Monday, August 31, 2009

Facebook Circles the Drain

How Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships:

This brings us to our first dilemma: Amidst all this heightened chatter, we're not saying much that's interesting, folks. Rather, we're breaking a cardinal rule of companionship: Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Friends.

"It's called narcissism," says Matt Brown, a 36-year-old business-development manager for a chain of hair salons and spas in Seattle. He's particularly annoyed by a friend who works at an auto dealership who tweets every time he sells a car, a married couple who bicker on Facebook's public walls and another couple so "mooshy-gooshy" they sit in the same room of their house posting love messages to each other for all to see. "Why is your life so frickin' important and entertaining that we need to know?" Mr. Brown says.

For others, boredom isn't the biggest challenge of managing Internet relationships. Consider, for example, how people you know often seem different online—not just gussied up or more polished, but bolder, too, displaying sides of their personalities you have never seen before.
And like slowing down at a car crash, people continue to read and sop up the latest "breaking news" updates about what you had for dinner last night or if your status went from "married" to "complicated."

But perhaps things are changing. While the WSJ piece makes it seem as though Facebook is an ever-consuming web of malcontents and losers, this NYT piece yesterday suggests an exodus from the social networking site may be under way.
If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.

Leif Harmsen, once a Facebook user, now crusades against it. Having dismissed his mother’s snap judgment of the site (“Facebook is the devil”), Harmsen now passionately agrees. He says, not entirely in jest, that he considers it a repressive regime akin to North Korea, and sells T-shirts with the words “Shut Your Facebook.” What especially galls him is the commercialization and corporate regulation of personal and social life. As Facebook endeavors to be the Web’s headquarters — to compete with Google, in other words, and to make money from the information it gathers — it’s inevitable that some people would come to view it as Big Brother.

“The more dependent we allow ourselves to become to something like Facebook — and Facebook does everything in its power to make you more dependent — the more Facebook can and does abuse us,” Harmsen explained by indignant e-mail. “It is not ‘your’ Facebook profile. It is Facebook’s profile about you.”
Like other Big Brother attempts to commodify and take over our personal lives, some of us have been whistling in the dark out here about the gathering of personal information, which with a complete lack of discretion, people put out there on their Facebook pages. All those chats and pictures and messages you send and upload, you think you own the content, but you don't. Facebook owns the content, lock, stock and barrel. Worse, the "privacy" there is a joke. Hacking someone's Facebook account is easier than going to the bathroom.

Ironically, when you try to "deactivate" your account, Facebook sends a weird survey asking "why are you doing this?" When you click on an answer (say, "taking up too much of my time,") Facebook responds with "suggestions" on how to help you with "your problem." This is followed by a rather scary "we will miss you" message from the "team at Facebook" that is beyond creepy.

Worse, if you actually want to delete your account, it's even more difficult and cumbersome to figure out. And once you do, they give a "grace period" of a few weeks, just in case you change your mind and "come back."

People have queried why I've been writing about this so much lately. I suppose from personal anecdotes and numerous stories about its reach into all levels of society, I didn't realize Facebook and other social networking sites had become something so sinister and all-encompassing. I've warned students for years that "putting it all out there" can come back to cause all sorts of problems later in life.

But watching people in their 30's, 40's and 50's jump on in the past 18 months or so has been a hilarious, sociological car crash. Between trying to relive the 80's and escape their humdrum current existence, Facebook morphed from something cool for college students, to a medium for sad, middle aged shut-ins, predators, trolls and narcissists.

As I posted back in March, "re-connecting" seems to be the primary motive for older people on Facebook, but this too seems odd. You are re-connecting with people you no longer have anything in common with, save the fact that you're on Facebook. And people change from how you remember them, many for the worse.

"Wev," as they say. I'll take a handful of friends sitting around in a pub and having a conversation any day of the week. As a good friend of mine put it last week, "If your life is halfway meaningful and full, you have no desire or time for Facebook."

Bonus Irony: When you visit both stories on the WSJ and NYT, they make links available to send directly to your friends on Facebook. I'm not sure whether that warrants an "LOL" or a "STFU."

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