A year without Facebook

A herd of sheep as metaphor for Facebook users

Baaaaaaah humbug! I'm tired of Sheepbook's data-fleecing!

I’ve given my thousand-plus friends and “friends” fair warning: If they want to find me online in 2011, I won’t be on Facebook.

The combination of creepy face-recognition and geotagging was the final straw in Facebook’s series of ever-more-invasive presumptions. I grew sick and tired of hearing after the fact about new settings to turn off, new terms to opt out of, and new layouts to navigate. No longer do I feel conflicted about leaving the marketing orgy disguised as a virtual non-stop cocktail party. At first, I worried about losing track of what various far-flung friends were doing. Now, I have nothing to lose but acquaintances. I let folks know that I’m out as of 1/1/11. For one solid year, I vow not to update my status or to check into Sheepbook in any way whatsoever. At the end of the year, I promise to write about the experience. If I were not in grad school, where I’m obligated to respond to student e-mails and to tutor online, I’d swear off the entire digiverse and retreat to Walden, but this will have to do for now.

John Allemang’s “Technocurmudgeon: Confessions of a Facebook Heretic” in the Globe and Mail, here also tweaking Twitter, frames the effect nicely:

I don’t need to accumulate friends in quantity, but I want to know what drives my fellow beings. And what I discover in Twitter is the curious disconnect of all this connectedness: People I know as morally obtuse find the meaning of life in a cottage sunset, people I admire as artists can’t stop nattering about their frappuccinos, newbie political organizers I hoped would succeed get so caught up in Twitter self-congratulation that they forget to fight the real election on the streets.

What are we missing in life that makes us settle for these faux-social gatherings? You tell me. Except for the enforced sense of alienation in the workplace that comes from opting out – but boss, I thought you prized non-conformity – a life freed from the social networks’ demands should be a better way to pass the time.

And BBC Radio’s Rory Cellan-Jones did a great series, in which he interviewed EFF founder and WELL denizen John Perry Barlow about the virtues of meatspace versus the online mutton-pen:

Throughout our interview, the man who founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation kept harking back to his life in a small town in Wyoming, where he spent years as a cattle rancher.

Ever since, he told us, he’d been trying to find the same sense of small-town community in cyberspace. The Well, whose members met in “meatspace” as well as online, had been a great experience. He told how, at Well parties, the members of the community emerged blinking into the real world, and discovered the faces behind the words.

John Perry Barlow seemed disappointed by today’s social networks, and in particular the one that has really taken the online experience to the masses. “Facebook is like television, the opposite of what I was looking for,” he grumbled. “It’s the suburbs, not the global village.”

Way back when, say, in the early 1990s, when very few people had Internet access, launching an “app” meant typing ~vi, and the Web was text-only, I dipped briefly into the WELL. Eventually, I found cyberhomes at CREWRT-L and WOM-PO, and those friendships continue today–both in real life and online, if not necessarily via listserv. Today, I also listmom FORMALISTA, which is a closed list precisely because we wish to stay on topic, because we wish to avoid unproductive distractions, because we share a common interest in formal poetry by women and all considerations which the phrase implies.

By contrast, CREWRT-L has always been a heavy-traffic list, our discussions punctuated by news of spouse’s health, grandkid’s arrivals, and birdfeeder’s traffic, and we like it that way. The difference between CREWRT-L and Facebook is that a sense of community actually inheres. We see each other not only at AWP, for example, but also because we’re passing through town. We make allowances for our differences and we genuinely care for one another. We may “toot” a small success, but we don’t continually harp on our magnificence every time we finish a draft.

Facebook was originally conceived as a marketing platform, a tool for manufacturing popularity, and popularity is the fetish of the insecure. It allows one to post commercials about oneself in real time to an adoring circle of dozens. In short, it makes one feel special. Temporarily. Until one needs another hit. The first step, say anonymous addicts everywhere, is to admit one’s powerlessness.

If you want to surrender control, you’d better know to whom you’re capitulating. Some people say, “Privacy is dead.” Let’s assume such is the case (which I don’t actually believe to be true.) Discretion, however, survives.

So what’s your story? Are you sick of trying to keep up with Facebook’s periodic flux in terms? How much online data is too much? Would you like to punch Mark Zuckerberg in his smug little face? Are you ramping down, swearing off, or otherwise reorganizing your “online presence” in 2011? If you could have only e-mail and ONE other online means of communication, what would that be? Have you considered unplugging entirely? Confess your techno-conflicts below.

And if you’re reading this via Facebook, please consider responding on Every Poet Needs a Patio instead.

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3 thoughts on “A year without Facebook

  1. Christine says:

    I find myself having little to say on facebook these days. Most people want to keep it “lite,” and I’ve never been very good at that. My ironic quips are always a beat behind. I don’t post news about my children, because they’re young adults and their lives are their own. I don’t say much about my own life, because I’m fairly private as far as intimate details go.

    Weaning myself from a daily facebook habit is a challenge. The first step is to delete the app from my phone. The next step is to commit to a weekly (if not daily) blogging challenge. I have WordPress on my phone, so I expect to post there. I might not always reciprocate comments on a daily basis, but at least I’ll be generating some thoughts worth repeating, I hope.

    Good luck to you with this goal. I support you! And I’ll be seeing you here.

  2. robinkemp says:

    Blogging is more flexible than FB, allowing one to develop a passing thought into an actual idea. I’ve ben withdrawing slowly as 1/1/11 approaches. Reading books on my Kindle beats knee-jerk responses to whatever flits across the wire or TV. I also find myself wanting to discuss what I read with others, an activity far better suited to the blog. I’ve always preferred the essay/article as nonfiction medium and blogging fills that void for now. Looking forward to a productive correspondence with you and others!

  3. R. J. Ampoloquio says:

    I just deactivated my Facebook account earlier. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Facebook. My biggest fear was losing connection with my “friends” and real friends. But after giving it another shot 2 months ago, without posting too much on my end, I decided tat it wasn’t really that useful. I rarely get chatted up by my real friends online because they’re too busy with their respective jobs. And for the rest who are online, they’re too busy updating their statuses and all.

    So I made my decision to be out of the service because it wasn’t really productive. I’m also trying to not have this compulsive status posting syndrome. I’ve tried unplugging, too, but I’m a sucker for following news from my favorite blog sites, hence I’m still on Twitter.

    Maybe I’ll take this one social networking site at a time. And I’m going to start with Facebook. Thanks for this by the way, I’m planning to do the same, but in a project sort of way. I found your post when I googled “A Year Without Facebook.”

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