Monday, December 27, 2010

Why I'm Leaving Facebook

I know it seems like an odd time to abandon Facebook, what with Mark Zuckerberg gazing from the cover of TIME Magazine. Actually, it was Lev Grossman's informative article in TIME that pushed me over the edge. I was already having misgivings about Facebook, as evidenced by my previous Digital Toaster post. Grossman confirmed my reservations and added fuel to the fire.

While many have been harping about Facebook's privacy issues, I think there are more fundamental problems with Facebook, such as the way it levels the social playing field in a manner that doesn't jibe with reality. As Grossman points out: on Facebook your connection to your wife and your plumber are essentially the same. For those still in school, this might seem inconsequential. But later on, to assume that everyone you encounter in life should be connected to you in exactly the same way—is absurd. Facebook life and real life are not equal.

Sure, you can be choosy about the friend requests you accept on Facebook, but what are you going to do when you receive a friend request from a casual acquaintance, somebody you cross paths with regularly but don't really know. Facebook has already shown that most people will take the least embarrassing route in these situations: to cave in and accept. The same applies to requests to Like an organization, a business or a politician, especially when it's being suggested by someone you know. By virtue of these many indirect choices, your Facebook identity eventually becomes an amalgam of those connected to you, not you yourself.

Most interesting to note in Grossman's article is the wave of collective narcissism that has been unearthed by Facebook. Unlike Warhol's prediction of everyone being famous for 15 minutes, Facebook gives us the chance to be famous for 15 seconds atop a microscopic soapbox that will be gone by tomorrow. Its immediacy is both alluring and addictive. Meanwhile, behind the scenes Facebook engineers mine our preferences, choices and even the text of our private messages, and they use that information to create marketing strategies for advertisers. We are so many mice in a very large maze, a marketing enterprise posing as a social experiment. Make no mistake about it, Facebook is first and foremost a business—a billion-dollar-a-year business.

Many people use Facebook to promote their businesses and careers. Social media marketing has become all the rage. I suspect, though, this trend will reach a saturation point, if it hasn't already. There's certainly nothing wrong with self-promotion, but I think we need to make a distinction between the social and the commercial. Like a real estate agent who relentlessly works the crowd at a private cocktail party, using social media for commercial gain can be disingenuous. If you have real friends on your friends list, you might want to think twice before selling to them.

So with these thoughts in mind, I bid my Facebook community farewell. I certainly won't be falling off the face of the Earth. If we were friends before Facebook, chances are I have you in my address book. Who knows, we might even find ourselves talking on the phone and really sharing something. It's time to get back to reality.

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