Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hating Facebook

I hate Facebook.

Not “dislike,” or “prefer not to use.”

I hate it.

It isn't the typical things that people complain about either. No, I don't like some of Faceboook's data policies and business practices. No, I'm not crazy about their UI. No, I am not a fan of how they sometimes work with their API partners. As an introvert, I am really not attracted to the basic concept of 'social networking', as it always just seemed like a lot of humble-bragging and attention-seeking. Nevertheless I understand the problem it solves for a lot of people and I understand why some people swear by it.

To explain why I hate Facebook, let me relate a couple of recent incidents.

The first incident concerned my ten-year high school reunion. It was in 2013 in the Summer. I was living in NJ at the time, not more than an hour and fifteen minute drive from where I had gone to school on Long Island. I figured I would get a call or email weeks before the event. My parents still lived in the community near the school, and I had retained old email addresses from that time. What’s more I was on LinkedIn, easily searchable if you put in my first and last name. I figured it was no big deal that I did not have a Facebook account.

I never got an invite.

Never heard anything about it in fact until it was too late and an old friend asked me why I hadn’t gone months later. I learned from her that she had received her invite to the reunion on Facebook. “Everything was organized through Facebook,” she told me. Anyone who did not have a Facebook account was not contacted.

The second and far more serious incident occurred this year. It concerns a friend from high school whom I had been out of touch with for a long time. Lets call him ‘Chris’.

I don’t spend a lot of time with my friends. I have frequently gone a year or more without seeing people I consider close personal friends. What makes me consider them friends, however, is that in spite of these large gaps of time, when we get together it always feels like nothing has changed. We have the same mutual respect and affection that we have carried since childhood.

This context is important as it explains why I did not think it was odd that I had not spoken with Chris in a long time. I assumed everything was OK until I got a disturbing text message from a mutual friend.

Chris had committed suicide.

More disturbing was that the suicide had occurred months in the past. The funeral had already been held. Chris' mother only used Facebook to contact people. She must have assumed that all of his friends were on Facebook and could see her posts. She made no effort to get in touch with me or other friends of Chris.

I don't blame her, of course. She lost her son. Lord knows what she is going through. Still, I had lost a friend and had missed the chance to say a final goodbye. He had always been a bit odd but never really depressed, at least not for any length of time. I will never know what he was going through.

My friend Chris did not have a Facebook account, but his mother did, and who knows? Perhaps I would have seen a warning sign that would have let me know that Chris needed help had I been following her on Facebook or Twitter or whatever. Everyone tells you "it's not your fault," but it doesn't stop the pain. With respect to my high school reunion, it never occurred to me that not being available on social media disqualified me from attending.

So here is what I hate:

I hate that, if I somehow don’t want to consign my personal data, beliefs, preferences, relationships, work history, daily plans, and private messages to a massive advertising corporation, I have to risk missing out on seminal life events. Not being on Facebook is sort of like not having a cellphone. Sure, me and a small number of weirdos can opt out, but we are increasingly disadvantaged by it. The disadvantage comes from the larger society relying more and more on such technologies. If even a small subset of your friends make heavy use of social media, you ARE missing out, and sometimes you can miss out on important life or death stuff.

Of course I don't blame Facebook for my friend's death, much as I would love to blame someone. I just hate that not having Facebook makes me feel like a bad friend. I hate that the Facebook / social media paradigm of socialization won. I feel that my only real choices are to either A. Get with the program and embrace the dominant protocols of society or B. Become further alienated.

I know which path seems more attractive.