Snuggling With the Enemy

My Fake Magazine of LIfe in Sweden – by Scott Ritcher, American publisher of a real magazine called K Composite

Block This Application: Life After Social Networking

I recently deleted my Facebook account. Although it occurred to little or no fanfare, it was a long time coming.

Facebook was a nice way to stay in touch with people near and far, especially given that my life has been spread across two continents in recent years. But the site ultimately became more of a burden than a joy. It seemed every login in was followed by a marathon of clicking “ignore” to a dozen different requests.

Who is this person? Why do they want to be my friend? How is it possible that I don’t know, since we have 67 common friends?

Bill Gates acknowledged in the New York Times that he once had a Facebook account, “but every day ‘ten thousand people tried to be my friend.’ He said he spent too much time trying to decide ‘Do I know them? Don’t I know them?’ Ultimately, he said, ‘I had to give it up.” Amen, Four-eyes.

That megarich supernerd was right. The number of daily requests wasn’t ten thousand for me, but it was enough to contribute to the overall feeling that Facebook was more of an imposition than a convenience.

Several months ago, before I escaped the whole thing, I tried to establish some boundaries on Facebook. By grouping my “friends” into categories, then limiting access to particular parts of my profile based on those groups, I hoped to customize my experience in the site into something tolerable – to make it what I wanted it to be.

For instance, my contacts in the “Actual Friends” category could see everything on my profile, whereas my contacts in the “People I Know” group had limited access. Still another group called “X” included people I had met only once or were business connections. You know, people it may be nice to stay in touch with but also people who I don’t want up in my personal business.

Before this, I had already been limiting my own access to excessive or annoying updates by hiding other people’s updates from my view. This happened on an ad-hoc basis whenever someone bothered me or wasted the space. Pictures of your baby? Hide. … Three updates in an hour? Hide. … Constant nonsense about Lost, True Blood or Twitter? Hide.

After a few months of limiting access and grouping people into boundary-specific sets, it turned out that much of the problem wasn’t with all these people. The problem was with me.

I was simply not adapting well to the idea of all these people being mixed together nor my new role of patrolling and maintenance.

I had this same adverse reaction to my first cell phone sometime in the mid-90’s. In a technological homage to Muhammad Ali, I threw my cell phone out the window of my car while crossing the Ohio River on the Clark Memorial Bridge. (I know, I know, that story about Ali throwing his gold medal off the same bridge isn’t really true, but it seemed like an apropos watery grave for such invasive devices.)

In so many words, the Internet has really screwed up how people interact with each other. While it has made people much easier to find it has also made people harder to lose.

In place of letter writing which used to take days – or even phone calls which were natural conversations – Internet communications are delivered in a second. As soon as something is sent it is delivered. There is no pause between sealing the envelope and waiting for the reply. And on a site like Facebook, many of these personal notes and interactions are on public display. (Maybe people felt the same way when mail delivery began on trains insead of horses, or when the first public announcement kiosk was put in a town center.)

It is also entirely possible to build an online relationship that doesn’t actually exist in real life, or at least one that doesn’t translate when it goes face-to-face. People have different personas online than they do in person. People say different things online and the way they say them is open to more interpretation, not only from the recipient but from a wider audience of associated people.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone is on Facebook for a different reason. Each person brings their own ideas and expectations of how people should behave when they join the site.

Do I really want to be “friends” with someone I went to middle school with and haven’t seen since? Do I need to be in contact with everyone I meet on tour? Do I give a shit if someone I worked ten years ago with just refinished their deck? Do I want to see pictures of their bratty kids with chocolate on their faces? Do I need all the negative energy in my life of constantly having to say “no” to people?

If someone adds me and that person’s reasons for being on the site are different than mine, it opens up a whole can of worms and explanations. Before all this, we could have just been two people who peripherally knew each other and said hello when we happened to meet. Now, if I say “no” I feel bad and the other person feels offended. If I say “yes” out of guilt, then I feel like I’ve been coerced into doing something I didn’t want to do, and the other person might feel like we’re actually friends. Jesus, who even knows what the other person thinks?

As my friend Bob said, there’s no way to know what’s in the unwritten social contract that any particular person has with you when they add you as a friend.

Therein lies one of the biggest pitfalls of this kind of networking: use of the word “friend” rather than “contact” or “connection.” Truthfully, that’s what most of these people really are.

Being a member of a social networking site introduces and entirely new set of questions and decisions into your life. It makes a lot of identical information about you available to your friends, your peripheral acquaintences, your significant other, your business contacts, hell, sometimes even your parents or your exes. The fact is that I have distinctly different relationships with all those people. I have a different and unique dynamic with everyone I know. To think that all those people should be privy to the same forum is absurd and inherently unnatural.

The ease with which people have become comfortable divulging and sharing personal information is alarming. Not me. I will thank you to mind your own affairs, sir.

The average person doesn’t have more than a handful of true friends. I know for sure that a very tiny percentage of the hundreds of “friends” I had on Facebook are actually people that I could comfortably go out to eat with.

