I’ve resisted typing up something on this for ages at risk of it seeming like some sort of self-righteous pontification over an issue that doesn’t really matter too much. There are far more important and interesting things to debate that don’t involve whether or not you hold membership of a social networking website. I still hold this to be true, and even more so given that Wired are running articles on the very same topic.
However, over the past few weeks it’s a question that I’ve been asked innumerable times. It invariably goes something like this:
“I’ll add you on Facebook”
“I’m not on Facebook.”
-shock and disbelief-
“What?! Why not?”
As a result, I’ve decided to try and give some idea of exactly why I’m not signed up. This is no rant or pretentious read-off of non-conformity, but rather an explanation of what is so difficult to explain properly off-the-cuff.
Despite all of the people posting on this topic, I’ve not seen anybody who have listed the reasons that have been decisive for me.
Unlike the Wired article, I’m not actually concerned by the following:
Private companies don’t have your interests at heart.
This is an obvious statement when you live in a capitalist system. There are plenty of things that don’t have your best interests at heart.. I’m pretty sure that Apple don’t put your interests above their own, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t use one of their computers. Whilst it might be a valid critique of Western society, it’s not a great argument for opting out of just one part of it.
Private Information will be used for other purposes
I’m aware that there are plenty of ways to hide what information you provide on the site.. from privacy options to only adding friends and so forth.
There’s also the most simple one: Not posting stupid things online.
Yes, plenty of people put stuff on the web without thinking that would be compromising in different situations, but anybody with any sort of understanding can avoid doing this.
As for private information, if you google my name you find a whole raft of information and posts by me – not just Facebook. It’s an internet wide cultural issue, not restricted to the one site.
What does drive me to avoid the site is:
Acquaintances become ‘friends’
Working as a freelance photographer, you meet a lot of people that you need to be nice to. Inexplicably, they’ll add you on Facebook. “Hey simple – just refuse them!” people say. But it’s not as simple as that. The same person whose friend request you reject is the same person you’ll see again week after week at a venue or club and have to be nice to. It’s not that easy to be friendly to people if you’ve rejected their friend request online.
You could sign up for a private profile and only add your non-work friends to that, but that still leaves the same problem. When the line between work and social is blurred as part of your job, then it’s not straightforward to draw it on the internet.
Social life becomes PR
Everything you say, every comment you leave, you feel the great shadow of observation hanging over you. Even if you’re under no pressure to ‘behave’ or be ‘appropriate’, the perception of it changes the way you act or speak. Life really does become ‘a stage’ for all to show off their self-cultivated image and wit.
Branding and a ‘single identity’?
Founder Mark Zuckerberg is reported to have said:
“You have one identity — the days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.”
which is something I not only disagree with fundamentally, but which actually annoys me the more I think about it.
People are not single, flat entities that fit onto one page.
People are dynamic, complex creatures with many different levels and sides that are impossible to be expressed at once. With Facebook, your most dominant characteristics end up being what define you.
For example, as a photographer, photographs would take up a lot of the content of my profile. As a result, I’d be known as… a photographer. However, there’s a lot more to me than just that one side of my life. I also play and write music… I study law, I’m an advocate of human rights but struggle with my conflict over the Marxist critique of them..
All of this stuff gets lost and downplayed by whatever is easy and accessible to the Facebook format.
Second to this, in order to get anywhere in a particular field such as photography, music journalism.. anything.. You often need to be known and associated with that particular thing. Stephen the photographer.. or Stephen the writer.. or Stephen the guitar player… This is a necessary skill to be able to highlight your different attributes and layers to different people in different interactions in order to be a diverse person. People can’t take in the fact that you’d be good at or interested in more than one thing at a time.
I remember sitting and catching myself thinking that I needed to update my social networking profiles to get a wording that would really express who I actually was as a person. As soon as that awareness of self branding became so obvious, I knew it had to go. No longer was it about friends, if it ever was in the first place.
Ironically, instead of giving you more control over your image by which photos you upload or are tagged in, or how you describe yourself, by the mere participation in the Facebook system you are automatically giving up your control over your image. You get reduced to the sum of your parts. Facebook stifles your creativity and your mystery.
People as checklists
There’s a story of a member of a tribe who explained his perplexity at how we understand and interact with each other in the West.
“When you meet people you will say – “I’m a doctor. I like watching TV. I went to University at… I studied… I believe..”
as a list of attributes – a type of checklist for our personality. To them, this was odd, as they instead would tell stories to explain who people were, building them up over time to give a fuller and more complete picture than just pre-conceptual ideas.
In Facebook, this has been condensed to its simplest form: reducing people to pre-ordained checklists of religion, height and sexual preferences. I’m more than just a Facebook profile thanks.
The more people ask why you are not part of something, the more you have to question why you should be. The more that this.. thing is deemed a necessity to ‘modern living’, the more it should be tested and ultimately rejected. If we cannot function as social creatures anymore without having to do so through the means of one single medium, then we deserve to die out.
I no longer get invited to parties. Why?
“Oh, I invited people on Facebook.”
Facebook themselves, when I went to de-activate my account, posted up pictures of some of my oldest real-life friends, with captions that read:
“Hannah will miss you if you quit Facebook!”
“You’ll lose touch with Fiona!”
This idea that we need Facebook or we will lose touch with people is repugnant. People that care about keeping in touch with each other always will do, and the rest… I’m happier without their mundane interactions anyway.