My wife just got rid of her Facebook account. She had been threatening to do it for the last year or so. She claims that she was not using it for the right reasons. Sure, she wanted to keep up with what was going on with her close circle of friends, but she does that on the phone and through text messages on a daily basis. She also wanted to continue keep up her non-profit’s presence, but now that she no longer works there, it hardly seems like much a draw to go and lurk. In fact, she considered most of what she was doing to be lurking. She would look at photographs of old friends or see status updates from people she only “befriended” out of obligation. In essence, there was no good reason to keep using facebook for her. And other than trying to tell her that she will need an account one day to sign up for other services because Facebook connect may be the defacto login of the future, I wasn’t able to come up with anything compelling to persuade her otherwise.
Social networking is not a requirement, yet.
For those of us that work in social networks and our livelihoods depend upon making connections and cultivating communities, Facebook and Twitter are essential. For those that cannot (or will not) keep up with their friends through more conventional means, social networks are the bedrock of our contact with the outside world. For everyone else, they are a luxury. They are the thing that we do to pass the time. They are entertainment. They are a slightly more active version of television. Status updates and infinite pictures and movies are the things that we do while we are waiting in line, for something else better to happen in “real life.”
And I like that my wife still has a choice. I like that she can go in and delete her account (even if her profile picture and “likes” will probably never fully be deleted from the memory of the internet. I like that she can quit Facebook and feel no lingering effects of disconnect because she has all that she needs outside of those “friends.”
She is more open to what is in front of her than I am right now. She can dial someone on the phone and feel as though she has someone on the other end that really wants to hear from her rather than someone that is just eavesdropping on a wall posting that doesn’t seem to have a beginning or end. No one is going to “poke” her or tag her into a list of nonsense. No one is going to look her up after 15 years of non-connection and rekindle a small friendship that was doomed once she left Kansas City.
I am proud of her for quitting Facebook. It is much more than I could ever do. The connections I have on that social network are split into Former Students, High School Acquaintances, Internet Colleagues that I already connect with through Twitter, email or Skype, and my family. While I like seeing how my former students have turned out, most of the time I end up checking in just to tell one of them to take down a picture of them drinking (so they can get a job in the future). The three people I still talk to from high school I call on the phone and send emails to regularly. The internet colleagues I have collected over the years have more ways to contact me than I care to list. There is nothing that Facebook presents other than a way for my family to post pictures of our gatherings in one place. And I don’t post anything other than notes of Facebook because I don’t own anything that I put up there.
Of what value is this silo of connections?
The only thing that I can think to answer is that I don’t YET know. I am so intrigued by the singularity of Facebook. It is the only service that consumes over 500 million active users. Its potential is so amazing that I want to stick it out until I find it useful. I want to be there when they come up with the thing that connects us all together in a more meaningful way than what we like or where we went to college. But, they better do it soon. Otherwise, I might have to join my wife in the land of the Facebookless.