Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why I'm not on Facebook

This post is in response to a request from the lovely and talented Ana Bozicevic, who recently wondered why it is again that I don't bring the wit to Facebook, where it can be enjoyed in regular, brevity-sized doses. So here are some reasons why I'm not on Facebook:
  1. Inertia/The Challenge/"Because it's there": I initially didn't join Facebook for the same reason I didn't join Friendster or MySpace: it seemed rather silly and high-schoolish and like it had the capacity to be a tremendous waste of time. I waste enough time online as it is, and I didn't want another outlet or another thing to check. I had no reason to believe it would be any different from MySpace or Friendster in terms of staying power, either. It kind of took me by surprise when I realized one day that very-nearly-literally-everyone is on Facebook. John and Martin were two of the last people I know to give up resistance. I think maybe Allen still isn't on Facebook, in earnest, but it's unclear. So at this point, it's sort of a personal challenge to remain on the outside. It's like not having a cell phone, or growing your own vegetables. I should probably write a memoir.

  2. Facebook Is a Cult: I'm resistant to Facebook partially because it seems cultish. People periodically try to lure me into joining and their reasons are generally selfish, i.e., it would make their life easier, not mine, e.g., they wouldn't have to send out a separate email when they want to invite me somewhere. After-school specials worked their magic on me; I'm still very suspicious of peer pressure.

  3. "I don't want to know": People often tell me that it's great to be able to peer into the lives of people you otherwise wouldn't be in touch with, high-school friends, ex-boyfriends, etc. I suppose that can satisfy a passing curiosity, but googling works almost as well; you can get an overview without that person necessarily knowing, and you don't have to sign up to be "friends" forevermore. If we're talking about people I was never that close to to begin with, I don't need a constant stream of updates. If we're talking about people I was once very close to, especially in the recent past, I don't really want to know the details of their life without me. It would just trigger feelings of jealousy and make me miss them. I'm not imagining this, it happens when I browse people's lives thru John's page.

  4. The Approval Process: This part is just kind of gross; now that everyone is on Facebook, you pretty much have to develop a policy on who you accept as a "friend" and how you handle your privacy settings etc. It's potentially awkward and confusing. I like that I can read strangers' blogs without having to ask them first, and vice versa. I also prefer the long-form format of blogs to blippy updates; they're more oriented toward rumination and theorizing (at least my favorite blogs are), or at least stuff that's potentially useful to a large audience like recipes or trendspotting. Whereas Facebook seems more oriented toward self-promotion, back-scratching and overt signaling (look what I did last night). And there's a place for that (it happens on blogs too of course), but when I want to read or share short-form updates, there's Twitter, which, again, doesn't require a mutual approval process.
I'm not going to pretend that there aren't disadvantages to not being on Facebook or that I don't see any value in it. Its value is pretty obvious. And I don't mean for the above to sound judgmental, like I think everyone on Facebook is really shallow or something. I mean, of course not. Like I said, that's EVERYONE I KNOW.

It'll be interesting to see how long I can sustain the Facebook-free lifestyle. I mean, how long before it's synonymous with society and to remain on the outside I'll have to go full-on Unabomber? Only time will tell. Most likely scenario? I'm forced to join for work-related reasons. Jobs are the peer pressure that works.

30 comments:

  1. If this were a FB status, it would take a lot less time to read, Elisa.

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  2. Yeah, jobs and running reading series. :) But beyond the promos, at its best Facebook functions like the village green: & one is able to get these ephemeral soundbites from friends abroad or in other cities and feel as though one's still participating in their lives in some daily way, not so damn apart. But I agree you should write a memoir: your year (?) without Facebook. Deep down I hope you always stay as you are, untouched by its blue-white hand, as it's so tempting to give up one's blog in favor of mainlining faces! And THAT would REALLY irk me.

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  3. Very good, Elisa. Glad to find your blog.

