I used to be a conspiracy theorist. Now I am a realistic conspiracy theorist.
In my first incarnation, I resisted using Facebook (just like I had resisted email, ecommerce and the internet in general) out of privacy concerns. In the second, I already know that everything I do online leaves a trail and is stored forever or for as long as the massive server farms that do just that are operative, which should be a long time. I don’t assume privacy whatsoever, even from sites and activities that promise it. I also know I’m very small fish, with very little to interest the Powers That Be in my banking, emailing, shopping, porn viewing, political views, Google searches (“outhouse plans” “Kafka”, “nude Beyoncé”, ex-girlfriend this or that), and of course, my Facebook activity.
Well, turns out that a friend with whom I shared many travels and adventures in our carefree 20’s had adopted something called MySpace first, FB later, and said I should also join so we kept informed of our current activities and get to hang with other old friends from those travels scattered in different countries. He said social media was perfect for it. “It’s better than email, because you don’t email all your friends all the time, but here they can visit when they have time, on their terms, and check out your stuff with no pressure, no answer required… I mean if all my friends wrote to me w pics of their kids and jobs and interests and thoughts and music, I couldn’t possibly deal with all that. But here, when I have a break and some web (he’s a forest firefighter in British Columbia, Canada, with long stretches living in the bush), I can catch up and absorb a lot of what’s going on with people I care about, interact with some of it – if and when I’m in the mood – and share my stuff with them”, he raved.
I resisted for a few years. What’s wrong with email? I have maybe 10 close friends and another 10 close family members. I can email them all regularly. I don’t want to open another flank to the prying eye of Big Brother. What’s the point, anyway? I had checked MySpace once, and it seemed loud, difficult to navigate, and frankly, with not much there of any interest.
I now sometimes regret not sticking to those points. Then again, other times I don’t. There’s pros and cons to the thing. It can be fun, instructional and a great tool; it can also be a pain in the arse. Let’s navigate through some of the hurdles:
– In my opinion, the worst confusions tend to be about who’s a friend and who’s not. Who’s a friend? For me, it’s someone I hang with often; someone I used to hang with and still like and doesn’t live where I currently do; others that reside locally, share some interests, get to meet with me casually once in a while, and enjoy the chitchat and the company of each other, even though we may not see them face to face for weeks or months; plus my family. I know all these persons in real life, and the tone we use on FB is the same we use in daily life, and the frequency of exchanges is about the same, too. Facebook says the average ‘active network’ on its platform is around 120 friends. That sounds about right. Seems like a number you can give personal attention to each and everyone there. But other people think ‘the more, the merrier’, and either actively seek to become friends with every single person they meet however fleetingly, or accept every friend request that appears in their page. Which makes the platform more of a marketing or public relations kind of thing. I guess that’s OK for some, and a valid way to develop business contacts. But if you have a business, you should keep it separate from your personal life by creating a public page for it that you manage. I maintain two of those pages, where everyone’s welcome and one can interact on a purely professional basis, maybe answering questions about gardening or promoting the new crop of avocados or stuff like that. I said I knew that ultimately, nothing one does online is private, in that it can become accesible to security agencies, hackers, corporations, all kinds of actors; that doesn’t mean I want someone I met for 2 minutes in a Chamber of Commerce boring thing, and didn’t like much anyway, looking at pictures of my family or learning that I like bondage ladies in 50’s underwear because I can’t keep my big mouth shut and not share that kind of thing. Which brings me to my next point: what you say and don’t say on FB.
– There used to be something called journals. When one had a mental turd stuck in his system, he could go to their pages and excrete it there and be done with it. Turns out it’s better to say it out loud on Facebook and bother your friends with whatever silly thought or banal comment was tormenting you. “It’s THEIR problem now. I said my piece and good riddance”, is the feeling. I know my friends; I know what they are likely to say when we’re sitting with me in the bar or the yard, and in most cases I enjoy it. Especially when I’m drunk. But no amount of drink will make the comments of some daft chick I barely know about her favorite romantic comedy, latest business success, or morning jog, enjoyable. It’s worse than you think: even following the rules previously stated about what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ number of friends, one has to wade through massive amounts of unwanted information. The righteous quote from a famous person, generally dealing with the ‘correct’ way to live; the ‘clicktivism’ links, urging you to give your signature to this or that cause; the ‘wake up call’ showing horrific pictures of, say, abused kitties, to supposedly win you over to the side of cat rights; the borrowed witticism or photo or poster which apparently you agree with, because you’re user number 17,962 re-posting it; the sales pitch, ‘first 10 people to like this get 10% off my Tupperware stock’; the users who share everything they read and do online, which sometimes is a lot and can be an eye-opener: “Does this or that friend of mine do anything other than be online reading stuff and re-posting it?” I only appreciate your original, personal thoughts and images. I may or may not like them or comment on them (in many cases, I won’t even see them, because I missed a few days or Facebook organized the news-feed differently), but they are yours, they are not copy and paste, they are not clutter. Now, if I know you intelectually, and if the subject interests me, I may be interested in a link you post, read the article, listen to the music, even agree or not with the quote. If it’s not every day. If it’s not 20 times a day. But anyway, I’m likely to say and post all kinds of stupid stuff that seem a good idea at the time (“Hey, this weed is waaaay good! I’m playing ‘Sgt Pepper’ the 5th time in a row, and baking some wicked brownies doing it”), but it’s MY stupid stuff, and that’s what I like to read from others. Ah, one more thing… that post about the weed? That you deleted the next morning, embarrassed? It’s not really deleted. Your deleted emails aren’t, either. Or your deleted searches and browse histories. Not really. If someone somewhere really, really wants to see it, they will. Who would want to see such cretinous stuff is another question, but you get the point: you can just say what you want to say, and be authentic, be yourself doing it, but watch it. Always assume it’s out there, and you don’t really mind because it’s what you’d say in public anyway. And please, don’t force tons of material down your friends’ throats. Or strangers’ throats, for that matter.
