Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Facebook, Get Thee Behind Me

I used to live in and run around exploring this wonderful little universe (actually, not-so-little, but my galaxy was relatively small) called the blogosphere. I wrote posts at least every other day and went off visiting others to get to know them and to see what I could learn from them. We had wonderful, thoughtful discussions. We introduced each other to great books, great music, great movies. We talked about revolutionizing the world through blogs. We laughed together. We even cried together. We enjoyed a sort of intimacy I don’t often find offline. Always, we supported each other.

This universe wasn’t always easy, especially for us Natural Born Luddites. I had trouble for a while figuring out how to introduce people to each other (a.k.a. “linking”). Learning how to share photos made me wonder if I just might not be the stupidest person in the world after all. But I had wonderful friends like Mandarine who patiently guided me (from across the Atlantic no less) through the ins-and-outs of doing such things as posting pencasts. I’m actually still learning (don’t ask me how to embed a YouTube video into a Blogger post), and I still want to learn more.

It seems those were already the good old days, though. They were the days when I’d check my email, eagerly awaiting the encouraging and insightful comments my friends left on my most recent posts. The days when I couldn’t wait to see if my friends had new posts. The days when I’d leave comments of my own that I hoped lived up to their brilliant posts and inspired them to keep up their fantastic writing, so I could keep reading them.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Becky invited me to join her in a new universe, sending me an email message asking me to be her friend on Facebook. I accepted but not exactly with a “gung-ho” heart. I’m pretty sure my thoughts went something like this at the time, “Oh God. Blogging is enough of a challenge – and time sink. I just can’t face trying something else.” That must have been way back in 2007. Try it, I did, but I pretty much dropped it in favor of blogging. I even forgot which email login I’d used and my password.

Fast forward to 2008. Ian gets all involved in Facebook and writes a blog post on it. He drops not-so-subtle hints (like, “Emily, get on Facebook!") that he’d like to find me there. Courtney (one of my most loyal and dearest blogging buddies) concurs. I still pretty much ignore them (after all, I’ve forgotten my login and password), despite the fact that Ian was the first one in our family to blog, and I should have learned by now to listen to him (but no, I’m still stuck in the “older-sister-ignore-younger-brother” habit). Then summer rolls around, and Fem comes to visit. She went to seminary with Bob, and through her, I discover that almost all of our seminary friends are keeping up with each other via Facebook. She invites me to be her friend, and I finally begin to realize there’s an answer to the question, “What’s all the fuss about Facebook?” Unfortunately, people like Becky have disappeared. That's okay, though. Ian is here. My sister and nieces are here. Courtney is here. And, of course, all our friends from seminary. I visit occasionally, growing more and more infatuated, and then head back home to the blogosphere.

But then, IT happened. People began to find me. And they weren’t always people I wanted to find me. I mean, there’s a reason we lose touch with some of the people we do during a lifetime. Chances are, if someone annoyed the hell out of you in 9th grade, and you think you’ve escaped her, she will show up through a friend of a friend on Facebook and be just as annoying as ever. She will send you invitation after invitation to be her friend. Eventually, just like in 9th grade when you finally agreed to sit with her at lunch (a move you came to regret for the next 3 years), you will click on that “confirm” button and then remember, way too late, that you had planned to stop being someone who can never say “no,” that you were going to learn to be someone who can say, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be your friend.”

However, you have now discovered that Ms. Annoying Woman has 522 friends. You have a grand total of twelve. How can that be? Are you so much more of a loser than Ms. Annoying Woman that she’s got many, many more friends than you do? Did she suddenly blossom into Ms. Non-Annoying Woman, the way Ms. Dumpy blossomed into Ms. Glamorous Model during the ten years between graduation and your reunion? You suspect, as she starts to bombard you with all kinds of weird virtual bumper stickers and requests to join “tattoo-my-tongue” groups, that the answer to that question is “no.”

Trying to keep her from thinking that you have spent the last 25 years as a hermit, you desperately start searching Facebook for your cousin’s cousin’s best friend’s brother-in-law whom you met at a wedding 18 years ago. Then it hits you, and you find yourself thinking, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t want that person reading that it’s Friday night at 10:05 p.m., and all my update says is, 'Emily is headed for bed after a cup of tea and the crossword puzzle.’” What also hits you is this question, “Am I someone else’s ‘Ms. Annoying Woman?’” Maybe there’s a reason those ten high school “friends” you’ve just sent invitations have lost touch with you during a lifetime.

