Monday, February 6, 2012

Michael5000 vs. Facebook

Last night, I pulled the plug on my Facebook account. Since then, I've got several people who are all like “Aw, why’d ya do it, 5000?” and others who are all like “Dude, lame!”  So, I figured maybe I’d try to cobble together an explanation. And a cobbled-together explanation it will be!

First of all: I sort of loved Facebook, in a way. At its best, it was kind of like hanging out in the student lounge packed with hand-picked friends, acquaintances, and diverting folks met online. There was the witty repartee, and the feeling of simultaneity, of being integrated into the days of others. It was the only platform I had for communicating with some folks, and I found that leaving them all behind last night, probably for good, was really quite distressing.

So why'd ya do it, 5000?

There were two proximate causes. The first was the implementation of Timeline, the latest and most radical of the many no-choice platform changes Facebook has made since 2006. Every change has cumulatively eroded a product whose original appeal was its elegant simplicity.  Timeline, in particular, reshapes the essential nature of the product. I did not particularly want to have six years of my personal ephemera put into this new easily browsed scrapbook format.

Nor, it must be said, was it courteous of the Facebook people to assume I would.  No doubt I at some point clicked on an agreement that they could present my “content” any way they wanted to, and yes, of course I realize that one can, with some effort, exempt material from being displayed on the new system. This does not change the basic reality that I was encouraged to post my passing thoughts, photos, and links to adorable pictures of kittens for six years with the tacit understanding that they would sink into obscurity within a few hours. I would have used Facebook differently if I knew everything I said and did would be posted on a permanent timeline. You would have too.

Plus, Timeline is ugly like MySpace. There, I said it.

The second proximate cause was that Niece #3 closed her account, and opened an account that allows me to chat with her elsewhere. Which is to say, a straw broke the camel’s back. With Niece #3 gone, there were not enough pluses left to balance out the many negatives that had been stacking up. These negatives include, but are not limited to:
Facebook’s blandly creepy desire to be the hub of one’s use of the internet. This can be minimized, but I found it increasingly alarming to get announcements about, for instance, what articles people were reading on Yahoo News. Along with wondering if my friends really wanted me to know which pieces of impulse-buy junk journalism had suckered them in, there was always the disquieting question: are they being told what ~I’m~ reading? There’s only one way to be sure they aren’t.

The location thing is pretty creepy too. Whenever I saw one of my Facebook friends had “checked into” a bar or concert, I always felt like I should break into their apartment. Just to make the point. They were practically begging me to. Cooler heads prevailed.

The political crap. Exposure to a constant stream of fatuous, willfully ignorant, openly sentimental, and grossly simplistic arguments being used to support my own political leanings – I’m what they like to call a “tax-and-spend liberal” – would have turned me Republican by now, if the other side’s drivel wasn’t equally bad and so often crackling with an unsubtle note of angry-at-the-world schoolyard malice.

And, without getting too too about it, the Facebook medium increasingly encourages you to craft your identity as a consumer of ideas and media rather than to express yourself creatively.

Also, spring is coming, and it might be nice to get outside more.

More than enough reasons!

“Gosh, Michael5000, do you think ~I~ should shut down ~my~ Facebook account too?”

Ah, hell no, I’m not trying to start a movement here. People just seemed curious about my decision, and I was kind of curious about it too, so I wrote it up.

“That being the case, Michael5000, do you have any ~other~ advice about my internet use?”

Why, in fact I do. See, I had noticed of late that the internet seemed to be shrinking, as if I were swimming in a smaller and smaller pond of information. This weekend, I figured out why: those clever gnomes at Google have been jiggering my search results. “Web History helps deliver more personalized search results,” they say, as if it were a good thing, “based on the things you've searched for on Google and the sites you've visited.” That’s right: they have devised an algorithm that can help you reinforce your existing prejudices and narrow your intellectual horizons! Having developed the most powerful information-finding tool in history, they will now help you exploit it to the minimum!

Unlike other people we could name, for instance “Facebook,” Google at least lets you reject some of their bad ideas. Web History can be turned off easily at If you do a lot of online research or, like me, just a lot of online puttering, you’ll feel like you’re escaping from the fishbowl back into the open sea.


