Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why I Unlike facebook

The f -bomb
Have you ever noticed that it's not possible to be negative about anything on Facebook? The only structural choice you have is to "like" something. You can "unlike" it (an unword if there ever was one), i.e. change your mind and take the little thumbs-up icon off. But you don't have the option of sticking a thumbs-down icon on anything. I think this is insidious. It reminds me of the part of Orwell's 1984 where the Ministry of Information is in the process of devolving English so that it is impossible to have certain ideas, like freedom or justice, for instance, because there are no longer words for them.

Ironically, this sunny lack of negative editorial options on Facebook doesn't prevent vicious little adolescent snots from tormenting one of their peers to suicide. They figured out how to do that without an icon. This is the second reason I'm not so ready to stick my thumb up for Facebook. It can be lethal. Instead of promoting human interaction, as was Mark Zuckerberg's noble, original goal, it has been perverted by some as a convenient power tool of sadism. There may not be a convenient "hate" button to click, but bullies find a way to slip the shiv into their victims anyway. I guess it's the social network equivalent of nuclear power, it can be used for good or evil. But mostly evil.

An Online Insane Asylum
The third thing that fails to plus me about the Big Little f (aside from the fact that you're supposed to render it in self-consciously pretentious lower case) is that it seems to encourage banality. People, especially people born after 1985, tend to share every eruption of a bodily function with everybody. The net result, even if you don't have that many people on your "wall," is a large, digital dumpster full of inane comments, pictures, and "likes."  Like who cares? I know it feels good to announce to the world that you like Lady Gaga, and that it feels like you're famous for a microsecond because your post goes up there on that ever scrolling ticker-tape of important announcements, but it's just an illusion. Nobody cares. Everybody's talking at once and nobody's listening. That's not human connection. It's the Social Room at the Sunny Valley Mental Hospital.

That's not exactly true that nobody cares. Prospective employers care, of course, looking for embarrassing pictures of you with your top off at a party, so they can send you a "thank you for your interest in our company" letter. And you don't even have to post those pictures onto your FB page; your friends (so-called) will do that on their pages and tag your name, so it shows up on your page anyway.

Meanwhile, for those people who would actually use their wall to inform family members and friends about important events in their life--say a wedding or death or a sex change--those messages get buried in with all the other junk about who's now friends with whom.

Where's the Love Button?
A more famous curmudgeon than me, Jonathan Franzen, in a piece in the NYT, says that Facebook is insidious for another reason; that it commoditizes human love, reducing it to a commercial relationship on the same order as your "like" of a brand soft drink. To love someone, he says, is a dangerous, lifelong undertaking. To merely "like" something lets you off the hook. You can "like" something or "unlike" something with the click of a mouse. There's no commitment. At least not like there is when love is involved. You can love someone, he reminds us, without necessarily having to like them all the time. That's real life; sticky, risky, painful, but also euphoric, transcendent, fulfilling, and fun. Of course, Facebook doesn't pretend to be a substitute for the sticky, risky, painful, euphoric, transcendent, fulfilling, and fun. But it does tend to keep you on the couch instead of going outside to play. Sort of like writing blogs.

The daughter of a friend of mine was--momentarily--my hero because she went off grid. She called her mother and said she was getting off Facebook because it was a waste of time. I was inspired to follow her lead. But another trusted friend talked me off that ledge by saying, "Yeah, do it if you want to commit professional suicide." (Of course, I think it's far too late for that; I committed professional suicide when I started a career in advertising.) And then my friend's daughter got back on Facebook after all. You really can't live without Facebook, anymore than you could live without GPS. Or clip-on mosquito repellent.

So I stay on Facebook. I check it every once in a while (as well as my Linked-In account, Twitter, my four e-mail accounts, my voice messages, a dozen blogs, my post office box, and my jeans pockets). Besides, if I didn't, I wouldn't get all this material to make trite observations about the banality of humanity, so I can feel superior--for a microsecond.


  1. Hey Jeff, you should be more concerned about the "personal filter bubble" syndrome on Facebook and Google. Much more concerned. You will appreciate the Like button for its banality. More on the filter bubble:

    --Dennis Hahn

  2. Thought-provoking link. I think those behavioral algorithms are themselves stupid. And we can subversively throw a wrench in their works by starting a movement to give false "interests" and changing them constantly. Rise against the machine!