My Experience on Facebook and Why I’ve Quit [Updated]

Some months ago I was swept up into the Facebook craze by old friends from my undergraduate college days. While I’d kept up with a few, most of these old comrades from our punk rock subculture had fallen well off my radar. It seemed every one of us was coming to Facebook at about the same time, and the initial flush of reunion was delightful. We shared many reminiscences, photos, and even some films from those heady times, and it was interesting to hear about Betty Goldberg (stage name “Trash Thatcher”)* who’d gone on to play bass with some of the luminaries of punk rock, tour with a luminary of contemporary alt rock, meet the likes of Bono and Bowie, form several of her own bands, and work as a session musician before ultimately souring on the music business, relocating to an unlikely city, and settling into work as a bartender and construction worker. Likewise, it was amusing to see how Frankie Coppola, drummer in my own band back in those days, a motorcycle riding rocker and the wildest of our bunch, how this maniac had married, worked his way well up the corporate ladder, and fathered a few kids along the way. There was even talk of a real-life reunion which, alas and perhaps predictably, never happened.

Over time, the nostalgia trip died down. People with whom I’d had an at best tenuous relationship “friended” me, perhaps only to peek at the old photos of the punk rock days I’d scanned and published to my account. Others, of whom I had no recollection, also friended me, and I began to wonder if the ugly shift from the verb “befriend” to the truncated “friend” had consequence beyond simple assault and battery on the English language. Maybe “friend” doesn’t mean “befriend” after all?

As the nostalgia and reminiscing wore down, I noticed two trends emerge. First, the banality of everyone’s day-to-day lives paraded itself in a woeful display of status updates like “Gearing up for a great doughnut breakfast with the kids.” Second, I watched with horror as we End-of-Boom-ers started adopting the online habits of the “Look-At-Me Generation” wherein the details of every life event are published online–often embellished to give them more sparkle–in the expectation of a congratulatory comment or, worst case, a “Jimmy likes this” replete with “thumbs up” icon. Imagine being solicited to watch the vacation slide show of a trip to someplace anonymous taken by a family you barely know or whom you knew fairly well 25 years ago but whom you’d hadn’t seen since–that’s the level of disconnect I began to experience. These things are all well and good but for the fact they’re foisted onto your Facebook “wall.” I immediately started “hiding” posts from the biggest abusers, even while catching myself repeatedly checking my Facebook account throughout the day to see what was up. This cannot, I began to believe, be healthy: I found myself spending way too much time looking at the trivia of other people’s lives that was of no consequence to my own. Trivia so trivial I didn’t even think it could provide or stimulate fodder that might find its way into my fiction.

Now, I’m not saying it was all bad. I do have close friends with “FB” accounts who reserve their posts for the truly interesting or, at worst, the fleetingly amusing (often with an ironic poke to the very idea of an FB post itself). Trouble is, these were the exceptions and still nowhere near as engaging as even just a few minutes in the physical presence of these people.

And maybe that’s what started disturbing me the most. When I compared the FB “presence” of close friends to their actual in-person presence, I realized that one of the maxims of postmodernity, at least as it manifests in Facebook, was bullshit: we are the narrative we create of ourselves. These were not people I was interacting with, these were digitized avatars, fictions. My digitized avatar was interacting with the digitized avatars of all my FB “friends.” The interaction, to my mind, looks something like this:

Me–>Facebook Me–>[contrived Facebook environment]<–Facebook Friends<–Actual Friends

So, while there's the appearance of connectedness and “networking” in the Facebook environment, I perceived a huge gap between the real-world me and the real-world friend with whom I was supposed to be interacting. This gap, to my mind, is distorted by the Facebook environment itself, which encourages that one-way, Look-at-Me-Generation brand of communication. It’s a communication strategy that is neither satisfying nor effective, and which is, to my mind, not particularly healthy.

Having already started thinking about shutting down my Facebook account, I finally pulled the trigger after a “friend” of a “friend” started spouting off the ugliest of right-wing talking points in reply to a BBC news item my friend had posted. Turns out this friend, who 25 years back had given me a Soviet Nikolai Lenin badge, had turned a hard 180 degrees to the right. Finding this trash confronting me on my very own FB wall, I realized that this thing I’d waded into, which had been so fun at first, was now causing me completely unnecessary stress and anger. Sure, I could have just “hidden” this person’s posts or even “de-friended” this person, but as I noted I’d already begun hiding posts. And once you start having to do that, is there really any point to being in the FB world?

“That’s it!” I thought. “I’m outa here.” And so I began taking the numerous steps required to disentangle from Facebook. Several weeks ago I had a trial run while on vacation and without an internet connection for 10 days. I’d found I didn’t miss FB in the slightest. So, cutting the cord has not been a problem. I feel liberated from my strange obsession with people I no longer know well, liberated from the brand of voyeurism FB imposes, happy I’m no longer providing the FB people marketing data, and perhaps a bit less narcissistic (though that’s still a work in progress!). My close friends remain close, and I can communicate with them in ways that don’t involve the funhouse mirror that is FB. I think our friendship will be the better for it.