The Calico Cat said...

As one of the very few who never joined FB I don't have any "Nah, nah, na nah nahs." but...

& I have to ditto that google CRAP (I did n't even use an "@" so you know how I feel about it.) Seriously just because I only looked at furry Jaguars in the past, now I can't look into buying one of the gas guzzling variety...

Love what you said about politics too.

Nichim said...

I am addicted to Facebook. I am going to give it up for Lent. It worked for my sugar addiction last year.

Jenners said...

I barely use Facebook. It is just too much to keep up with … and barely any of it is worth reading anyway. I may join you in quitting … it wouldn't be the first time I've thought about it.

dhkendall said...

Awww, I didn't even know that you had an FB account to start with, and now we can't be friends!

I feel deprived in that I barely get any of the political crap (from either side of the fence), nor any of the inappropriate / badly spelled / other stuff that seems to make the rounds on Facebook. Maybe that's because I have intelligent, educated friends (which seem to be a minority on the Internet) and I vastly prefer to hang around those type of people. Facebook can't really be blamed for the political idiocy, though, that's entire the fault of the company one keeps.

And am I the only person who likes Timeline? (Maybe it's because I have a picture I really like (basically the one used on my posts here of the flag) as the headline picture. Really don't care if others see what I wrote back in 2008 or so - always been of the mindset that if I don't want others to know about it, I won't put it on FB in the first damn place!

You do seem to be in the same camp as me, longing for the "good old days" of the Internet, when hardly anyone was on it, and it was a geekly pursuit. (I first was on the Internet in 1994, and that's considered late for the "before it went all downhill" crowd.)

jovaliquilts said...

I agree with most of the negatives you list about FB and think it encourages a herd mentality. OTOH, I love the connection to people I would otherwise not be connected to. We have lots of kinks to work out in this brave new world.

Cartophiliac said...

Just some random thoughts on the whole Facebook thing:

It always amuses me when those who are thinking they should drop Facebook, or are thinking they should drop Facebook, for whatever reasons, spend so much time explaining and justifying their actions. If you are not enjoying it, or it doesn't meet your needs, the do it less, or stop. You elevate its importance by going to such great lengths to explain yourself.

Sort of like people who when mentioning a television program they watched, embarrassedly explain that they don't watch that much TV, just public television and documentaries, you understand. Whatever.

All of the faults of Facebook you describe are true. I'm equally unenthusiastic about the Timeline thing. But, I'll stick around, because it is more than occasionally amusing, and a useful tool for choosing to share information with friends.

I have an electric sander and a T-square in my tool cupboard. I don't use them more than a couple times per year, but I don't throw them away. They might come in handy.

Cartophiliac said...

That was badly written, and in need of an editor, but I hope you see my point in that blather.

Michael5000 said...

dh: You take a rather broad swipe at my former Facebook friends, who are uniformally quite intelligent and well-educated.

I miss the good old days of FB, but not of the internet in general. I was first on the internet, or an internet precursor -- I confuse the early-internet jargon -- in 1986, and it was crap. Since the real action got going in 1996, my personal internet experience has continuously become more productive and more enjoyable. My only regret is that I started blogging only as it was going out of fashion.

Carto: I'm happy to amuse, I guess. And indeed, if I decided to give up my electric sander, it would probably pass without notice -- unless, of course, I found it diverting to write about it.

But then too, if I took my electric sander to the Goodwill, I wouldn't likely have a dozen friends immediately asking my why I had given up sanding. My sander is not my sole locus of connection with a whole cohort of acquaintances. My closer friends, though they might borrow it from time to time, do not lean on my sander as a medium of our relationship. (The Makita people don't barge into the basement to make unwanted design improvements, all the time, either; it would certainly be blogworthy if they did! But I digress.) My sander is, as you say, something that is chronically useful, but otherwise has minimal impact on how my life gets lived.