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  4. P.S. I am only on Facebook because I run a reading series that needs "event invitations" and the like. And also to keep up with old friends. But I do think Twitter has a more private feel and is easier to use.

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  5. It's weird to me that we've become so dependent upon the internet to arrange face-to-face meetings. (See also: Meetup, Evite, etc.) I also thought it was weird when a friend didn't come to my reading, solely because I didn't send him a personalized text message to follow up on the email invite I had sent. Wha? I can't win.

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  6. you do realize this means there is no way you can ever meet my evil twin brooklyn! (she's on fb but not twitter.)

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  7. But if she's evil ... maybe that's OK, right?

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  8. actually i'm the evil one. i should have specified.

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  9. There are lots of other good reasons to not be on it, one of which is the illusion of connection that it creates which is more of a feeling of connection than any actual or meaningful connection. I mean, if you were that connected to someone to start with, would you need an advertisement-riddled application to reinforce or maintain that connection?

    I am on Facebook, and I think between that and blogging, it's ruined poetry for me. I've seen too much of too little and wish I could wash out my eyes with detergent in order to unsee the too much of too little that I've seen.

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  10. I have a Facebook account, but only so I can occasionally view Facebook pages of a few friends (talking here about actual friends, not Facebook "Friends." And I've accepted a couple of "Friend" invites so I can view whatever they're putting in their Facebook pages from time to time.

    But, apart from that I'm not on Facebook, for all of the reasons you've listed here. I've also never attempted Twitter. (The poet Thomas McGrath told a friend in conversation once, summing up concisely the progress of civilization, "First we had wisdom, they we had knowledge, then we had information, and now we have fact." Tom died in 1990; if he were alive today he likely would have continued, "And then we had data, and now we have twitter.")

    For years, decades, I kept in touch with a wide-flung loose network of friends (poets and otherwise) by writing letters by hand on paper, and now and they by telephone. I never felt like I was missing anything. The only reason I finally caved in and got a computer was that I found that most of my friends had begun using e-mail and had stopped answering my paper letters, or only answered briefly and at long intervals.

    And the fact is, what a person might say on paper, having spent some time thinking it through and taken the (longer, slower) time to write it down by hand, is likely to be of a slightly different character than what they might say when they respond immediately to an e-mail or text message or tweet.

    This is similar to the difference, in a face to face conversation, between immediately saying the first thing that blurts out of your mouth, and taking a moment or two to think about it first. Only with a longer telescoped time for it.

    Even with my blog I don't post daily or (usually) even weekly, I wait until I feel like I have something to say and then until I have time to say it. Very little is so urgent that it can't wait.

    Thanks for posting this.

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  11. Despite my occasional prompting (usually couched in "It will help promote Rose Metal Press stuff"), Abby's still not on Facebook either, for what that's worth.

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  12. #2 is the reason why I am creeped out by Apple products and its attendant cultishness. Nice post.

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  13. Dana: It is kind of weird to know so much about poets just because they're poets, when they're essentially complete strangers. It makes you come to their poetry differently.

    Lyle: I feel like my friends email me way less as Facebook has risen into power. I've even heard people say that Facebook renders email obsolete, which really makes me cringe.

    Daniel: Apple is 100% a cult.

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  14. sometimes cults are underrated. if cult=quality, count me in!

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  15. by the way, i posted this on facebook. :)

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  16. I found this through Ana'a facebook page post and may use this discussion with students. I think there is some efficacy to the embrace so long as we understand boundaries. Cheers to posters/thinkers.

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  17. I'm on fb. In actual fact it has changed my life, concerning work. Having two children under five and another on the way, I can't get out to network or meet people. Amazingly loads of work has come my way, since I joined fb last year. I wouldn't say I got out that much before I (we) had the children because I spent far too long at my desk writing, or lying down, writing. Such an isolated profession, you never get to meet anyone? How do you get the work? And would you otherwise meet that very interesing character, you really like, who you wouldn't of otherwise met? I must say I took the fb interest too far when I requested a fb friendship from someone with the same name as me. What have we got in common, oh, we both have the same name, hmm, where shall we go from here?