– One should say what he wants to say without much regard to who publicly applauds it – which is, ‘liking’ the post or making comments on it. In fact, one shouldn’t care too much about who boos or ignores it, either. One should do only what he wants to do and gives him pleasure, in Facebook as in real life. Kids’ pictures are a sure hit: unless they are hideous, they are well liked… who doesn’t like a kid? A friend’s kid, to boot? So if you’re proud of that ballet recital and want to share it with your friends in Omaha and Oslo, by all means you should do it. But perhaps on this particular day you just feel dark and depressed and want to say something about the suicidal philosophy of Emile Cioran. Not a lot of people will applaud that, but that shouldn’t stop you. You’re being yourself and finding whatever consolation in uttering a thought or posting something that is important to you at the moment among your friends. Exactly like you would sitting at the bar drinking a few cold ones with them. Sometimes they will like what you say, sometimes not give a shit, but you say it anyway, and they do, too, and that’s friendship. Now, a guy that only shows you his kids’ pictures every time you meet, or only talks about his depression and Cioran, is a bore. And probably will not be your friend for long, because there’s only so much time in this life and you’d rather share it with more… balanced friends, let’s say. A bit of this and a bit of that, I guess. Just what you’re in the mood for, not what you assume appeals to the widest number of people. That makes the most enjoyable posts both to write and to read. Save the ‘safe’ posts that many like for your public, business Facebook page, keep your personal page engaging and intimate.
– Which brings us to the reciprocity issue, a touchy one. You know this guy, and you like him allright when you see him, and he approves of absolutely everything you say and do on FB. No middle ground. Everything you say is a hit with him. But turns out he’s not very inspired, himself, on the web… he’s allright in real life, mind, not a bore. But on FB, he can only come up with those ultimate staples of internet boredom and cliché, the Cute Kitty Picture and the Copy And Paste Inspirational Quote. You don’t care for it and just ignore and wait to see him because you know he’s better than that, funnier, smarter, just the web is not his thing maybe? Then next time you see him, he reproaches you: “I always like your stuff, and you never like mine!”. There’s really no solution for this except openess and truth. “Dude, you just post these music videos I don’t have shit to say about! Gimme something that’s yours, dammit”
– The gaming updates. Don’t you hate it when you get information about how such and such friend has scored so many points in some online game? I know there’s ways to block that. I gotta work on that.
– Let’s not forget the addiction factor. The friend who introduced me to the thing calls it ‘Facecrack’. It can really suck you in. Are you kidding? You have most of your friends and family in the same place, you have all the bands and magazines and stuff you like feeding you constant updates, you have a number of exes posting pics of themselves wearing bikinis on the beach, you have the guilty schadenfreude of that Mr Popularity or Ms Bitch from senior high reduced to fat, balding wrecks, you have email, videos, music, reading, shopping and working all for the price of one: free. Of course you’ll spend time there, sometimes too much time. I guess everybody has their way to cope with this. Mine is not having internet access at home, which greatly limits the time online you have because you’re using free hot spots anyway, and the little time you have to be at the library or the coffeeshop has to be divided into paying the bills, reading and answering 2 or 3 email accounts outside of Facebook, catching up with the news or the blogs you follow, Skyping grandma and much more. So there’s less time to look at exes in bikinis, and to broadcast your thoughts about the state of the world.
– Talking about bikinis, Facebook is many things, but it’s NOT a dating site. Friending someone you just met and hope to go to bed with, or already have, opens all kinds of cans of worms: the previous love interest who will now be pissed, the detail in your life that she discovers that will make her run away and deprive you of countless hours of pleasure in the sack, the sexual fiasco that motivates the angry wall post about you needing some Viagra or perhaps liking other men too much, the moment when you discover that she ‘likes’ McDonalds or Danielle Steel or Menudo and you’re disappointed forever. Facebook is only for current, long suffering partners that know you well, and for former flames, with whom you’re hopefully real friends with now. It’s no place to meet new possible sexual partners, and no place to keep secrets.
– It’s no place for kids, either, because they are too young to understand all this.
– If you keep a blog or a journal, avoid Facebook: you’ll be tempted to express your thoughts in just a few lines, get lazy and never write stories or long entries on them anymore.
My final thought: Pope Francis recently said, “who am I to judge homosexuals”. I say, “who am I to give advice about Facebook”. I have the same love-hate relationship with it as everybody else. I periodically get mad and delete every last photo and video, go through friends with a fine comb and unload several, freak out about the amount of sensitive info that could be gleaned from it, despair about my own and everybody else’s lack of originality and ideas, wonder why they are my friends anyway. And yet, at the same time, I keep coming back to the digital agora, the virtual Hyde Park where I can set my soapbox up and yell at others standing on their own soapboxes and participate in the cacophony of humanity.