What I do want to do, on the other hand, is to see if friends I loved and wish had not slipped out of my life are here. I also want to see if friends who have not slipped out of my life, but who no longer live close enough for lunch and dinner dates are here. And you know what? They are (including Becky, who came back)! And that, unfortunately, is why I am now spending more time in Facebookosphere than the blogosphere. I’m enjoying reconnecting with long-lost friends and keeping in touch with other friends. I'm ignoring my "no computer after 8:00 p.m. rule," and staying up late "chatting." Worse yet, I'm "climbing the Pathwords ladder." (Warning: if you happen to love the game Boggle, do not click on that Pathwords link. You will find yourself in the throws of one of the worst addictions ever, because you know, now you can play alone...as much as you like...and no one will ever know...)

So, now, instead of reading blogs and pondering new ideas and looking for comments, I’m checking to see who’s posted new photos and discovering that “So-and-So is watching My College beat Enemy for the 100th time.”My guess, given the booming silence in the blogosphere for some months now, though, is that many, many others are doing the same.

Thus, I am here to say today that I really don’t like it. Sure, it’s fun. Sure, I am very happy to be back in touch with old elementary school friends, high school buddies, even old babysitters. But it’s not the same as blogging. In the blogosphere, I’ve made new friends (while also staying in touch with real life friends). In the blogosphere, we have real conversations, not mere sound bites. The blogosphere is an extension of publishing (a new form of publishing, if you will), a place where ideas and knowledge are shared, a place where authors can get and give immediate feedback. Facebook is a cocktail party full of small talk, and you know, I’ve never been a real fan of that.

Those of you who are reading this, let’s take back the blogosphere. Let’s refuse to spend more time cruising Facebook than writing thought-provoking posts. Facebook has its place (just as the cocktail party does), but let’s not get so drunk we can’t find our way back home, which is here, on our blogs, making each other think and taking the written word to new levels (oh yes, and debating what that means).


Lezlie said...

No Facebook for this girl. All my younger friends think I'm hopelessly old-fashioned, but there's only so much time in a day. I'd rather spend it reading books and checking our favorite blogs! :-)


Amanda said...

I agree. I don't really like it either. In fact, just this weekend I decided that I wouldn't actively update it anymore. It is a huge time suck and it's not ultimately a satisfying one.

I have also concluded that I prefer to interact online primarily through my blog. At least that way I can be confident that the people reading it, have actually chosen to do so, and that I'm not just randomly spamming former workmates and cousins etc with blather they'd rather not be bothered with.

Also call me paranoid, if you like, but I'm not very comfortable with all the personal information Facebook has on me.

Charlotte said...

I agree - FB is a dangerous time-sucker, and my addiction to it is a clear reason why I should never, never Twitter. I would disappear into a Twitter-shaped hole and never be seen in the blogosphere again.

Anonymous said...

The title of this really made me laugh. I can see how facebook could be a time sink if you got into it. I've always stayed on the margins and don't visit it more than about once a week (unless people write kind and lovely things on my wall). And I know what you mean about the blogworld being quiet. I think a lot of the bloggers we knew are posting less now, all those years having passed (isn't it amazing?). But now I'm posting more regularly again, new people are coming and so the world does regenerate. And some of us old stalwarts are still here, and always will be, looking forward to seeing you whenever you drop by.

Anonymous said...

I maintain my Facebook page but I won't grow virtual gardens or start snowball fights or engage in sci-fi virtual warfare with people. My real plants die - I don't need the stress of fake plants dying too. As for the friending the friends you don't want to friend - I'm a cold hearted snake - I just ignore them!

raych said...

Hear hear! I finally had to put a limit on myself (I'm only allowed to check my Facebook on the hour, and then only for 5 minutes, and if I miss that 0 dropping, then I have to wait another hour) because I was taking DAYS to write papers. It is the path of least resistance, Facebook is.

