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.