I joined Facebook about two years ago but didn’t do much with it at first. Then, about nine months ago, it seemed that pretty much everyone who hadn’t yet joined Facebook started signing up. And posting there. A lot. Since then, I’ve been getting friend requests from people long removed from my social circle—elementary school classmates with whom I haven’t communicated since graduation, for example. And meeting someone new in person these days is nearly always followed by a Facebook friend request.
If I were in need of a dissertation topic*, I’d seriously consider an examination of online social networking. It is sociologically fascinating to me: a quasi-anonymous environment populated by physically isolated (from each other, that is) individuals who divulge their innermost—and often passive-aggressive—thoughts (via status updates and memes, for example), skeletons on the closet (e.g., digital scans of high-school photos from one’s “big hair” days), and random musings in a place that feels private but is actually quite public. Some of the things I see on Facebook leave me shouting, “TMI! TMI!” and wanting to wash my eyeballs afterward.**
But through Facebook I have learned some interesting things about some of my friends. It’s enabled me to maintain contact with some people who live far away from me and to renew contact with some people from my past. That second category is a tricky one, though, since whenever I get a friend request from someone I knew long ago but haven’t heard from in a long time, I remind myself that there’s a reason why we didn’t stay in touch***. Sometimes people drift apart; sometimes the only common ground they have is attendance at the same school.
Facebook is a huge time suck. Updates to status blurbs, posted items, comments on other peoples’ stuff—all of that fills me with a sense of urgency. For a while I felt like I had to check Facebook a gazillion times a day just to keep up. I didn’t want to miss out on any of the inside jokes or shared moments, especially since so many of these online interactions become part of a pool of shared knowledge that is referenced during in-person encounters and shapes them.
For me, Facebook became oppressive. Not only did I feel like I was on an information treadmill, but I was putting so much energy there that I didn’t have much left for blogging or correspondence. It’s too easy for me to dash off a quick comment there rather than put the effort and thought into the more substantial writing that I want to give some topics. (So yeah, I am staying far, far away from Twitter. No tweets for me!)
N.B.: I am not dissing Facebook or the people who use it. Rather, I’ve been thinking about what I want from social interactions and find that Facebook is not my primary outlet for these things. It has its uses for me, though. I’ll still keep up with Facebook, just not nearly as frequently or intensively as before. This slowing down feels right to me.****
*Which I’m not. One is enough, thankyouverymuch.
**For an interesting discussion of this, take a look at this recent Time article, “25 Things I Didn’t Want to Know About You,” about a Facebook meme that’s been making the rounds for the past few weeks. My favorite is this one: “23. My friends say that when they shave my back, I purr like a walrus.”
***So far I’ve accepted all friend requests I’ve received from people from my way-back past, mostly because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But every time I do this, I feel like I am contributing to the redefining of the word friend—and not in a good way. I believe I have many acquaintances but not a huge number of true friends. On Facebook, though, everyone is a friend. This bothers me somehow.
****Wow, look at all the footnotes here. I have read way too much academic writing. At least the footnotes here haven’t rebelled, as they did in Robert Grudin’s very excellent Book (which was published, incidentally, many years before Whoopi Goldberg’s famous memoir of the same title), in which the footnotes actually take over a chapter.