It’d take me a long time to explain what Facebook is and what it does if you don’t already know. In order to give you some basic idea, though, here is the blurb from the site’s home page:
Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you.
Facebook is made up of many networks, each based around a company, region, high school or college.
You can use Facebook to:
- Share information with people you know.
- See what’s going on with your friends.
- Look up people around you.
What that means, in practice, is that when you set up an account on Facebook, you fill in information for your profile page. You then declare yourself to be a ‘Friend’ of other Facebook users (they have to approve you: they agree that you should be classed a ‘Friend’), and a record of that fact is then also kept on your profile.
So, I took myself off Facebook in July 2006, having joined in May 2005, back when it was still called ‘thefacebook’. During that time I collected about forty Friends.
For months, then, I’ve been meaning to write this article; to verbalize the cognitive process which led to me removing myself from the site. (That’s a junky-jargon sentence for you.) I’ve been trying to come up with a soundly-reasoned set of points for getting off Facebook, which would in turn become a matter of discussion.
But I can’t really do it. I’ve come to realize that my reason is basically a little silly, and that it probably says more about me than it does about Facebook.
I just didn’t like it.
I’m relieved to say, however, that I have got fairly sensible (to me) reasons for not liking it.
First and foremost, I just cannot see the point. I am already able to stay in touch with my friends throughout the University and at other universities, using email, instant messaging, and—golly—the phone. These are all easy methods of communication. Many people argue that using Facebook allows them to stay in contact with friends with whom they would otherwise lose touch—and I’m sure that’s true—but for me, I can’t help but think, why would I stay in touch with these people using this site if I’d been so lazy (or calculating) that we don’t already communicate using the media already available to us?
Indeed, being the anti-social little weirdo that I am, during my membership of the site I only added one Friend; the others all invited me to be their friends (great!, you say). However, after these people had added me as their Friend, they never once got in touch with me. Fine for the people that I was seeing here, but there were people adding me as a Friend whom I hadn’t seen in years, had encountered in some previous existence, and perhaps with whom I had never been particularly chummy. Bye bye the it-lets-you-stay-in-touch-with-people-with-whom-you’ve-otherwise-lost-contact argument.
Furthermore, I had a problem with the use of the word ‘Friend’. Note that I use an initial capital to refer to a Facebook ‘Friend’ and lowercase for a real friend. Because there is very much a distinction: to me, the word ‘friend’ conjures up a real sense of mutual affection. My Friends weren’t actually factually friends,1 and so it troubled me to publicize the description of Friends as friends. ‘People I know’, sure. But ‘Friends’? Nuh-uh.
Like very many other people, I was quite disturbed by the implications that Facebook has for individual users’ privacy. Now, this very site is a testament to the fact that I haven’t got a huge problem with posting information about myself online. On my own site, I have absolute control over everything that is published. On Facebook, however, all of this information about a huge number of people is collected together on one site, ripe for the harvest. Someone else could post something about you in their own profile—however potentially harmful—and you’d be powerless to do anything about it. One thing that bothered me from the beginning is the way in which people, when uploading photos, can tag each image with information about who is in the photo. Very commendable. But then users can click a link on your profile page to view all photos on the site which have been tagged with your name. It suddenly got very easy for someone to see any photo ever taken of you in whatever compromising situation—whether you like it or not. You can individually ‘detag’ photos so that they no longer disclose that it’s you in the frame, but this is a tiresome opt-out process, rather than allowing your name to be attached to individual photographs.
I felt very much that I didn’t really fit in with what was expected of me with regard to the profile page. Everything seemed to have the implication of being very dating-oriented, without overtly saying so. You have only to look at the various ‘virtual gifts’ just introduced for Facebook users to give one another (each gift, which is merely an image sent from one user to another, costs $1 USD, which this month is being given to charity, but afterwards will be retained by the site), and the implication of each of these images, to see that nearly all of them are ‘dating’-oriented. Thanks, but no thanks. Some people have tried to suggest to me that all human interaction is ‘dating’-oriented, but even I am not that cynical. I find the implication here too tasteless for words.
Finally, I freely admit to being a fogey. And as a fogey, I dislike participating too much in fads. And I’m convinced that Facebook is a fad, because—returning to my first argument against the site—I Just Can’t See The Point. (See what I did there? You might call it Ring Composition. But I wouldn’t.)
When I bit the bullet and left the site—in case you’re wondering, it didn’t Change My Life, and You Can Do It Too—I was under the impression that all social networking was effectively pointless. However, my opinion on that matter has since been further refined. What I see as pointless, is social networking for the sake of social networking. Let me explain.
As I’ve written about recently, I’ve taken to using Flickr for sharing my photos (the photos displayed on this site are stored at Flickr). Flickr is primarily about photos, but you can establish relationships with other users of the site, who are described as ‘Contacts’. The benefit of doing this is that you can have a single view where you can see photos recently uploaded by your Contacts. You can also choose to determine individual Contacts as being ‘Friends’ or ‘Family’—you can then share individual photos and albums with no one, with everyone, just with your Contacts, or just with Friends and/or Family. The distinction between Contacts, Friends, and Family is very helpful, I think—it gives you a much more sophisticated level of control over your privacy. On Facebook, someone is a Friend, or they’re not. There’s no in-between.
But the central concern of Flickr is photos and photography; the social networking is a useful extra—not an afterthought, as such, but rather something you can choose whether or not you want to engage in. On Facebook, the central concern is to establish online relationships with people you already know in some capacity; the other things like photos are secondary. How ironic, therefore, that the distinction between different types of Contacts comes on a site where the social networking is secondary to the purpose of the site, and not on one where the very purpose of the site is to aid your relationship with these people.
On Flickr, you may or may not know your ‘Contacts’ offline—what draws you together on the site is a common interest in photography. Although I’m not an active user of the site, I can imagine that something similar can be said about YouTube, where anyone can join, but the common interest is specifically in each other’s videos. On Facebook, however, there is no common bond between the users of the site, except for arbitrary things that define the individual networks, like ‘we’re at the same university’, or ‘we live in the same town’.
I know that very many people continue to love using Facebook, and good for them. However, I felt I had to remove myself. Got an opinion of your own? Sound off in the comments.