Investigating the world of Facebook

Photo: Brendan Kergin/Canadian University Press

Photo: Brendan Kergin/Canadian University Press

Tom Luke
The Muse

ST. JOHN’S (CUP) —Part One: Before Facebook

This feature exists because I was a contrarian little shit in high school. All the popular people were adamant that I get Facebook, and so my natural angry adolescent response was to assume that since the popular kids liked it, it must be awful.

And now, after twenty-ish years of life, I’ve never bothered to get a Facebook account. It was easy when there wasn’t a Facebook to join.

When I tell new acquaintances that I generally get one of a few responses. The nicest ones are the shrugs, “Oh, that’s cool,” and then maybe they say something like they should have gotten rid of it ages ago, but they have this one friend in Senegal, see. More common are anywhere from mild surprise, to outright stares, to actual exclamations of shock. “How the hell could you even function without a Facebook account? How do you talk to people?” Well, I text them; sometimes I call them — I sent a letter once. I find that anyone you can’t keep in regular contact with without the use of social media probably isn’t worth having as a friend. Still, it’s both sad and a little funny watching the light go out of peoples’ eyes when they realize effort is required to contact me.

It’s far, far healthier for my dating life. I’m told it’s a unique form of torture to see the green circle of your crush having logged in, uncertain whether it’d be weird to message them now — and anyway you’ve only talked like twice — and they seemed pretty surprised when you (probably overeagerly) suggested adding them — and oh god it’s an hour later and they’ve logged out. It sounds more nightmarish than not knowing whether to text.

And here we come to the bit where I sound approximately 80, and curmudgeonly besides. I really don’t need people knowing that much about me. It’s hard enough to manage your relationships  just talking to them. Maintaining a page that supposedly represents you is a goddamn nightmare. How do you explain to your casual school acquaintances that have a certain dignified image of you — obviously not referring to myself here — that you really, really like Adventure Time?

Sure, omit that from your profile, fine, but what happens when your best friend posts “The Song of Billy”— incidentally one of the greatest songs of civilized man — on your wall? Ignore it? I mean, sure, if people judge you for what you like, they suck — but why give them the opportunity?

In a much more paranoid sense, I don’t like people having that much information on me. Bad enough that Ol’ Stevey Government has an enormous dossier on each of us, worse is that one creepy guy I met at a history mixer has it too. It’s not so much that I don’t like sharing information on myself. I’m probably my favourite topic. I’ve got interests, I’ve got feelings and I will talk your damn ear off about both. I’m not unsocial. But I want socialization on my own terms. Someone messaging me because they read on the Internet that I like Haruki Murakami is, to me, immensely unsettling. Who are you? How did you find me? I never told you anything!

What’s life without Facebook? What’s life without a ten-foot python? You can’t miss something you’ve never had, as disgustingly cliché as that is. Not having Facebook went from an ideological choice to the same reason I don’t own a boat, or a pinball machine, so slowly I never really noticed. It’s one more thing I don’t need. While I can’t see any massive downsides, I can’t see any tangible benefits either.

Whatever. That’s just like, my opinion, man.


Part Two: After Facebook

Well, that was an education. As it turns out, I don’t like Facebook very much. Which is not to say that it’s inherently negative, just that I don’t like it much. But before I get into that, I’ll list some of the things I discovered this week.

I discovered exactly how the phrase “Facebook friends aren’t really like real friends” is (very) true. I discovered that there are more pictures of me in makeup online than should exist, and those still aren’t as embarrassing as the ones from high school.

I discovered the insidious social blackmail that is “Seen December 5.” I did not discover how to turn location services off on my phone. I discovered that getting Facebook after having not had it apparently makes you a minor celebrity for the space of a week.

Getting straight into the clichés, I suppose my biggest issue was just how connected people expected you to be. Facebook admonishes you for not telling people where you went to school, for instance. What business is that of anyone else’s? Sure, I’ll tell you if you ask, but I don’t want to advertise for the same reason I didn’t buy a high school sweatshirt. Nobody needs to know where I went to school. Nobody needs to know my political views, either. I mean, yes, you can adjust privacy settings and only add people that you trust, but the fact that the default mode is anyone with an account being able to see everything you do with minimal effort, is creepy.

On the same subject, I don’t need to know that much about everyone else I know, either. I take an interest in people, but like their interest in me, I like to be able to manage it. I’m not at all interested in the habits and hobbies of my casual acquaintances, just in contacting them on occasion, but Facebook doesn’t let you choose. Facebook tells you “hey, that guy you went to high school went to the gym today. He also went to the gym yesterday. Look, here’s a picture of him with some weights. Ooh, and an inspirational quote about weights. You like the gym, right? He sure does.”

This is not to say I didn’t have fun. I got to share some bizarre anthropomorphic animal comics and a fifteen minute video of an anime dude kicking another anime dude, both of which I’m sure weirded out a substantial number of people. I got to see the first wonderful page of my out-of-town friend’s feminist zine, which featured a defaced photo of Ronald Reagan. I like the sharing, and the sense of being a part of a community.

But it’s nothing special or unique. I can send people bizarre anthropomorphic animal comics and videos of dudes kicking other dudes in any number of other ways. If I ever feel like I need to be part of an online community, I’ll join an Internet forum. They’re just as friendly and they don’t demand to know what I’m doing all the time. And when you like something, you have to explain why.

But the fun that I had was more than counterbalanced with the serious issues I have with the system. The most disturbing realization I had was that when I sent someone a message, it sends me back a confirmation report once they’ve seen it, likewise when I send one. I’d never come across an IM system that does that before, and I absolutely hate it. It adds an unpleasant shade of obligation to any conversation. He saw my message and didn’t respond? Oh god, he hates me, or he’s dead, or the law caught up with him and I’ll never see him again. By purportedly cutting down on ambiguity in social interaction, it adds a new dimension of speculation. You can’t look at a message without being obligated to respond, you are forced into ignoring someone — not receiving a “Seen” message is just as nerve-wracking — because you can’t commit fully to the conversation at the moment.

When I mentioned this to someone a few days ago, he asked me “So you’d rather remain ignorant, then?” which actually made me think. And it turns out, yes, I would rather remain ignorant. The “seen” messages are, in a limited form, being able to see what someone’s thinking, and social interaction is founded entirely on not knowing what other people are thinking. Socialization is about managing your ignorance of someone, and an outside force interrupting that, especially a purely automated one, is disconcerting at best.

Yeah, Facebook is nice for organizing events. Very nice, actually, and, if I’d had anything to organize, I might have changed my mind, but I doubt it. “Facebook events” are a legitimately ingenious invention, and I won’t knock them. I talked to one friend who called them something along the lines of “the future of socialization,” and he’s probably right. I’m suppose I’m somewhat of a Luddite, in that case, because the wave of the future just makes me uncomfortable.

But no, I can’t imagine having a “social media presence” at any point in my life. I’ve tried it, now I can knock it. Facebook creeps me out, and I don’t need to know that many people that well. Isaac Brock puts it much better than me “If you knew everything they thought I bet you’d wish that they’d just shut up.”


Investigating the world of Facebook