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.

9 Responses to “My love-hate relationship with Facebook”

  1. Chrison 10 Feb 2009 at 10:13 am

    I’m still resisting Facebook! I feel that way about Ravelry sometimes (oppressive need to keep up), so I tend to not do much on it.

    Hee hee – my MS thesis (2000) was about how people in an online technical forum established their credibility through interactions with people they couldn’t see.

  2. Deborahon 10 Feb 2009 at 11:39 am

    I myself still haven’t signed up for Facebook. Even though I know several people on it, and one in particular that posts all her traveling pictures there and that’s the only place to see them, I just haven’t mustered up the energy to join. Maybe one day. I’ve avoided MySpace like the plague too. My favorite thing about your post is your last Footnote talking about all the Footnotes in the post. :-)

  3. paulaon 10 Feb 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Hey, did you read my article in Information Technology and Libraries a couple years ago? That’s the main reason I signed up, for research. I forget to check it and Ravelry. I am still avoiding a meme that my grad school roommate tagged me in. I am glad to be your virtual friend via the blog.

  4. Imperatrixon 10 Feb 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I’m still trying to find a good balance with Facebook. However, for all the chaff (and youread my blog post about FB, didn’t you?) I have been able to get back in touch with 3 really good friends from my past. So that makes me happy.

    But interestingly, the people I would most like to renew friendships with from high school are not on FB. ;-)

  5. lisa_alberson 11 Feb 2009 at 2:22 am

    An equally good phenomenon to study would be the propensity to bash Facebook. So many jumped on the 25 Things smackdown, I’m now more interested in just why it bothers them so much. I was tagged by one person, a friend who happens to be an excellent writer (with a short story collection published a few years ago), and her 25 Things was so well written, I couldn’t help but try to step up to the plate. While I’m sure I couldn’t do hers justice, I did go about it smartly, opting to block my clients and “friends” I don’t know all that well from receiving it at all. I tagged only people who might be interested. Everyone else? Well, if they want to be my FB friend, then they’re going to see my Notes. If they don’t want to read ’em, don’t click on ’em.

    Which is not to say that I don’t applaud your slow-Facebooking. I recently pledged to slow-blog, and I’m yearning for better balance besides ….

  6. Marshaon 11 Feb 2009 at 11:13 am

    @Chris: So far I have successfully resisted the siren call of Ravelry! I have an account there, but I use it only to find info on patterns, yarn, etc.
    @Deborah: Some friends of mine set up MySpace pages several years ago, so I created an account to see them. But the look of MySpace pages just drove me nuts. So much clutter! So many blinking things! It made my eyes bleed. (Well, not quite…) So I just don’t go there. :)
    @Paula: I did not know you wrote an article about that! Is there a link to it somewhere? I’d love to see it. (And I, too, am glad we met via blogs! I prefer blogs to Facebook and Twitter and the like because I think they permit more depth of interaction.)
    @Imperatrix: I did read your post, and a lot of what you wrote really resonated with me. It was weird, because this post was already in the works when I read yours. Maybe writing posts about dissatisfaction with aspects of Facebook is the latest Facebook meme. Hmmmm…
    @Lisa: Nearly everyone on my Facebook friends list has done the “25 things” meme. It was interesting to learn some things about some friends, but there were a few cases of TMI (rest assured–not from you! heh) that made me feel a little skeevy just from reading them. And the “friends” who aren’t truly friends (as I define them) but people I knew two decades ago? It felt weird to read such personal, out-of-context things about them. If they were meeting face to face, people wouldn’t blurt out most of the things they posted on their “25 things” lists, right? That’s what I find so fascinating about these Facebook interactions–how they deviate from accepted norms of face-to-face (or even e-mail) interactions.

  7. JDon 11 Feb 2009 at 5:31 pm

    My sentiments exactly, and better written than I could do! Facebook–like blogs, smartphones, etc.–has its pros and cons. The other Sunday, my pastor used FB and things like text- and instant-messaging as examples of “disruptive technologies.” Interesting.

    In principle I embrace it, but not to the extent that I’m abandoning the things that are important to me (e.g. actual knitting time and letter-writing). I still have my FB account, but recently ended my relationship with Friendster (arguably, the one that started it all)–which felt really good. It’s kinda creepy to have all your stuff “out there”; you think it’s private but employers and the like always have a way of finding out–something I make sure to warn my younger college student brothers about.

    And I’m not even gonna try and look up what Twitter is.

  8. Frankon 16 Feb 2009 at 8:27 pm

    I think Facebook is a good way to catch up with old friends, but it’s no substitute for blogspot, panoramio, flickr, or any other site that lets you share things. I tried out myspace, but hated it. Now, I’m dreading all of the junk that will show up on FB too.

  9. knittymamaon 23 Feb 2009 at 6:46 pm

    What a great post! I’ve been feeling the same way and have tried to keep my Facebook time down to once a week, maybe less.

    I’m amazed by who has crawled out of the woodwork since then. Some people I’m glad to get in touch with, others I wonder why they’re friending me. One I’m not even sure who he is, just that we went to HS together. And I’m amazed at how when someone I haven’t seen in 15 years does “friend” me there is no note, no “hi how are you” just that alert in my inbox. Which is fine. Often I just feel that I’m spying on old friends, and with my current friends it’s just another entertaining way to keep yapping about stuff. Like diapers. :-)