the spirit of this resolution. That spirit being the spirit of social interaction.

How easy is it, after all, to send a friend request on Facebook? It requires nothing more than a name, and perhaps the confidence that the other person isn’t weirded out enough by you to reject you (and even then, I imagine Facebook rejection is less painful than in-person rejection). And as intimate as access to your Facebook information is, with all the personal details available there, it has become one of the most casual ways to express interest in a person. You can give it away like a business card, as if to say, “I find you interesting and I am open to getting to know you better.”

My resolution to spend more time on campus is a resolution to force myself into social situations, to meet new people, and to hopefully create some genuine relationships. As a college student, you’re almost expected to have a Facebook profile, and not to is seen as unusual. But more than that, Facebook just makes it easy for someone bad at people (read: me) to express interest in someone without looking like a creep.

Can I meet new people without Facebook? Of course. Does it make that job easier? Heck yes.

Not to Facebook

But Facebook is awful. It really is, and we all know it.

The privacy issue has been discussed to death. I’m not going to touch that topic here because a thousand people have done it before, better and more thoroughly than I could.

Instead, when I think about Facebook, I always come back to this talk by Christopher Poole:

Re: identity — this is where modern social networking scares me the most. I have gone by a whole lot of different names in a whole lot of different corners of the internet. Sometimes I’ve gone anonymously. But I never once used my real name — not until Facebook.

The internet has always — especially in my younger days — represented a rebirth of self. When I first discovered the internet in my youth, and first came to understand what it represented, there was a tremendous sense of freedom. Not the freedom to spread chaos, or harass without consequence as some would say anonymity provides an excuse to do, but freedom to be whoever I wanted to be.

What’s in a name? On the internet, everything. By choosing a name, we are declaring, “This is the real me,” and what’s great about real yous is that you can have as many as you like — because we’re not as simple and as concrete as Facebook would have us believe. When I think about the way Facebook treats identity and the way it is eroding the self-determination of an entire generation, I sometimes get chills. And not the good kind.

In Conclusion

It probably seems like I’m firmly in the Not to Facebook camp, but the truth is that it’s just way easier to write cute, impassioned prose about why Facebook is evil than it is about why it’s useful. In the end, I’m still undecided. My social life begs me to stay on Facebook, but Mr. Poole’s call to action leaves me feeling like the righteous thing to do is to cut off all ties to social networking — to make a stand! A bit like Mel Gibson declaring, “They can take our social lives, but they’ll never take our…” identity, I guess?

How to decide? It would seem, to confuse my film quotes, that we are at an impasse.


2 thoughts on “To Facebook or Not to Facebook

  1. I try to be careful with my Facebook account and who I “friend”. I only friend people I’ve actually meet. I have many good friends who live across the US, and some across the world, and Facebook is the watering hole we are able to gather around. I want to see pictures of my friend’s children, I want posts of friends graduating or entering colleges, I want to know when children are born. If a friend gets too political, too negative, I usually cut them off. I also am very careful about what I post online, and work to control my identity. I try to be positive and apolitical, while also being honest. It’s a tricky balance.
    For me, then, I choose “to Facebook.”

    • It’s a reasonable choice. Facebook can be a bit of a minefield, but as long as you know what you’re getting into, it can be a great tool. I do worry about losing access to those kid pictures from my siblings, (especially one on the other end of the country), or my favorite professor’s philosophy quotes and music recommendations.

      I guess for me it comes down to more of an ethical question, although that makes it sound way more portentous than it is. I worry about my privacy and Facebook drama, but that stuff, like you said, can be moderated. It’s Facebook’s policies and treatment of its users that bothers me most, so if I left, it would be mostly on “principle.”

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