Prior to this day, social networks have been done before (see the rapidly sinking Myspace and Friendster), but it has taken Facebook to bring the entire experience together cohesively and seamlessly, across multiple platforms and requiring the use of real names and actual photos which encourages an image of authenticity. I’ve been a Facebook user for a few years, far from a heavy user, more of a lurker. Of late, I’ve begun to reduce my usage, from checking a dozen times a day, to once or twice a week at most: relegating it as a centralised address book or a method to get in contact with hard-to-reach people on the odd occasion.
The strange thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything of value: The people that matter, I still keep in contact with via other means (just as I did before). In fact I feel less distracted and more productive, no longer constantly checking for updates every so often in a way that I’ve been conditioned to do. I am more focused on the real tasks at hand.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Facebook as a service, but the use I see in it is rapidly diminishing. A number of months ago, I stopped to think about the posts I was putting up, questioning myself. For what purpose are we posting? Are we purely chasing that instant narcissistic gratification that some secretly (or not so secretly) need to validate our existence? Was this done under the guise of ‘sharing’ with friends? Most importantly, does posting this add any substantial value to anybody’s life?
I saw little of value in the ‘News Feed’, often being filled with people’s meals, where they were at that exact time, or just plain old attention-seeking updates: hardly thoughtful, barely insightful drivel, at the best of times. I simply didn’t care about these details. We were all on a merry-go-round, chasing tidbits of worthless information that ultimately meant nothing and was essentially unsatisfying.
That got me thinking.
Some argue that Facebook is merely a platform in which existing personality traits can manifest themselves more clearly, but also keep in mind that all actions on Facebook require active social actions, there is no passive. Essentially, there was little worthwhile or deeply-fulfilling interaction to be had on Facebook, it was nearly all superficial. Then there’s the replies. On one hand rapid and free-flowing interaction between people is important, but more often than not, comments become relegated to other’s self-promotion, mindless ‘like’-ing, and so on.
In fact, if you think about who is most likely to frequently comment on your posts (and have their content on your wall), it would be those who live and breath Facebook, desperately refreshing and checking as often as they can, chasing any type of response or attention they can. Are these the people that you really want to be dedicating the most time ‘interacting’ with regularly?
I read statistics about how much time people are spending playing Facebook games (as well as other ‘social’ games) and I’m scratching my head. This is a topic for another day, but it’s mind-boggling to think the pure amount of time people put into games like Farmville and the like. Is the popularity of these games a clear sign that our preferences are for pure instant gratification (however trivial), as opposed to focusing on more disciplined and worthwhile causes? The irony is that seeking a more social existence via Facebook leads to the opposite. I also regularly witness similar things where during social events, many people spend the majority of their time deeply engrossed in their phones rather than interacting with others. It’s funny, but then it’s sad. I know this because I’ve been in those shoes before.
I think people by nature gravitate towards the easy, primal, convenient tasks. The ability of people to link long-term happiness and unhappiness directly to trends in actions or thoughts is extremely poor. As a result, people chase the cheap thrills, the quick laughs, without stopping to think about what’s really going on. Social interaction with friends isn’t an action that can be performed en-masse, that’s called boasting or broadcasting. Real interaction can only occur on a face-to-face level, and it’s a two-way street. Facebook is a very poor substitute for that. I greatly enjoy a deeply engrossing conversation, but these are becoming more and more rare as people are constantly wondering where they can check-in next or whether they have PM’s.
There is a huge difference between quality communication and quantity communication.
Then of course, there’s the privacy issues. Nowadays, it’s nearly inevitable that we live some or most of our lives within the cloud, and it’s not a matter of IF our information is stored there, but WHO is responsible for the safekeeping of our information. For many, this is irrelevant, as long as they get their service, then all is well. They’re happy to give as much information as possible to corporations, without so much as a second thought about how it will be retrieved, the track record of that company and what protections they have if that information got into the wrong hands. Without wanting to sound like a paranoid luddite, the possibility of identity theft, or more simply, people knowing things they shouldn’t about you, leads me to believe that even with all it’s benefits, over-subscribing to Facebook will actually act as a barrier in the long-term. Keep in mind, the same goes for Google too, which is why I’ve begun to gradually cut down my usage of Google services of late.
They don’t make it easy either. Constant e-mails bombard you with every tiny notification or update (by default), the data backup function is a facade and closing your account is not an easy task. Facebook’s task (and rightly so) is to assimilate the entire world into their ranks. The social ‘interactions’ people have are infinitely valuable to advertisers, marketers and companies. Information which nobody else has, which is nowadays looking more and more likely to precede you everywhere you go, whether it’s job interviews or just shops you go to, the scale of which is just scary. Don’t forget that you are the product being sold, as long as you’re happy, then they profit. Of course, Facebook will continue to thrive, it’s numbers will swell as people get their buttons pushed, but at least now I have a better understanding of what makes it tick.
In the meantime, I’ll choose the real thing where I can, thanks.
Further recommended reading: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2011/02/30-day-facebook-fast/