The Facebook Trap

I feel trapped by Facebook. A recent Salon piece by Sara Scribner has rekindled my nascent desire to exit it altogether. Scribner comes to her own loathing of Facebook from the perspective of someone who, having escaped the cliques of junior high, finds herself once again in a social environment in which approval and validation are constantly sought as a matter of the normal course of business. Survival requires it (or so our lizard brains tell us).
I get that, as someone who has absolutely turned to the web to rebuild a sense of self I’d ceded to the demons of middle school. I’m very cognizant of this aspect of it, and it’s often in the back of my mind as I use it. But my beef with Facebook has little to do with trauma, nor does it concern the service’s dubious-at-best approach to privacy. It has far more to do with the content provided by those who populate it. You know, my, as it were, friends.

Frankly, Facebook is full of garbage. People post junk. I’m fortunate to have witty and self-aware friends and relatives with healthy senses of irony, but it’s just not enough. Facebook is a stream, a morass of dumb image-memes (those “Your eCards” things? Really bloody awful), pointless and poorly-worded rants, and eyeroll-inducing aphorisms or drippy affirmations. Junk. It’s like Wal-Mart mated with Hallmark and that baby had a baby with MySpace.

But I feel compelled to keep up with it on one hand, and I am compelled on the other hand.

It really is the only way I keep up with many friends and relations, and without it, I’d be truly in the dark about many of the people on in my life. This is entirely my fault, as I could simply make a point of getting in touch with these folks, but I am an introverted, antisocial, self-hating guy, so I don’t. In this way, the raw functionality of what Facebook is has been a blessing. Because it has achieved critical mass as a platform, there’s really no alternative that comes without the junk. I’m just not going to get my wonderful grandmother or a selection of my former theatre troupe-mates to sign on to Path or what have you. If I want to have a web-based platform that allows for frictionless sharing of photos and news and thoughts from those on the outskirts of my daily life, Facebook is the only game in town.

And I really have no choice but to be engaged to at least a very significant degree, simply because of my work. My day job entails heavy social media work, and so not to engage in this platform would be utter negligence. Plus, now as a “professional” blogger on the side, and one who harbors ever-to-be-unrealized fantasies of my music catching on, to eschew Facebook would mean to essentially give up on having an audience. My analytics don’t lie, and most of my traffic comes from Facebook.

So I’m not leaving. But what I can do is ruthlessly curate my experience. I can keep the vast majority of the folks I’m “connected” to off my main news feed, focus on a handful of folks I feel a need to keep up with, and try not to spend too much time browsing the damn thing to begin with (love it or hate it, Facebook is a time-suck once it has claimed your gaze).

While I think I’ve become much more adept with Twitter, my wife, for example, is a master of the form of Facebook. The witty status message, the ability to swerve away from long-threaded arguments, the active cultivation of relationships in a sincere manner. For my lovely bride, Facebook is a powerful toolbox that she uses very well. And I think for both of us, being comically and theatrically inclined, we enjoy the hell out of the dopamine squirt we get when those little red notifications pop up indicating likes and longer-form approval.

But back to Scribner. This is almost a side note, but I couldn’t let it pass. She writes in this same piece:

When I was a kid, I sometimes worried about what my incessant TV and movie watching was doing to my experience of everyday life. To make the day more exciting, I’d sometimes imagine that I was in a scene from a film. Even when I wasn’t actively daydreaming, I’d sense that my perception was being slightly altered, as if cameras were on me. Nothing too extreme, but just a nagging feeling of being onstage. I’d see myself from the outside; happy moments were occasionally tinged with foreboding – tragedy always interrupted joy in movies, right?

Holy crap does that ring true. I think I still do this, and I know it’s a byproduct of far, far too much TV as a kid. I can almost hear the underscore, the Wonder Years-style bemused narration. It’s aggravating when you know it’s happening. I’m not sure it’s happening on Facebook specifically, but yeah, I totally get that.

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10 thoughts on “The Facebook Trap

  1. I have yet to join. Sometimes there’s the odd link I can’t follow, like a signup or just plain info on a real life event. That said, I think I would feel watched on fb and I don’t want to connect with those I went to school with.

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  2. I recently ditched Facebook, and I don’t regret it a bit. I had to step away shortly after Sandy Hook because of the torrent of moronic gun apologia (I was neutral on the topic of guns until I actually saw the idiocy the pro-gun camp considers argument), and I realized I didn’t miss it a bit. My wife says I should just hide all the people who annoy me, but that would leave my feed pretty barren. The people who aren’t obnoxious never post. Perhaps there’s a causal relationship there?

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  3. I don’t really think the idea of being in a story/film/whatever has that much to do with film/facebook. Cf. the following, from Orwell’s “Why I Write”, written in the late 30’s I believe:
    “…side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc. etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.”

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    • A friend of mine, years ago, had a character in a role-playing group who would do that. Out loud. The character treated himself as a character in a film noir, narrating his own life, much to the annoyance of everybody around him. Lots of fun to play, though…

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  4. I use FB a lot and enjoy it. My secret is to have a strict rule about being FB friends with anyone from work, with most people I find aggravating in real life, and with anyone under 18 with whom I have an official teacher/youth leader relationship. Extended family members generally end up on a restricted list. This means that I only use FB to connect with people who tend to share interesting articles, take nice photos, and are actually supportive and helpful. It also means I have fewer than 200 FB friends, which makes the whole thing more manageable. I pay attention to my privacy settings and almost never post anything “public” – amazingly enough, the most trollish of my real-life annoyances seem to set their privacy settings to “public”, so I can see what looniness they are up to should I so wish.
    I’d love to ditch FB for something more like Diaspora, but in the meantime, it’s actually an enrichment for my life.

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  5. I started slowly “don’t show me any more messages by XXX” until the messages stopped. Then, I realized, that the only reason to have a facebook account was so I could exchange messages with a few people I chat with all the time. So I zapped the facebook account and reverted to email and iMessages and saved an hour or so a day (which I now waste on FTB)

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  6. I’m just not going to get my wonderful grandmother or a selection of my former theatre troupe-mates to sign on to Path or what have you.

    And if you could, you’d have exactly the same problem. It’s not the platform that’s the issue, it’s simply the nature of human social interaction – of people. You’re always going to have to put up with the junk, whether it’s via Facebook, in email, from the person sitting opposite you at the dinner party, or from the drunk on the next barstool. At least Facebook gives you the option to exclude people from your newsfeed… You can’t do that in real life. (Well, not without them knowing about it, and then having to deal with that.)

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  7. I guess the thing is I never really got into it that much in the first place. I have a couple of groups there where my mates and I discuss science fiction (and occasionally I’ll join groups to discuss games, but usually leave after a while). I’ll use to look at photos of my nephews or nieces when my brothers or my sisters-in-law post them (I am not a photo TAKE myself, let alone a poster). And I played a few of the games for a time until I decided they were pretty much all the same game, and not all that interesting.
    My experience, in short, has been about the opposite of addiction – it has been trying to work out what there is to do with it. I have the same issue with Twitter – the whole thing just seems so pointless to me that I’ve yet to sign up and even try it (even though my wife swears by it).
    There’s obviously something I’m missing, but damned if I know what it is.

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  8. #6 Marcus Ranum

    So I zapped the facebook account and reverted to email and iMessages and saved an hour or so a day (which I now waste on FTB)

    What does it say about me that upon reading that last little bracketed line, I moved my mouse towards where I automatically thought the “Like” button would be?

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