*All names and nicknames mentioned in this essay have been changed to preserve the privacy of these individuals.

Update: December 29, 2009: Facebook in Real Life:

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20 thoughts on “Long on Face, Short on Book

  1. It’s a pity it didn’t work out well for you. I’m glad you extricated yourself if you found that Facebook was a waste of your time (I know there are many who both recognize that Facebook is a waste of time and that they are ‘addicted’). For some, myself included, Facebook is merely a communication tool. It’s a way to reach a large number of friends and get feedback on ideas quickly and fluidly. The question is what you are willing to share- as for myself I have posted very few pictures, but my blog posts are all imported into Notes. The Events application also makes scheduling parties and other larger get-togethers far easier than either e-mail or snail mail as it both allows instantaneous viewing of who might be coming (for everyone) but also the possibility of friends inviting others, or coordinating rides on the event wall.

    I’m sure there are applications I have yet to grasp as well.

  2. I’ve thought about quitting facebook. What gets me is the fact that no matter how hard you try, nothing you put on there is private. I love it as an easy, cheap way to get in touch with friends from all over the country, but my friend’s friends (people whom I don’t know) can read anything I post on their (our mutual friends’) walls and, even though I have my photos restricted to only certain people, people’s friends can see my pictures that their friend is tagged in….if that even made sense. It’s pretty confusing to explain. o.O Basically, it’s tough to share with your real friends without sharing with everyone else too.

  3. Thanks for the comments. To Lucid, I think FB probably works best when used with a contemporaneous social, business, or other circle. I think the complicating factor in my case was the “reunion” quality that drew me and many of my _old_ friends together. As many of us hadn’t kept up with each other over the years, the whole FB business became a bit shallow after the initial fun of the “reunion.” This was complicated by “friend” of “friend” connections that further watered things down. Having said that, I can definitely see how it can be used–with care–as a communications tool. I just didn’t see to much evidence in my experience.

    To Missra, I believe you can manage FB to group “friends” and stovepipe various interactions among the groups you create. This just seemed like WAY too much work!

    Ed

  4. And that is why I rarely accept friend requests and delete people whose updates irritate me.

    Though im guilty as charged RE useless updates, im an internet being, if i dont make my pointless daily thoughts known online i cease to exist.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your reasons for quiting. It is an addiction for many across the generations. Caring what others think of you, rather than what you think of yourself is totally absurd. Spending so much time in anothers life, instead of with your own family – how crazy !

    Enjoy your new found freedom !

  6. It’s funny that “Right Wing” talking points is what did it for you. I actually got tired of being so politically correct or doing the “never talking politics or religion in mixed company” thing and started to post links and articles on things that interested me. If people didn’t want to read them, they don’t have to.

    I find it interesting that you sort of complained about these people you didn’t remember “befriending” you. I hear that a lot from people who gripe about Facebook and my response is “Don’t accept it!” I have had people from High School who used to make fun of me send me friend requests. I don’t accept them. End of story.

    People who make fun of Facebook or say things like “I don’t have time for that shit” are the same people who sit in front of a TV for 5 hours a day, remote in hand, finding out who won American Idol. Hey, if that’s how you want to spend your time, fine, but I waste time in my own way. To each their own.

    1. People who make fun of Facebook or say things like “I don’t have time for that shit” are the same people who sit in front of a TV for 5 hours a day, remote in hand, finding out who won American Idol.

      ..that’s bs, the fb crowd and the american idol groupies are the same bunch of idiots jumping on the same popular culture bandwagon

  7. Totally agree with Roland. It’s on you to decide how much information you want to share with people and who to make your friend, just like in real life.

    Also, somebody above said that frnds of frnds can see photos of you in which you are tagged. For each album you have privacy settings, one of the options is ‘who can see this album?’. You can choose from ‘no one, frnds, frnds of frnd, network, everyone’. If you are really worried abt random people looking at your pictures, choose ‘only frnds’. As for your friends’ photos, you can always de-tag yourself.

    As for mutual friends reading what you write on a friend’s wall, if you don’t want anyone to see it, send a message. Messages appear in the inbox and work like emails. Nobody can see them except the user.

    Another reason I am pro-fb is because it helps you keep in touch with friends who are overseas. Calling is expensive and I find fb is an excellent tool to find out who’s doing what. In fact I quite like status updates and notifications. It lets me kniow what’s going on in my friend’s daily life, just the way you would find out if you met them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying facebook can replace physical interaction, but like Roland said, to each their own. If you really hate it that much, get off it.

