I broke up with Facebook this week. We might get back together but for now we’re not talking. Our relationship has been on the rocks for awhile anyway. Maybe you can relate to the ups and downs she’s put me through.
Can’t beat the price
Facebook is free because they want my data. I know that they see everything I write, picture I post, post I “like” and frankly I don’t care. They use that data for all kind of stuff (especially advertising). I’d rather see an add for an Apple product b/c Facebook figured out I’m a Mac fanboy than an ad for Farmville because I happen to be on the internet. They can have my data in exchange for using the service. They could do a better job with privacy settings but overall Facebook uses what I give them and what I give them is up to me. For my data they give me connections with pretty much every person from my past (except for one who has totally disappeared off the map).
Popularity isn’t as good as it looks
There was a time when I was adding several friends a week to my profile. Now I don’t usually add anyone. I can’t maintain the connections I already have so I’m not adding any more. It was fun to get thousands of “friends” and then my wife and I had a conversation about our family’s privacy. Frankly I’m not concerned about someone knowing where I live or when I travel. I’m more bothered by admirers than enemies. I’ve had a few women who have “liked” every single thing I post on Facebook which is creepy, not flattering. The problem with having a lot of friends on Facebook is that it dilutes the purpose.
When I was a boy I loved baseball cards. One day I traveled with a friend to a baseball card shop out of town. It was a big deal and we were very excited to spend several hours looking at cards we had never seen in person. Then the shop owner asked me to trade one of my cards for 3,000 other cards. At first it sounded too good to be true but he assured me he would trade me my one card for 3,000 cards from a specific sport. I said yes and gave him my card. He brought out a box too large for me to comfortably carry more than three feet filled with completely junk hockey cards. I knew jack squat about hockey players. 3000 were worth less than one. It’s not the amount of something that matters as much as the quality in most cases. Facebook is the same way. The more the merrier does not apply.
My timeline was filled with people I knew nothing of and had no interest or ability to get to know. We all have a limited relational capacity and Facebook is a prime place to see that limited capacity in action. The more “friends” I had the less I liked checking my account and the more comments I would get from people I had no relational context with. How do you correspond with strangers when they say something nice about your kids or disagree with your opinion? It all became a distraction.
The internet has rewired your brain. Forget trying to read a book, just try to read a magazine article. You’ll likely have a hard time reading every word. If you finish it’s because you skipped entire paragraphs and read the first sentence of several but then skipped rest of the paragraph. We are skimmers. We don’t drink deeply from the well of ideas anymore. We’ve lost the capacity for substantive conversation and thought because there’s too much data and not enough time to consume it. The addiction to checking that account became ridiculous. It became one of my home pages on my browser and took place as one of the main apps on my iPhone. I went there every hour, often more. I had nothing good to show for this. I was not growing deeper in relationships, greater in knowledge or finding more joy. The tool was mastering me.
You can’t update the moment and live in it the same time
I was forcing my kids to stop living so I could update my status. Like the countless Olympians I watched at last night’s closing ceremony in London capturing the experience on their camera as they walked around the track we miss moments because we’re busy documenting them. My advice is this. Put the phone down and live the moment. Document your life less and live in it more. Perhaps you can snap pictures throughout the day and when you have some down time you can upload the pictures. We often interrupt the beauty of the moment to update our virtual world on what’s happening. Facebook causes us to pay less attention to the moments. It tricks us into believing we’re present because we’re capturing it through a picture or comment but in reality we’re more journalist than participant. Journalists don’t experience events in the same way participants do. We can’t soak up the full scope of days when we’re constantly interrupting them to update our virtual life. It’s a different experience and in my opinion a less rich one.
Your work will suffer
Distraction is not good for your work. Your “friends” emotional dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney’s VP pick or the loss of their pet is not good for your work. The rant from the woman about her ex-husband posted to her 500 closest friends is not good for your work. Facebook may be good for mental relief and that can be a good thing but consistently interrupting your work to enter into the the world of Facebook will most often do much more harm than good. The pull of Facebook is that every update is from someone you’ve said yes to. You had to accept them into your profile so you feel compelled to read what they write. Would you ever expect to be a part of every conversation going on in a room? No. Facebook compels us to be a part of conversations that we’d normally never engage it. It’s a fire hose of information and our capacity to consume will never match the information it produces. You’ll never catch up or get a handle on it. Your work will suffer because Facebook is like a drug. The more we do it the less satisfied we become so we believe just a little more is the answer. You want proof? Do you like Facebook the more you use it? Do you like it more the more friends you have? Do you spend more time on it than you did a year ago? Does it make you happier? Most importantly does it make you better?
Garbage in, garbage out
When someone updates their wall telling me what a moron the President of the United States is or that Mitt Romney is evil (newsflash, we’re all evil) I’m entering into that conversation. When I read about a woman trashing her ex-husband, a young relative lamenting that he’s home alone on a Friday night, or a guy who whines about his job before he goes to work and as soon as he comes home from it then I’m taking in garbage. It’s emotional content that does no good.
My wife and I choose not to watch certain television shows (all but one show actually) because they’re garbage. I’m not sure when our culture decided watching an hour of action packed murder and rape stories (CSI anything) was entertainment. In the same way when did it become healthy to try and maintain 500 relationships through typing messages on a web site? Facebook can certainly be fun and interesting but I’m not sure it’s really good for relationships. More is not better, it’s just more.
Friends or “Facebook Friends”?
Facebook has contributed to a dilution of relationships. It’s become a place for us to have relationships with people we never would otherwise. At first glance that seems like a good thing until we realize that we’re emotionally connected to people we never really talk to. What happens to us when most of our relationships are filtered through a web site? I would submit a lack of depth is the greatest hallmark of on-line relationships so the more “friends” we add the less depth we will experience.
What will you miss?
You don’t know the value of something until you take it away. I’m taking away Facebook for a week and I’m going to be paying attention to how my thinking, my attitude, my attention, my creativity and my relationships change. I’m staying on Twitter because Twitter has a 140 character limit and I’m very comfortable with the filters I’ve set up to see the content I want to see. I’ll still have plenty of contact with others using email, my phone and this thing called conversation. In other words there are still plenty of ways to communicate with the outside world without being on Facebook. I’ll let you know how it goes.
NOTE: This does not apply to you if…
I hate talking about the weather. In other words I have very little tolerance for small talk. I want depth in my relationships so surface talk is mostly annoying to me. Facebook is mostly surface talk and many people love the surface. I’m just not one of them. Maybe Facebook just isn’t the right place for depth. If that’s the case then I’ll probably never be as active on Facebook as I once was. You can’t expect something some something that it’s not capable of giving. If you love Facebook you’re not shallow or less of a person, you just have a different experience than I do with the site. I wrote this post to make you think not to convince you to agree with me.