The only reason I realize the extent of this behavior is that ages ago I installed an app on my browser that let me see who had unfriended me on Facebook. Now, that’s a really embarrassing thing to admit and I certainly wouldn’t mention it if this was still something I was doing. Rest assured, I no longer have such an app. You are free to unfriend me in peaceful anonymity.
But this app also allowed me to see account deactivations (and reactivations), and it was kind of startling. In any given week, ten or fifteen people would deactivate their accounts. Most of them came back surprisingly soon—often within less than a month. Some deactivated and reactivated their accounts three or more times in a six month period.
This behavior was so widespread that it made me realize the extent of our ambivalence with Facebook (and, I suppose, other social networks—although I don’t think those really matter). I’m not sure what’s at the base of it. I think, at least amongst my peers, maybe it’s mostly a question of status anxiety? Facebook makes it very easy to see when other people are doing better than you.
That’s a bit odd, though, because I am the king of status anxiety, and I find that Facebook rarely affects me this way. I think, though, that might be because I mostly tend to envy other writers, and my locus of status anxiety is this online writing forum I belong to, Codex, in which hundreds of SF writers who are at around my level of professional development gather today and, frequently, discuss their professional successes.
Leaving Facebook is also, to some extent, just the cool thing to do. “I’m not on Facebook” is the new “I don’t have own a TV.”*
I enjoy Facebook a lot, and my enjoyment of it has only deepened over time. I think it does exactly what it says it is supposed to do: it provides a sense of connectedness. I’m out here in Baltimore, far away from all my peoples, but I still get to see what they’re up to and dip into their lives.
And it’s also a good place for fostering weak connections. I’m not sure that Facebook interaction is ever going to make me someone’s best friend, but not all relationships need to be deep and intensely-felt. It’s very pleasant to have a broad network of acquaintances. When you know a fair number of people, it feels like you have some kind of place in the world.
As an activity, Facebooking is also somewhat pleasurable. It has its own set of minor joys. It’s fun to make a point on someone’s wall or share something interesting or like a funny picture. All of this stuff is just so great. It’s not the kind of thing you can build a life upon, but it’s a wonderful way to spend about 30-45 minutes a day.
I found that my enjoyment of Facebook (and Twitter) increased tremendously when it became less passive. For maybe eight years, I mostly posted my own status updates and browsed my News Feed (and whatever came before your news feed) and didn’t make any comments. But for the last year or so, I’ve made a conscious effort to get out there and try to write things, whenever I have something to say. (Yes, I am the kind of person who makes personal goals re: his Facebook usage.) And once I started interacting with people a little bit more, I found that people interacted much more with me. And since then everything has been wonderful: doves sometimes descend from the sky and land on my shoulders.
*I’m so glad that the advent of Netflix and Hulu killed off “I don’t own a TV.” I guess you could still say, “I don’t watch television shows” but that just sounds trivial, like…err…so what? Not owning a TV is about not doing the thing that is expected of you; not watching TV is just about how you choose to spend your time. I don’t go to sports games, but you don’t hear me bragging about it.