To Facebook or Not To Facebook?

Is this even a question? For me, it is becoming one. Lately I’ve been thinking about how I connect with people. One day I looked up and wondered why I was even scrolling through the news feed. It had become a habit, something I did between teaching classes; when I was bored, it was something I did to delay the inevitable work in front of me. Lately though, it’s becoming clear that Facebook is not working for me. I’m not making or maintaining deep relationships there. I’m not meeting new interesting people there. I’m not hearing what people really have to say. And are we really saying anything important? I’ve been reading some interesting articles and posts about Facebook, about what it’s becoming and what we are becoming as we use it.

(This one is lengthy, folks. This post is not limited to 420 characters.)

Gwen Bell, one of the most respected social media guru’s on my radar recently wrote a post entitled Defanging Facebook. She and her friend Patrick talk about moderating or abstaining from the site altogether. For me, I don’t think I’ll ever completely give up Facebook, because it is a way to keep in touch with my mom and my sister, both of whom refuse to start using Twitter. Facebook mainly serves as a jumping off point for Skype conversations or longer in-depth email exchanges. And for that reason, I’ll keep it around, at least for now.

Another point of view to consider is Don Miller’s look at Digital Clutter. (Recently, Don has been rocking my world daily with his “Creator” posts, which are basically simple directives about who creators are and what they do.) But he got rid of his Facebook after asking himself some questions:

the question I ask myself with digital communication is different: Did I or anybody else benefit from this the past year? That’s a harder question to answer. Did anybody benefit from seeing my pictures from that retreat? Maybe. Did I benefit from knowing it was so and so’s birthday, or that so and so was in a relationship? Maybe, but probably not, to be honest. I’d rather find out that so and so was in a relationship when they came through town, stayed in the guest room and we caught up while listening to whatever music we discovered. So I decided Facebook should go.

Interesting questions, hey?

This article, written by Zadie Smith for the New York Times looks at The Social Network, the movie about Facebook, but the last half is really a reflection on how we are presenting ourselves, how we are being minimized by the site:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

I agree that sometimes we leave out the “messy” parts. Who wants to project that they’re a miserable piece of garbage at the moment, feeling everyone is happier than they are? It seems that the Facebook “status” is causing serious anxiety for students, or anyone for that matter. Ask yourself how many times you’ve paused before hitting the Share button. How many times did you revise your status because it sounded too depressing, or even too happy? I’m not going to talk about how many times I’ve reworded something or gone back and praised God for the little x lurking in the corner. 

This college professor dares his students to take a media fast from all technological and traditional media for three months and asks them to journal about their experiences. Could you do it? How much would we really miss? Are important, authentic dialogues taking place that we would miss? Or would we connect more with the people around us, connect more with the people we live with, heck, would we connect more with ourselves as we sit and listen to our brains, instead of constantly hacking out a new status update?

We keep saying that Facebook is a way to “keep in touch” with people. Maybe so, because I keep in touch with my family across the world, but is it really making us more social? Slate has an interesting article that says it’s doing the opposite:

By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles' heel of human nature. And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.

and then there’s this:

Facebook is "like being in a play. You make a character," one teenager tells MIT professor Sherry Turkle in her new book on technology, Alone Together. Turkle writes about the exhaustion felt by teenagers as they constantly tweak their Facebook profiles for maximum cool. She calls this "presentation anxiety," and suggests that the site's element of constant performance makes people feel alienated from themselves. (The book's broader theory is that technology, despite its promises of social connectivity, actually makes us lonelier by preventing true intimacy.)

When I read that last line, “preventing true intimacy,” I thought about the relationships that are only played out on Facebook and if they really contain any true intimacy. Are your relationships through social media authentic? Or are you part of the play?

There’s this video about how to use Twitter and they mention that 150 connections is the maximum number of meaningful relationships you can have and still be getting something out of them. So when I saw that I had over 300 friends on Facebook, I went straight for the “defriend” button. My new criteria for friends are that they have to have written something on my wall, left a comment, or sent me a message within the last year. If you haven’t communicated with me in any way over the past year, it’s not likely you’re ever going to. And you can always look me up and write a message without being my friend.  ;)

I can’t completely knock Facebook, because at this point, I do use it and I’m not willing to give it up. Although, if I did, I’m sure I could still find ways to get in touch with family and friends to make Skype dates. But for now, I’m wary and cautious of what I’m projecting, how seriously I take what other people are projecting, and who I’m allowing Facebook to say I am. 

What about you? Are you your Facebook status?

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