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  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  19. It seems to me that Facebook is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing that I myself would find it difficult to make a moral case about either for or against, but I can't agree with any of the comments above that want to make Facebook out to be some kind of decay from an earlier time when communication was so much more intimate and fulfilling and real. Can anyone here put a historical date to that moment when people really did interact and truly know each other? 1953 would you say? 1970? 1776?

    I find the quotation from Thomas McGrath, a poet whose work I sometimes like, not particularly convincing either. What was the historical moment when people had wisdom? And back when was it that people had knowledge about the world? His novel This Coffin Has No Handles certainly doesn't suggest that 20th century dock strikes were a source of wisdom on anybody's part.

    Now if the quote was "First we had the illusion of wisdom, and then the illusion of knowledge, and then the illusion of information, and now all we have are the illusions of fact and twitter and Facebook," I'd be more willing to hear that argument through.

    Facebook certainly does change the way people communicate, as do all forms of communication, including the nature of face to face use of language. But even face to face language has never been purely unalienated, as anyone who's ever been in a face to face argument knows.

    So we can certainly talk about what Facebook has changed, but speaking for myself, I'm very skeptical of any argument based on nostalgia for a "time when."

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  20. aw nuts i missed the deleted comment! why do i never get mean comments on my blog? just once i would like to tear into someone.

    also, what mark said. i agree.

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  21. Ha ha, it wasn't mean, it was like Chinese spam. I promise. I wouldn't delete a comment just for being mean, unless, I don't know, it was anonymous and REALLY, REALLY mean.

    I meant "oh boy here we go" because I assume the nondeleted comment right above it is spam as well.

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  22. Also, I feel this is very clear, but just in case it isn't, none of my arguments are meant to be "moral," they merely express my personal preference, and they are not based in nostalgia for a simpler/purer time. I'm all abouts new media.

    I do think there are interesting arguments to be made, however, about what "friendship" means in the age of Facebook, when barriers to friendship are very low.

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  23. oh bummer. well spam can be fun too.

    i'll just say, the thing that makes fb tolerable is the ability to "hide" people, while still letting them remain friends. this way, when you log in it's as if they don't even exist, but they don't know you're hiding them, so you avoid the awkwardness of "unfriending". i call it the "out of sight, out of mind" feed. i wish twitter did it too!

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  24. That's a highly useful feature, but I wonder if I'd make the most of it. On Twitter, once I follow someone, they have to really annoy me before I unfollow. I feel guilty about it. Even though they'll probably never notice.

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  25. i unfollow at the slightest whim, sometimes feeling guilty, usually not. i always find other shiny objects to distract me. i'm shallow.

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  26. Is there that much difference between Facebook and a blog?

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  27. Yes, see above. :) In sum: I can read anyone's blog without needing their approval first, and anyone can read my blog without needing my approval first. I *like* not knowing who all is reading my blog. I intentionally *optimize* it so people I don't know might find it. That's how people get book deals, son.

    But also, I think blogging is more about long-form writing than short-form sharing (Facebook).

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  28. OMG I hate Facebook too! I'm glad I'm not the only one. It's like a giant cult. And it makes me crazy when people try to get me to sign-on. They're obsessed with it, and obsessed with having everyone they know on there. I just don't understand the whole philosophy of why people feel better visually seeing their name and picture surrounded by lists of other people's names and pictures. Maybe this makes them feel better in some wierd, psychological way? All I know is, I have no desire to digitize my every move, emotion, friend, co-worker, or relative on a computer site. To me it's like a stalker's paradise. And seeing blogs like yours makes me feel good in my resistance to this Facebook phenomenon. Be strong and don't join in! :)

    From,
    "A random websurfer who googled 'facebook is a cult' and found your blog" lol

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