You are correct that in talking about the role of Facebook in my life, I elevate its importance by going to such great lengths to explain myself. But then, that's the point. It's important. I was a fairly moderate Facebook user, but severing the ties embodied in in has given me a real feeling of grief and substantial symptoms of withdrawal. Writing about it here gives me a place to point people who are asking about, but it was also a chance to process some of the emotion involved in the decision.

Facebook is integrated very, very tightly into many people's lives. It's a significant thing.

Eavan said...

This is probably the most thoughtful and well-written rationale for leaving Facebook that I've seen. I particularly enjoyed your characterization of Yahoo! News as "impulse-buy junk journalism."

Thanks for mentioning Web History. It appears to be turned off in my Google account, with my trying. I did have to manually turn off the personal search results and the personalized advertising, both of which have improved my quality of online life. :-)

dhkendall said...

Apologies, M5K, wasn't meant as a swipe, but was just my experiences. Or maybe I'm just bitter about "Rating the Flags of the World" having ended, who knows? :)

Michael5000 said...

And apologies back for mentioning it: after all, I too was saying something that could be interpreted as just my experiences, or as a swipe at all my friends.

We shall give Flag Friday a proper send-off. I think you will enjoy it.

Chuckdaddy said...

Perhaps when it finally takes over my account I too will hate the hated timeline. But I just feel like this is like the 19th or 20th FB change that's happened that has gotten people upset and won't change it much for me. I mean, you still see status updates and photos, right? And I still have to be careful what I list for my posterity, correct?

But I guess I shouldn't be too dismissive of peoples anxiety over this. It's easy to say they just hate change, even if it's a free service that's changing. But what's probably so bothersome is that it's something personal to them being changed. I can't really relate though, since, as you know, I often don't notice when my wife move the furniture.

I still overall like FB, for most of the above-mentioned reasons. My main annoyance is just in the utter inaneness and recycled inaneness that i then proceed to read, way too often (Maybe I need some of your and DH's friends!). And for that i will miss your FB presence. It means one less witty comment and one more person telling me what they ate for dinner, or that it's snowing, or that it's beer 0 clock somewhere...

Rebel said...

Well, it's too late now, but did you know that there is a program called "socialfixer" that basically reprograms facebook to behave like it used to - and allows you to pick and choose which features to keep or to change? I started using it a few months back and it has improved my experience. At least when I look at my own page I don't see the 'timeline' view. The rest of your complaints re: content... a lot of that can be customized if you want to take the time to do it. I've 'unliked' a lot of pages recently because they were clutter. And blocked "friends" who posted too much political crap from appearing in my newsfeed.

That's just to say there are options for anyone else who's unhappy with facebook but who hasn't unplugged yet.

I support your decision to unplug though. I'm beginning to get pretty creeped out by google at the moment... the 'mindreading' thing bugs me, as does assuming I want all of my internet experiences to be unified. No thanks. When I google "batik quilts" I really don't need the first 8 pictures posted to be from my own blog. Duh! I know where to find those pictures!!! So I've switched my browser to Yahoo... I kinda like that it's not as 'smart' as google.

I myself am trying to figure out how to balance the social and fun aspects of the internet, and the convenience of being able to communicate with people and the desire to protect my privacy. It's a tough line to find.

Michael5000 said...

Chuck: Change-averse people should not quit Facebook. It really throws you for a loop, for the first week at least.

I think it is significant that FB is only "a free service" in a strictly monetary sense. FB requires a substantial labor input from its user, which may be part of the fun but which also profits Zuckermann et al in two ways. First, of course, they do their darnedest to monetize your personal information. Second, in providing content for your own profile, you are also providing content for Facebook. In a more literal sense than most businesses, Facebook is nothing without its customers.

Having spent six years writing (a billionth of) their copy, I think the FB people owed me an opt-out switch on their timeline gadget. Didn't happen. No worries. Probably would have jumped anyway, truth be told.

Michael5000 said...

Reb: I'm not ignoring you! Thanks for the comment! The excellent, complete comment, which I have no response to! How's it going?

Rebel said...

Pretty good but busy - thinking of a Craft Night on the 18th at 7ish... will email you when I decide for reals.