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.
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.