Friday, November 05, 2010

In Praise of Facebook

What's with all the Facebook bashing?  'Facebook users are narcissistic.'  'Yes, and also immature.'  Facebook 'friends' aren't real friends!  Get over it!  Move on!  The rest of us have. 

Well, I love Facebook, and I'm not ashamed to say it.  I love it because it satisfies two of my primary neuroses--wanting to know how people are, in perpetuity, and not wanting to pester them. 

I was beyond delighted, the first time I was 'friended' by someone from elementary school.  I had been looking for that girl for twenty-five years.  Just because we're not seven years old and living down the street from one another anymore doesn't mean that I stopped liking her; it's a real thrill to know that A. is doing just fine, is happily married with two kids, and living in Dallas.

Is this so strange?  Reading the comments in this letter, I get the feeling that there are a lot of people out there who can't understand it.  They regard Facebook as an onerous burden, or a popularity contest, or a haven for the self-involved.  But it seems to me that there's nothing less self-involved than being interested in other people, whether you see them every day or not.

The reason I love it is that it takes so little effort.  What's narcissistic, as well as time-consuming, is emailing a thousand people five times a week; Facebook is great because you can ignore it. You can share as much or as little as you like, and everybody out there is free to take it or leave it.

Also, it helps me to avoid one of my existential terrors--that of Calling At A Bad Time.  Thanks to Facebook, I will never run the risk of inviting someone to see the latest Harry Potter film when they're on the way to their mother's funeral.  I can limit my guest list to people who are not in labor.  I can send congratulations, condolences and silly jokes at the right moments, not the wrong ones.  How is this not a fabulous thing?

Of course my Facebook 'friends' aren't all my friends.  I'm not an idiot.  It's a good way of helping me decide who I want to get to know better, however.  If I 'friend' a new acquaintance and discover that she's a member of 'One Million Strong For Sarah Palin,' that saves me the price of a cup of coffee.  
I'm not going to 'defriend' her, though.  Since Facebook is such a minimal-impact medium, it perplexes me when people feel a need to purge their 'friend' lists for trivial reasons, such as 'I don't know who all these people even are,'  or 'We haven't spoken face to face in three months.'  The only things that will cause me to defriend you is: 1) I don't know you, and you keep sending me press releases for events in cities that I never visit; and 2) I know you very, very well, and you know what you did.


Chris Rywalt said...

You approach Facebook much the same way I do. What you like about Facebook is exactly what I like about it: I can keep up with people. I might not have anything specific to say to, I don't know, my former Senior Patrol Leader from Boy Scouts 25 years ago. But I like hearing that he's out at a bar in New Orleans with some burlesque dancer. I don't know why I want to know that, but I do.

Of course the bad side of Facebook is that someone like me can hurt other people's feelings at light speed. And have them hurt back. But it's not so bad.

Tracy Helgeson said...

You are right on, Stephanie, I love being able to keep up with various people on FB without bugging them and I have the same condition as you you do, CALLING AT A BAD TIME. I ALWAYS, no matter what take it personally and feel like a complete moron when someone can't talk to me for any reason, which is also why I seldom call anyone on their cell phones cause I just know some people answer them while on the toilet and then I will really feel like I have intruded......

The best part has been that some people that I used to only sort of know are actually turning out to be quite good friends, and I have also been able to clear the air with an old boyfriend (or two;))

RA Friedman said...

I think everyone's brain is wired a bit differently, some more than most! I purged out my page of people who I had never met nor really had much meaningful interaction. I felt a lot better afterward.

Pretty Lady said...

RA, I can understand the 'purist' impulse of purging your friend list if you've never met people, and haven't had any interaction with them while they've been on your list. I've considered that, though have decided against it.

What I don't understand is 'defriending' someone you've known for twenty-five years, just because you're not close, never have been and never will be. That just seems emotionally stingy to me. You limit your number of close friends so you don't spread yourself too thin, but Facebook requires *no effort at all.* Why NOT check in on Joe Blow from junior high, once every decade?

Chris Rywalt said...

I did hide -- not unfriend -- one guy who constantly crossposted from his amazingly uninteresting blog, which was mostly made up of images he got from who knows where, with no attribution, caption, or other adornment. If he'd posted as little as once every other day, I'd have left him alone, but he put up at least two images every day, and it was making it hard to find things I actually cared about in my updates list.

LXV said...

Hi PL, it's been a while since I last read your blog. Hope all's well with you and OG. Anyway thanks for this post. Now I don't feel like such an idiot. I still can't quite figure out what I'm looking at when I'm on Facebook. I had tried it last year and quit because I was afraid of getting FB cooties. Now I'm back and actually enjoying it a little. And yes, my father just died and we are trying to pull his funeral together, and it's really helping to have all my brothers and sisters and old family friends posting pictures and sharing remembrances. People have come out of the woodwork just to put in a word. Not quite the cut-and-dried formal condolence cards. Much livelier but no less heartfelt. Dad would have appreciated the interaction.

And Chris, how do you just hide someone without unfriending them. Is that the same as "blocking"?

Chris Rywalt said...

Blocking a user not only unfriends them, it makes you invisible to them, and them to you. If you block someone you'll never see them on Facebook again -- not a comment, you can't see them in searches, nothing. It's as if they don't exist on Facebook at all. And they can't see anything you do, either. You're gone from their world also. It's a bit weird, actually, because you might see part of a conversation they're in, but you won't see their comments. So it'll look funny.

You can hide a user, however, and then they're still there for you and you can visit their page and stay friends. You just won't see their status updates. To do that, click on the little X in the upper right corner of one of their status updates and choose "Hide all by". Then you won't have to see all their pointless updates, but they can still see you and you can stay friends.

LXV said...

Thanks Chris!

Remis Velisque said...

What bugs me is that everyone seems to think that Facebook is the only way to keep in touch with people online.

I find its format overwhelming. I have been using "social networking" in many forms since the early nineties - usenet, my college bbs, friendster, tribe, myspace... but the best was Livejournal. Not only could you keep up with friends, but the format of making longer posts made the information shared more meaningful (or at least gave it that potential).

I love my friends, but I don't want to know every little thing they are eating, seeing, reading. I want to know what is important enough for them to sit down and write, really write a page, about.

Do you remember "blipverts", From Max Headroom? When I am on Facebook, it's like being assaulted with non-stop blipverts.

The saddest thing is that people I know, artists and photographers, who used to craft these beautiful long posts about what they were working on, what their thoughts were, starting a dialogue with their peers (this was on Livejournal)... they don't anymore. They all went to Facebook. They post a photo here, a painting there, it gets brief comments... and it gets swept up in the flood of whatiatefordinner/letsgotoclub/photo/lookatthisarticle/ and disappears.

I love knowing what people are up to, as well. But I want something different than Facebook. I get harassed about it - just about saying I want something different. Its not cool to dislike Facebook. Like I'm not allowed to ask for some other kind of communication from the tech world and my friends.

I left Facebook back in April. I still have friends, I still make art, I still know what's up around town. I restarted my Livejournal. We can make choices. Facebook isn't the only choice. That's all I'm saying.

Steven LaRose said...


The Aardvark said...

I'm glad that you feel this way. Everyone needs to know how many carrots I need to win Farm Mafia Wars.

My problem with Facebook is really a problem with me. If I am not on top of everything instanter, I feel guilty (thank you, latent Calvinism!). So, I ignore it most of the time. (Isn't procrastination part of "TULIP"?)

Facebook has really added a new chapter to etiquette. Must consult Miss Manners, now.

I do hope that you are well!