It has been said that any friend will help you pick out furniture or find a new apartment, but a true friend will help you move.

Perhaps that’s the way it should stay. I still have a phone, an email address, a mailbox and a face. Those always worked for me before. Maybe I’ll have a change of heart at some point, but for now, Facebook is not for me.

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11 responses to “Block This Application: Life After Social Networking”

  1. Grace says:

    I’m with you – most of the people I know and/or want to know better can be reached by phone or e-mail, or better yet – face time. Fifty- eight percent of any conversation is body language, and the import of the silences around and between the words. I feel half-blind trying to communicate with the people I really care for when I can’t ‘read’ them. My ‘gut’ feelings can’t come into play, it’s like being socially lobotomized. This way of knowing doesn’t work on social networking sites and without it, what kind of relationship do you really have? How much time is it worth?

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  2. Windy says:

    Huge sympathy. We have to redefine the word “friend” in the next several years thanks to Facebook.
    By the way don’t throw phone in the river. Unfriendly ac to environment.

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  3. Sander says:

    Hey Scott,

    Agreed 100 % ! I left FB a year ago with over 400 ‘friends’ after the group got too big to handle and some information (like the unexpected death of a loved one) got leaked out to the larger community against my wishes. FB is a sign of the times, its all about the ‘me, me, me’ under 25 generation and not much more. There are other social sites up and comers like Diaspora and that will leave FB in the dust.

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  4. Monica says:

    I can’t stand Facebook, Twitter etc. I am old fashioned give me a cell phone or telephone, meet in person or email or even write a letter once in a while. This Facebook stuff is stunting the growth of our children and pretty soon they won’t be able to communicate at all face to face I already see that in the neighboor hood kids who are teenagers they won’t acknowledge you when you see them on the street but text them and it is a whole different world.

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  5. Tamara says:

    Brilliantly put, Scott!

    And why is it so addictive? Download the Facebook application for your iPhone and you’re just seconds away from your next fix! OOhhhh, it feels so good, but you know it’s bad for you! Shouldn’t you be doing something more worthwhile?… Getting up to date with the mundane trivialities of your face-bragging pseudo-friends, showing off your witty writing abilities, pissing everyone off with the fact that you’re on a beach in St Lucia when they’re freezing their arses off, cringing at the inappropriate comments of a family member; what’s it all for and where is it going?

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  6. Pax says:

    You’re all idiots. It’s just like any other club- you don’t like it, don’t go there. But preaching about how holier than thou you are by virtue of not liking it is simply pathetic.

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  7. Monica says:

    Gee wiz Pax didn’t realize I was being Holier than thou?! I was just making an observation about today’s youth that are texting instead of engaging in actual communication with the person standing right in front of them. Have a nice day.

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  8. SarahRF says:

    I totally understand what you mean about the whole “friending someone you’re not really friends with”. When I first joined FB, I was friends with just about my entire high school class, but decided after a while that I don’t care what’s going on in their lives. They never talked to me or hung out with me or got to know me in the 3 years we were at school together (hell one guy never even said hi to me in that time), so why on earth would I want to be “friends” with them now? I have managed to limit my friends’ list to under 150 people, based on two categories: “People I actually do still talk to” and “People close to my whole family, just in case”. Group B ouweighs Group A, but still, I don’t friend people I don’t intend to keep in touch with it.

    As for the “holier than thou” comment, that was a little uncalled for. Monica was stating something she’d seen, and as a “youth of today” myself (I’m 23), I agree with her. My Swedish friends almost never call me, they sms or facebook message me. Makes face to face meetings a little awkward sometimes. “Oh, did you see So and So got engaged/had a kid/bought a house/broke his neck?” “Omg yes! I saw it on facebook!”. Also, anything put on facebook is taken as “absolute truth”. You have to be soooo careful what you say!

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  9. tod says:

    I love this post. It’s very informative and educational. Now one thing here being said over and over is the negative aspects of the FB and issues related to it but what about the positive aspects? namely you could actually learn from what other peeps say when they update their status. You know not everybody is the same and we are raised in different families and surroundings. I actually see it as a way to get to know things that i didn’t have a chance to learn.

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  10. Raiha says:

    I also find this post very negative and dare I say it…totally Swedish in terms of interacting with others. Different social groups coming together in one forum? The horror of it!!! I admit to a certain amount of conflict when it comes to people in the past who were never my ‘real’ friends. But the beauty of Facebook for me is the ability to keep in touch with friends all over the world, to see each other’s children growing up, to know where and what the people you truly care about are doing.

    Would I bother grouping people and hiding parts of myself from them? Not unless you’re trying to maintain an ‘image’ of something you are not. I find this behaviour slightly dishonest and also, obsessive compulsive behaviour. Hiding pictures of people’s babies? What is that???

    That said, I appreciate the humour in your post.

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  11. Maurice Muteti says:

    I love Facebook and I appreciate the forum created by it to keep in touch with people who have been in my life at all the different stages. However, it of course has it’s positive and negatives just as anything else.

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