The whole idea for these posts came from my feelings after reading Winda Benedetti’s MSNBC article “Five reasons why I took a Facebreak.” (Thanks @lllittlefield and @LKassenbrock) I found myself honestly upset, which was weird. I’m defending a website and an industry that I (currently) have no personal or financial stake in. I’m a user, just like everyone else. But the article brought up many concerns and complaints that I constantly hear from non-users and haters alike. I could go through sentence by sentence and pick it apart, but I’ll stick to the five main points.
1. The black hole
This basically refers to the amount of time that’s often wasted Facebooking (or Tweeting, etc.) by getting sucked in to everything the site has to offer.
“It’s a testament to just how compelling an experience the folks at Facebook have created, and bravo to them. But I need that time back. I’ve got an honest-to-goodness non-digital life to attend to.”
But wait. Again, as I pointed out in my post “Does social media redefine neighborly interaction?” and as Ivor Tossell points out in his piece from Canada’s Globe and Mail, are these online friendships not real? Unless you’re “friend-whoring” and requesting everyone you see, these are real people with whom you have real relationships with at some level or another. It’s not the folks at Facebook who make these people compelling…this is your life.
However, getting sucked into a black hole of not real stuff is a possibility. “There were vampires and zombies that had virtually bitten me, and expected to be virtually bitten in return. I’d been poked and the question begging to be answered: Would I poke back, or would I remove said poke as though said poke had never happened?”
Here’s the thing. Just like your television having an “Off” position, Facebook apps – most of which are mind-numbingly stupid – have an “Ignore” button as well. Accepting every stupid request that your n00b (if you don’t know, I’m talking about you) Facebook friend sends you would be like accepting every single invitation to go out with friends, or keeping every toy that comes in the cereal box. Eventually, you’re going to have a stressful life and a kitchen full of clutter…and only crazy people do that, right?
2. Oy, the guilt
This is nothing new. Online networking hasn’t changed the basic human condition and emotion of guilt. 11-year-old Lizzy was going to be upset if you didn’t return her note in third period, just as the 33-year-old Elizabeth might get a little extra sensitive if you don’t comment back on her wall post. Don’t blame online networking for the emotional faults of your friends.
3. Where has my history gone?
“With time, those friendships of yore acquire the warm shimmer of nostalgia and your experiences with these people take up a special (if not entirely accurate) place in your memories. But reconnecting with long-lost friends … can be a jarring experience to say the least. … Sometimes reading their profile is a fun, fascinating journey of rediscovery. … Sometimes, your friends’ political, personal and religious affiliations — so neatly summarized on Facebook’s Info page — don’t seem to describe the person you remember, but instead seem to describe a stranger … a strange, dislikable stranger.”
I do kind of sympathize with this one. It’s similar to people saying that they’d be hesitant to meet their favorite movie star, athlete, or musician out of fear that they’d be a real jerk, thus shattering the perfect image you’ve had in your mind. But personal experiences shape our adult lives. Just because you and Timmy had awesome times playing basketball in middle school doesn’t mean that when you went off to Oberlin College and he got a job with the street department that you can re-connect in the same level on the other side. That’s life. It’s just a matter of whether or not you really believe that ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is.
4. Standing on the precipice of humiliation
Also nothing new. Remember in the 50’s when Leave It To Beaver type housewives would form gossip networks over the telephone, ruining someone’s squeaky clean image with an embarrassing tale? Yeah, times haven’t changed much.
5. You can check out…
Ah, the reconciliation at the end. As Winda Benedetti points out, she missed a lot of stuff. A lot of real life stuff. Was cutting herself off from online networking a good idea?
“One friend recently had a baby and he’s been keeping people up to date on his son’s arrival and the ensuing adorableness by using Facebook and Facebook alone, it seems. Meanwhile, old friends of mine came to town for a visit and then left, but I failed to connect with them because they tried to reach me via Facebook while I was taking my Facebreak. I haven’t seen them in a decade. Now, who knows when I’ll have another chance.”
A common cure suggested for frustration with online networking is “just don’t take it too seriously.” I totally disagree. Take the time to use social networking properly – installing privacy filters, controlling your own content, etc. – and you’ll find that it’s not this separate life or identity or time waster, but a valuable communication tool that allows you to stay in touch more conveniently than ever before. Be smart!