Facebook has deteriorated the way we interact with other people and convinced us that we need to spend all of our free time staying "connected" with our "friends" through their network. And for the last week, I've been trying to come up with one solid reason why I like using Facebook.
Let the Games Begin
Before we get started, I think it's important to note here that I'm specifically addressing friends and social life, not business-oriented social networking.
Nearly a year ago, I took advantage of my Facebook network's incredulity of all things announced on April 1st and took a one-month Facebook hiatus. I'll admit it—I took great pleasure in building up the drama around the event and seeing who held the most disbelief that I would actually do it. But that's just because I'm a tad bit sadistic.
During that month I discovered exactly how much time was consumed by mindless refreshing and browsing on a daily basis. It was kind of appalling, and by the end of the hiatus I realized that I was reading books again, keeping up-to-date on the blogs I want to follow, and generally being more productive in the mornings before work.
After evaluating the hiatus, I made a few changes to my Facebook behavior. I stripped my inbox of all notification emails, I deleted the app from my phone, I purged about 40% of my "friends", I stripped down the groups, pages, and interests associated with my profile, and I removed automatic login. I also deleted the Page I had set up for my business and set a general rule for how I would evaluate incoming friend requests.
The result continued to astonish me. I went from logging in to the network 2–3 times a day to 1–2 times a week. When I did log in, I would first check notifications (which were much fewer now that I wasn't updating frequently), then start scrolling through my news feed. I'd get about ten "stories" down and be bored enough to stop and log back out. And my productivity continued to flourish. I was watching TEDtalks, listening to podcasts and continuing to read books and blogs. I was learning again. And, most importantly, I was making the time to write. Why hadn't I done this earlier?
You Never Write. You Never Call.
Now, I'm kind of an introverted person. But I also enjoy being social with my friends. The problem that I discovered is that having a constant "connection" with my friends meant that we were actually doing things in person less often. Why text message when you can post on someone's Wall (and let the rest of their friends see how "social" you are)? Why call when you can chat on Facebook? Why hang out when you can just give them a virtual thumbs up and have a little witty repartee in a flurry of comments?
And don't even get me started on birthdays! Sure, it's great that Facebook keeps track of everyone's birthday, but the amount of social guilt thrown around if I don't comment or wish someone well on a birthday is unbelievable. In fact, this social guilt is a really interesting tool. If you haven't connected with someone in a while, Facebook lets you know. Shouldn't you send them a message? Post on their wall? Use Facebook more? Are you really friends?
Look at the way they've changed Friend Requests. It used to be confirm or deny. Easy peesy—you're either their friend or you're not. Then it was Confirm or Ignore. No one likes to ignore people, right? Now it's Confirm or Not Now. It's as if Facebook is saying, "Yes, you will eventually give in and add them to your friends, so we'll just keep them on the back burner right here for you until you come around and buy into having as many friends as possible."
Why Can't I Quit You??
Plagued with the aforementioned social guilt and not being able to take the plunge and actually deactivate my account, I hoped it would help last week to make a list of reasons why I like and dislike Facebook:
- Being able to "stalk" people I don't know through their publicly available info
- Notification emails that just keep coming
- Ever-changing privacy settings with no grandfathering
- People from my distant past trying to "re-connect"
- Constant drivel of status updates*
- "Everyone's doing it"
- Unnecessary drama
- Pervasive API integration
- Sheer volume of time wasted on the site
- Apps that won't let you participate passively
* Some might argue that this is no different from Twitter, but Twitter allows for non-mutual following and restricts message length, which I believe encourages the messages to be more meaningful. But most importantly, there are no comment threads or Likes to participate in. Replies become personal communication, not community forum.
The evidence presents what you would think to be a no-brainer decision. In fact, my one Like isn't solid enough to keep me there (especially since more and more people are locking down what information is publicly available). But it's also important that I ask myself what I would miss out on if I left Facebook. Two big reasons come to mind.
First, the social calendar. Just about every event these days is promoted through Facebook. Birthday gatherings, house parties, brunches, you name it and there's a Facebook Event for it. But the biggest problem I see with that is that the level of commitment is extremely low. It's easy to flake and just post apologies on their Wall later, right? Receiving a text message or an email or a physical invitation in the mail (remember those?) holds so much more personal appeal.
Secondly, there are a lot of actual friends with whom the only interaction I have is through the network. But I think that's part of the problem—removing Facebook as the sole channel for interaction would [hopefully] force us to find another means, like, I don't know, actually spending time together.
Freedom from a Mandated Social Life
I don't believe that we should have as many friends as possible. I don't believe that we should be sharing every detail of our life with every person we know. I don't believe that all friends are created equal. I also don't believe that a friend is forever.
I believe that we have full ownership of who we include in our life. I believe that friends come and go for particular reasons. I believe that sharing everything with everyone equally dilutes the message and devalues our friend hierarchy. And yes, I believe that maintaining a hierarchy of friends is stronger and more fruitful than treating all friends equally. I also believe that running into an old friend at the grocery store or in an airport and catching up for ten minutes is much more rewarding and interesting than keeping an eye on status minutiae on Facebook.
The friends I had in high school were integral in my adolescent development. With a few exceptions, high school ends, we part ways and make of our lives something new and different. The friends I made in college contributed to my early adult development, and with a few exceptions, we all parted ways as our lives continued to unfold. Such is the nature of life, growth, and development—interests change, values evolve, and needs come and go. I am a remarkably different person than I was five years ago, just as I am from the person I was ten years ago.
Look at my career aspirations as an example. Did you know I wanted nothing more than to be an architect in high school? That didn't last long into my first year of college, and I quickly found myself trying to find something else. Then I found graphic design. But forcing myself to be creative all the time for a job didn't appeal to me. Enter marketing and communications. Then community-building. Each interest built up to the next, but what results is a drastic evolution from beginning to end, and I have no doubt that my vocational interests will continue to change. The same holds true for our social life. The friends I had in high school differ greatly from the friends I have now, and that's okay. That's the point.
Social by Choice
I also believe firmly in the power to choose how we communicate with our friends and conduct our social life. There was a time when I jumped on board to every new social network that popped up as a means of exploring the power of each. But now I restrict my time and energy to those networks in which I hold value and worth. I think it's important for us to make conscious decisions when it comes to how we spend our time and where we expend our social energy.
My wise and savvy friend Diane teaches creative business owners how to effectively use social media, and one of the tools she recommends is making a list of what you will and won't share through a particular network. I found so much benefit in creating that list that I have carried that concept a step further into which networks I will and won't use.
For example, I have decided that Foursquare, Instagram, Path, and Pinterest are just a few networks in which I have no interest. But Twitter is my go-to tool for communicating, sharing, and exchanging. LinkedIn holds business networking value in a passive way. And Google+ is an intriguing and worthwhile experiment, my verdict still being under development. And that's good enough for me.
Take Back the Life
You have the power to choose. You own your relationships. It's up to you to decide how you want to maintain them and what holds the most value for you and for your friends. Social guilt should not dictate your actions.
Facebook may very well be the best place for you to conduct your social life. Pinterest may be the best way for you to share your inspirations and interests. You may just "not get" Twitter. That's okay. But that's your call to make. Not the networks. Not peer pressure.
So take a step back. Think about it. Then choose with intent.
As for me? I think I will quit Facebook. That is, if I can wade through the guilt they throw at me on the way out the door.
Have you ever taken a Facebook hiatus? What did you learn? What value do you find in social networks?