Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Being Together in the Same Room: A Facebook Farewell

I've decided to quit Facebook, powering down officially by Friday, not really in solidarity with anyone, though my decision has the texture of solidarity.

Big ups to Zuckerberg and Co. for starting something that's done a very good job of connecting people with long-lost family and friends (I see you, Ari Irvings!).

A lot of you already know about my aversion to some of the more personally embarrassing aspects of FB (i.e. my middle name is "Remove Tag"). And I've also not had a real facial picture of myself on my profile for a long time (see inset). But, while understandable, not wanting to publicize incriminating evidence about oneself online isn't a powerful enough reason to quit. After all, I do have a pretty incriminating blog here, about which a friend recently emailed saying, I guess you're not going back to the corporate world.

Fair enough.

The real reason I'm quitting is because I feel like the Facebook party has turned into a kind of trap. I see status apologies every week about hackings ("Sorry for the mass emails..."), and in their recent press releases, FB Corporate is understandably unrepentant, essentially looking over their poker hand and saying, "Go ahead. No one's twisting your arm to stay on Facebook." And they're right. Status update: "My arm is fine."

The real arm of mine that's being twisted nowadays isn't the lack-of-privacy arm, or even the someone-is-trying-to-pull-a-fast-one-on-me arm, although I don't know about you, but I hate the idea of folks trying to make a buck off me without my knowing it. The real arm-twisting deals with something harder to explain, something that was conjured up recently while I was reading David Lipsky's engrossing new book of interviews with David Foster Wallace. The interviews took place in '96, and, in this quote below, the late, great Wallace is talking about the emptiness of TV (not FB), but I think he gets into some very powerful, prophetic terrain which applies to the social networking site:

"I think one of the reasons I feel empty after watching a lot of TV, and one of the things that makes TV seductive, is that it gives the illusion of relationships with people. It's a way to have people in the room talking and being entertaining, but it doesn't require anything of me. I mean, I can see them, they can't see me. And, and, they're there for me, and I can, I can receive from the TV, I can receive entertainment and stimulation. Without having to give anything back but the most tangential kind of attention. And that is very seductive.

"The problem is it's also very empty. Because one of the differences about having a REAL person there is that number one, I've gotta do some WORK. Like, he pays attention to me, I gotta pay attention to him. You know: I watch him, he watches me. The stress level goes up. But there's also, there's something nourishing about it, because I think like as creatures, we've all got to figure out how to be together in the same room.

"And so TV is like candy in that it's more pleasurable and easier than the real food. But it also doesn't have any of the nourishment of real food...

"...as the Internet grows, and as our ability to be linked up, like--I mean, you and I coulda done this through E-MAIL [Mik: or Facebook!], and I never woulda had to meet you, and that woulda been easier for me. Right? Like, at a certain point, we're gonna have to build some machinery, inside our GUTS, to help us deal with this. Because the technology is just gonna get better and better and better and better. And it's gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen, given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. Which is all right. In low doses, right? But if that's the basic main staple of your diet, you're gonna die. In a meaningful way, you're going to die."

Update: This blog post just cost me a $35 parking ticket. Two minutes late on the goddam meter. Argh! Fuck you, Facebook! And you, too, unreasonable NYPD traffic cop lady.


Bryan said...

I agree with Wallace's ultimate conclusion, but you're really talking about two different things here—I'm not sure that Facebook or Google or anyone else is *forcing* you (or anyone) to supplement real, human relationships with those on the Internet, but as has happened (with me, among others), it's incredibly easy to fall into that trap. If you are able to sidestep it, then there's nothing wrong with being on Facebook, the same way there's nothing wrong with having a glass of wine per day or eating a cheeseburger once in awhile. Which is all well and good and you probably know that but I never figured you for someone had a problem with this sort of stuff (in fact, you seem pretty wary of it, this blog notwithstanding), and in the top of the post you make it pretty clear that you don't. So I think your first conclusion is wrong: You are in solidarity with DFW here, and maybe not the Quit Facebook crowd (though maybe you're actually in the silent majority of that crowd, people looking to quit for reasons as simple as "Whatever"—as good as any—led by a few vocal leaders), and solidarity is good.

The Patient Ox said...

I'm with you there about how inane and mind-numbing TV is. I have stopped subscribing to it, and my wife supports the idea too. She says we need to be reading books more instead. Hmmm.

As for FaceBook, I do not understand how it is that people think they can keep up with 500 friends or more there. I have a hard enough time paying attention to the 25 or 26 I have there. But, I sure do like getting my Jon Stewart, MPR(Minnesota Classical Music) , and ACLU updates!

I'll wrap this up by saying, like all things in life, we should aim for the happy medium. And that, of-course, can be summed up with one word: moderation.

The Patient Ox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anisah said...

oh yeah...wait a second. you're in brooklyn?!?

chris michel said...

Two things. One:
I’m with you on the facebook thing, but I’m thinking I don’t want to necessarily lose contact with everyone. Maybe I’ll shut it all down except for like maybe my snail mail address? If you want to reach me, send a letter or drop by, that kind of thing. I’ll have to up my letter-writing skills too.

Two: Fight that ticket:

chris michel said...

d’oh. better address for you to find out about the ticket-fighting:


Mik A. said...

@Bryan: You're right, I don't SUBSIST on FB interactions; I'm not addicted to it; I have a healthy, real social life. I get softball injuries. But I think it boils down to control and substance: I'm at a point where I would rather have control of the personal information I share with others. Hence, blog. Sites like FB and Blogger and Wordpress are supposed to act as filters/organizers/arrangers between ourselves and others. But unlike the other sites I just mentioned, I feel the medium is trying to become the thing with FB. Imagine if your novel-in-progress started whoring you out to other writers. "Bryan's got this good idea on page 6. How much for it?" It's because to do anything substantive, human, one must exert a certain amount of control over the medium. I think FB is a case of the medium becoming an extra-large, and a clear symptom of which is making it extremely hard for its users to control the self they put forward. They would prefer us to be flat, 2D, data points, which they can whore out to marketing agencies. Can you imagine trying to carry out this very substantive, highly relevant back-and-forth on Facebook. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I actually tried to write this blog post as a status update. FB limits the characters you can use to 420. I like Zuckerberg's stoner humor. But I like using as many characters as I want even more.

@CMichel: Unfortunately, it was one of those regular meters. So there's no way I can prove how long it'd been flashing 0:00.

arthur said...

i see you posting these days, does that mean you clocking pages, all this facebook time being freed up

Mik A. said...

@arthur: Indeed. Revising a story on a deadline, but I count that as clocking. After that, really gonna start clocking. Good to be back in the woodshed.

Bryan said...

In general I agree with everything you're saying about Facebook. The only reason I'm still on it is it allows the most convenient pathway for me to curb-stomp people in Scrabble at their repeated request.

That's why I think you'd like Twitter: you're in control of the medium. You're in control of what you present and what you see. I find that the fewer characters make it a better way for sharing information. The urge to overshare is killed (and for serial oversharers, you just don't follow them) and everything is fairly substantive as long as UR DOIN IT RITE