Amanda said...

interestingly (or not) I find Twitter less time consuming and more satisfying than Facebook. It's a more pure form of expression and communication. There aren't any games or gift giving applications etc and I also don't find myself looking at the photos of friends of friends, which I'm afraid I seem to on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

I'm here! I'm here! I have actually been around the blogosphere, waiting for you all to come back. Oh, sure, I am ON facebook, and I wanted you to join so we could see pictures of each other (don't ask me why I didn't just email them) but I still read blogs more than I go on facebook and I am trying my best to blog more regularly than I was (am cruising through the end of the novel which is my own time suck. But I agree, I've noticed many of my favorite bloggers updating their facebook page while not blogging! Let's take the blogosphere BACK. And really, I need to temper my use of exclamation points...

knitseashore said...

I'm actively resisting FB too. Had a good conversation with Dorothy and Hobgoblin about it, and you've identified one of the main reasons I continue to refuse to sign up: as much as there are a few friends I'd like to find from high school, there are a much larger number of individuals who I would prefer NOT find me!! Having to use your real name and other personal info gives me the creeps.

I did sign up for twitter, with my blog name, and have a private account. People have to email first before I will let them read. Only people who know me have my email address, in order to find me there. Like the other commenter said, it's not very time consuming if you check only twice a day, and limit the number of people you follow to only good friends. I think of it as a supplement to my blog, not as a replacement.

Sorry to be so long here. As you can tell you have touched a nerve. As a knitting blogger, I've seen lots of knitters abandon their blogs lately for Ravelry, and it's disappointing. Maybe one day the attraction of the superficial cocktail party conversations will wane?

Grad said...

Oh I know how you feel! My old college roommate invited me to join. She works for a university and had to sign up for her job (for reasons that escape me). For a while, she and I each had a handful of friends. No pressure. Suddenly, she was signing people up faster than a Fuller Brush salesman. I felt slightly panicky with my meager handful. Had I so few friends? Even worse, the FB friends I DID have were my kids friends. "How much more pathetic can this get?," I thought. I did badger one very good pal to sign up just to become my friend. I told her it would keep me from looking like a total loser. She did it, but I don't think it helped. I'm getting better. I now accept that I am to be forever deficient in FB frinds. I've run out of sisters, brothers and in-laws and neighbors. The cherry on the top is...I never have time to get on Facebook...so now I look like a quiter. LIFE is not as hard as Facebook!

Grad said...

Oh, Emily, I forgot to add, your post was hys-terically funny! Good for what ails at 4:15 p.m. (that and a glass of wine).

Anonymous said...

I'm not on Facebook and after your funny post I think I have been warned and will stay away especially since I love Boggle and would no doubt click on the Pathwords link and be lost forever.

Anonymous said...

I like both. My blog for endless ruminations and uncensored blathering and Facebook for quick overviews of what other people are up to. What I don't understand is when people make it their quest to get as many "friends" as possible. Why would we WANT people we don't know to be our "friend?" I admit that I've accepted a couple of "friend" requests from people I don't know, assuming that I must know them somehow and all would become clear when I see their page. It didn't, but I didn't have the courage to "unfriend" them. Oy.

But Facebook could never replace blogging, in my opinion. Apples and oranges. I've never tried Twitter, but the idea of it scares the bejeesus out of me.

Rebecca H. said...

Facebook is important to me because most of my family is on there, and it's a good way to stay up-to-date with them (and yes, that does say something significant about how my family communicates, but there you go). But I have become "friends" with some high school people I'm not terribly interested in. What I discovered recently is that if you de-friend someone, Facebook doesn't notify them, so there's a chance they might not even notice, particularly if they have hundreds of friends already. I've done that on a couple of occasions.

And I'm loving twitter! It's not a big time-waster, and it's a great way to get a glimpse of people's lives without all the distractions Facebook offers. I agree with Debby that Twitter has been a supplement to blogging, not a replacement.

Anonymous said...

What I hate about FB is when people who spurned my friendship post each other chatty comments on each other's walls when they could just email each other (or send a message). Do I really want to be reminded that x and y just really didn't like me? Anyway, apart from that it's a great way of keeping low-stress contact with people and seeing photos etc. I blog much more than I FB and am too shy to share my blog with most of my FB friends. Strange hey since half my family now reads my blog.

Anonymous said...

I recently deleted my facebook account and it was the most liberating thing I've done in quite awhile! After awhile I realised that physically going and meeting my friends for a catch-up was far more enriching than trying to decode their updated status everyday. It doesn't apply to all facebook friends but there can also be a certain kind of insincerity in the interactions that I can't really cope with.

Watson Woodworth said...

