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Facebook is not

I joined Facebook on August 6, 2007 for two reasons: to remain abreast as an interaction designer of what the kids are playing with these days, and to sate my curiosity about the value of the enterprise.

Now, just over 5 months later, I am dismantling my Facebook account (which is so much more gratifying than just deactivating it) and using the status update to let my “friends” know I’m doing so. Making a statement? Probably. But along the way, I learned some important things about human nature, the power of hype, and the validity of mimetic desire.


1) I am in wholehearted agreement with those who argue that Facebook fails to improve human connection. Facebook is a dreadful barrier, increasing our comfort with solitude rather than encouraging real encounters that require pressing flesh, laughing, solving life’s riddles together, appreciating anything more complex than a movie compatibility list or a vampire score.

2) Using Facebook is a huge waste of time. The time you spend on it is not educational, instructive, or even entertaining. Instead, it’s about modifying your persona so that fellow Facebookers can review your modifications. This, presumably, improves their understanding of you and therefore improves human connection. The time you spent on Facebook was the time you didn’t spend improving your understanding of a friend.

3) “Keeping in touch” has never been so soulless. Or so quantitative. There are friends in my list — people I know — who don’t think about me, nor I about them, more than twice a year. But now that we can keep in touch through the boxy artifice of the Facebook engine, we are constantly “keeping in touch.” What, exactly, is the value of this empty — and incredibly uncompelling — bond?

4) Ugly truth: some people have no inner life. “Stuck in traffic,” “wondering what to eat tonight,” “trying to figure it all out,” “just wiped my ass.” The incredibly annoying status feature of Facebook is a parody of itself. Who cares whether you couldn’t sleep last night? You’re certainly not using Facebook to tell us why you couldn’t sleep — an illness, screaming baby, anxiety, bad takeout, chronic insomnia. These attributes alone round out the text-message irrelevance of whether or not you slept last night. But Facebookers don’t tell stories about themselves because Facebook is not about improving human connection. It’s about reporting drivel to a web site.

5) If we generously attribute to Facebook a libertarian principle that you and your activities with others allow for precise, focused marketing, then Facebook fails. Remember, there are many of us who learned long ago to tune out anything on a page that looks like an ad. If it’s possible for Facebook’s advertising to fail so easily, then what’s the point of such a model?

6) Which leads me to mimetic desire. This is the idea that people are sheep. “I’m on Facebook, aren’t you?” Of the people in my friends list who actively use Facebook, most of them are predisposed to jumping all over the shiny new toy. They are — sorry, dear friends — consummate consumers, and they don’t like the idea of being left behind. Coca-Cola loves people like this. It loathes people like me.

7) Compatibility scores mean nothing. They are like the polls I like to occasionally denounce. I have an incredibly intelligent Facebook “friend.” He likes movies. So do I. He or I at one point or another used an application that alerts us to each other’s movie compatibility. Unfortunately, his taste in movies is terrible (he’ll be the first to admit it), although the application saw fit to consider us “soul-mates” or something equally dumb. Immediately, this very popular application became meaningless to me because it doesn’t and can’t get at the WHY behind a person’s movie scores. It can only measure — and report on — the inarguably inefficient spectrum of a 5-star system. My 4 is not your 4.

7.5) Facebook is ideologically suspect and proudly intrusive. Thought I’d end on a big note, although many other writers have plumbed this topic to death. Honestly, read the privacy policy. Don’t just pretend to read it. Read it.

So, bye-bye Facebook. Thanks for 5 months of precisely nothing life-changing, nothing personally revolutionary, and nothing worth reporting to my friends.

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