  8. Great piece! I just quit FB today for many of the same reasons you wrote. In the beginning I had fun catching up with old friends, but eventually the line of “friend” began to become blurry as co-workers, family, extended family, new friends, neighbors, old friends, acquaintances, etc. all became intertwined. I began to obsess over who could view my updates, photos, and always checked to make sure that FB never accidentally changed any of my settings… it all just became too much maintenance for me. Good riddance!

  9. It’s been months since I quit Facebook, and now that my disdain has died down (say, “faded”), I’ve toyed with the idea of rejoining. Like you, I had no remorse when I quit, and I gladly occupy my time with plenty of other non-virtual activities. Before rejoining, however, I decided to search “reasons to use” and “reasons to quit” Facebook–your article came up. I have to say, out of all the articles I’ve ever read on the subject, yours articulated my Facebook experiences dead-on. I had the exact same sequence of events, the exact same feelings toward it, and thus, the exact same solution: quitting. Thank you *so much* for the reminders of why I left in the first place. In the future, when I open my business, perhaps I will consider joining again; ’till then, I’ve got your fabulous essay to save me. Thanks!

  10. Just a tip about the photos friends of friends thing. If somebody (anybody) either on your friends list or your friends friend list, comments on a photo, it will appear on the person who commented wall. If that person has a public account anyone can see it. At the bottom is link to “from the album blah by blah”. That gives access to the whole album. I’ve snuck onto Facebook a few times under fake names and the amount of photos I’m able to see from people who are private and I’m not even friends with is frightening.

  11. This essay is fabulous. It perfectly articulates my reasons for quitting Facebook (that I’m not always so good at explaining). If I get harassed about quitting I’ll be sure to forward on this link. It’s nice to see a thoughtful article about Facebook and the lack of meaning a lot of social interactions on there have. Sometimes I worry about all of us devolving into a bunch of tech-obsessed narcissists just letting life pass us by!

  12. Facebook is like a big room. Who’s in that room is a consensus, basically, decided upon by a combination of you and your friends and so forth.

    I’ve been able to get my news feed pretty mellow — that’s after deleting my account and then starting over, then deactivating it about 3 times. Yes, it’s just people doing stuff, but it’s people I know doing stuff, so it’s not that bad. Of course there’s still the occasional nonsense, I get used to it. More non-nonsense than nonsense.

    My block list is bigger than my friends list, and expanding faster. I guess I’m just being meticulous about it in whatever way Facebook makes possible (not necessarily easy).

    It can be done. I can’t do it without blocking people. I never de-friend, I block. Blocking defriends automatically and gives you some breathing room because you just drop off the radar for that person (but watch friends of the blocked person responding to your comment with your name).

    I’ve found that I can have it fairly mellow, but it’s got to be limited to a small scale, and I’ve had to be extremely brutal with the block list. If someone “takes over” my newsfeed, I’ll block them.

    Block, block, block, and block some more. Silence is golden. It’s just Facebook, so it doesn’t matter. I feel it definitely has a place in my life, but it’s not a big place, and it’s not a huge deal.

  13. I just came across your article today while I was searching the internet for reasons why I should remove Facebook from my life. After reading this article, I have decided that Facebook is officialy just a hype; It will plummet in popularity among people and the internet within the next year, just like its rival, MySpace, did.

    Not to hide my identity, I am a 15 year old girl who created a Facebook account to get in touch with all of my friends from my home state. I looked them up on Facebook and witnessed how they were all enjoying what this socialized web site had to offer. So in conclusion, I began using Facebook. At first, I felt amazed at how my friends from that state still wanted to be “friends” with me after my move. I started to send and recieve friend requests, feeling like I was going to reconnect with them again.

    Half a year goes by, and 116 friends later, I began to question my existence on this site. What I seemed to have recently realized, that my so called “friends,” who consisted of my used-to-be-friends, current friends, and older aged friends of mine, couldn’t give a rat’s ass about me. Half of them are peole who are trying to get their “friend” numbers up, and a small portion were people who I actually took time and had the pleasure to talk to.

    The constant update of their statuses saying quotes from movies, and other sayings that they picked up from God knows where, were highly irritating. I also found it halariously annoying when my “friends” would post these ridiculous updates that simply say, “Just woke up today and getting something to eat,” and they would get 5 “Likes” just for that.

    Facebook also has dumb-ed down by coming up with an app for everything.
    “What planet should you be from?,” “What pet should you have?,” “How sexy is your name?” and many others, which are all pointless. I really could care less how sexy my friend’s name is. What really annoyes me, are the games on Facebook. Do I want to virtually farm? No! So stop sending me requests!

    Despite all of this, Facebook does offer you the convenience of staying in touch with the people you care about miles away. It is easy to get a quick message to someone on Facebook, but my time wasted is not worth it.

    I have read a lot of articles relating to the topic of privacy on Facebook, and I have concluded that the personalization of your privacy controls on your account, are not enough to keep other people from reading it.

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