I’ve pretty much decided — no, I’ve decided to bail out of Facebook.
In brief, I find it (have always found it) aesthetically ugly — to quote myself, “It’s like meeting your friends in an airport concourse: I can smell the synthetic carpet, spun of formaldehyde.” It’s also emptily addictive. Others have written knowledgeably about the little hit of dopamine — which is not about reward but craving, anticipation — that our brains get from each little instance of human connection or admiring attention for our wit or whatever: the promise without the delivery. I’ve linked to those articles on Facebook (!), I’m not going to hunt them up again now. I’m not going to research this. But the point is that Facebook substitutes for more substantial kinds of expression and connection, and can stealthily begin to replace them. It becomes like living on potato chips: you lose your appetite for anything else, but you don’t feel nourished.
What’s seductive about it is that it is quick and easy in a time when none of us seems to have any time. Brevity is seductive for good reasons (thus the success of Twitter, where many people do their hanging out): there are many things that, if you can’t say them in 140 characters or less, you really shouldn’t bother saying. (That’s not true of everything, though. “Give me the wisdom to know the difference.”) Brief updates are fun. The illusion of communality is another big draw. We are tribal animals leading far-flung lives, and Facebook makes you feel like you can find many of your friends in one “place,” and pick up the essential news and gossip that you need to know, like people used to at the well, or the country store. It’s genius, really, to lure us in with these simulacra of deep old goods, and then “farm” our “likes” and sell us stuff. We are cattle being raised for cash in a feedlot with virtual-reality goggles of green pastures. But every once in a while you feel the standardized narrowness of your stall.
Facebook makes us lazy, or I should say, it makes me lazy. (Some people will relate and some will not.) It becomes too much hassle to make a date to see someone, even in the same city, when you feel you’re sufficiently in touch because you meet on Facebook. It becomes too much hassle to write a blog post (how ironic to think of that as a feature of the “good old days”), and certainly too much hassle to go read one. More ominously, it becomes an annoying distraction to deal with a relationship (even with one’s cat) that is crying out for attention, or to wash the dishes, or to look for work. (Such reversed priorities are symptoms of addiction.) But these are worthwhile things we used to do, and maybe we felt we had more time, back then. Was that cause or was it effect? We certainly had more three-dimensional challenge and more substantial satisfaction.
There’s a lot I won’t like missing: pictures of my friends’ and cousins’ babies (I’m talking about you, Alisanne Korologos, Jonathan Geis, Nicole Constandis Twohig, Patrick Martin, Andrea Flynn); pictures of my friends’ pictures (that’s you, Albert Mitchell); flurries of fun and funny responses to something I’ve posted, making me feel I’m not in an isolation chamber on the moon; good articles I’m glad someone pointed out to me. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s feed (but I know how to find his notebook, which he links to). Comically, I’ll miss pressing a button to “like” something (though I often missed pressing a button to “hate” something). It will be more work to write a private e-mail or (gasp) an actual letter, make a date or a phone call, follow the media and blogs where those good articles and posts crop up. But I used to do all those things! How has Facebook made them seem too much of a bother?! I was having a better time when I was doing all that “work.” Some of my most valued friends aren’t on Facebook at all, and I manage to stay in touch with them.
I feel better already, and I’m not even all the way off Facebook yet.
And I’m not going to link this on Facebook. I’m not asking you to or not to. I just feel better (if lonelier) for not going there myself.
I’ll be here. If anyone wants to come over and not just comment but post, let me know and I’ll make you a set of keys. Some of you already have them.