I'm terribly suspicious of Facebook.
That's a potential for too many people I know to compare notes.
Can you imagine having spurned lovers as Facebook friends?
My fake name isn't the best kept secret in the world and I trust that the only reason family members haven't looked me up is because they know I would only break their hearts.
(No guilt complex here)

Emily Barton said...

Lezlie, you are a very smart woman (but then, being a fellow Faerie- Queene-lover, I already knew that).

Ms. Make Tea, yes, I know who my blogging audience is. Half the time, I forget who's reading my Facebook page, and I'm sure if I wasn't already, I've now become "Ms. Annoying Woman."

Charlotte, I'm avoiding Twitter, too, despite the fact that so many here seem to be recommending it.

Litlove, you're right. It's funny how new people keep discovering my blog (of course, now I feel I need to write a post to explain lots of things to the newcomers, because I tend to assume people have been reading me all along and know basic facts about me), and I wish I'd kept on the FB sidelines like you have.

Sara, oh yes. All those fake plants and stuff. Forget it!

Raych, good for you! Hope your papers are getting written in speedier fashion these days.

Courtney, novel-writing, rather than FB, is a far better time-sink. Wish I could say the same!

Ms. Knits, so many tell me Twitter is better (I guess I'm at the same stage with Twitter I was two years ago with FB. Maybe I'll see the light in another two years -- when everyone else has moved onto something else?).

Grad, LIFE is not as hard as FB, indeed!

Stef, yes Pathwords, and now I've discovered Scramble (which is even more like Boggle). Deadly. Stay away.

Danny, I have to admit that I found out about your latest great news from your FB page first and then went back to read the blog post. Oh well...And I, too, have that feeling that it's somehow rude to "unfriend" someone I've befriended, even when I have no clue who they are.

Dorr, the main reason I'm on FB remains keeping up with my family. Although, it's somewhat amusing, because we're basically just using the FB email, which we could easily do with regular email. I think it's driven by the fact that those of my nieces' generation don't use regular email.

Pete, oh yes, that spurning your friendship for others' to chat away on their walls is VERY annoying. So is the ignoring comment you made while responding to comment from someone you thought they hated.

A-owl, could you please send me a couple of bottles of your wisdom?

Nigel, "suspicion" is a good adjective for FB. To think I used to worry about revealing too much on this blog. I'm amazed what people will reveal using their real names.

Anonymous said...

Facebook is a huge problem for me, but I feel slightly better knowing it is a problem for others. In fact, it is one reason why I didn't comment on this thread before now. My husband deleted his account last weekend. "Why do these people keep asking me to be their friend?" was honestly his reaction to the whole thing. I don't think I could do that -- I have to keep an eye on my kids, for one thing, and my presence keeps them from doing god only knows what kind of mischief. But I'm not so sure I can continue giving third person status updates about myself. It's just a little embarrassing.

Anne Camille said...

For the past week, I've been thinking I should write a post titled, "I've been abducted by aliens from the planet FaceBook". Indeed, it is an alien planet that I have been exploring. After spending a few hours there this evening, (including time spent playing one of those addictive word games), I decided I needed to return to my home world and catch up on the blogs that I haven't read.

That said, I have found some usefulness in strange world of FB. It is a blog post, though, too lengthy for a comment here, that I will write some other time. If you're only interested in cocktail chatter, it is banal and you are probably not the type of person I want to befriend in a real-world, in-depth, caring friendship, though you may need such things in your life. But, if you use FB as a means to find or maintain common ground with people in your life, a springboard to further in-depth communication, then FB is valuable.

I can't stand the 3rd person status updates. I want to yell at the internets: FRIEND is not a verb!

Emily Barton said...

Bloglily, oh I would absolutely feel obligated to keep an account if I had kids, and the third-person thing is very weird, although I can already tell I'm beginning to get used to it. These days, I seem to be using FB more for playing Scramble than anything else (almost as bad as the Tetris addiction I once had).

Cam, yes, there is a bit of usefulness in it all, despite so many annoying factors. You do realize that this means "friend" will soon enter the common vernacular as a verb. I do hope, however, that thirty years from now, we aren't all walking around talking about ourselves in the third-person.

Feminine Feminist said...

Great post!! I can't decide if fb is the new evil, or if it is a thing of joy linking friends across oceans. Perhaps it's both. Anyhoo, let's keep ranting, because hopefully then it will encourage us to keep it in it's place.

Love to you, FF x