As the daughter of a computer programmer, I have always considered myself to be fairly technologically competent. I managed my way through a minor in Information Technology, have created a couple of functional (though rather budget looking) websites from scratch, and I spend an obscene amount of time parked in front of my laptop. So, when a friend asked me to join this crazy new thing called Facebook (in the days when it was still the exclusive domain of university students), I didn’t say no because I was afraid or unsure. The question was, did I want to?
The answer was and still remains… No no no, a thousands times no!
With 59 million users and another 2 million joining each week, Facebook has already begun to redefine the way we communicate. As an outside observer, I have witnessed the countless hours spent shooting off one line messages, tagging photos and engaging in drawn-out games of Scrabulous. How long until this medium is so pervasive that it becomes our primary mode of communication? Drastic, I know, but be honest, how many times have you texted or MSN’ed someone who was easily within walking distance? Is Facebooking all that far away?
Let’s start with the implications of Facebook’s redefinition of the word “friend”? Popularity is just a click away, yours for the taking, what are you waiting for? Met that guy at a party once? Add him. Wondering what your best pal from grade school is up to? Add her too. Forget that you’ll probably talk once or twice, then spend the rest of your “friendship” being annoyed by their constant status updates and awkwardly trying to unfriend them without their knowledge. At least you’ll look popular!
Then there is the idea of using a computer to “keep you connected to the people around you” (their tagline, my emphasis). If anything, this medium’s primary purpose should be to connect you to the people who are not around you, the people with whom you can not just call or pop by to visit. This disconnect is furthered by the fact that our Facebook selves, created through selectively tagged photos and drop-down menu political leanings, are often carefully crafted, idealized versions of our real selves.
And then there are all of the privacy issues. Selling user details to advertisers, tracking online purchases, broadcasting profiles on Google… it all adds up to some very Big Brother stuff. As Tom Hodgkinson writes (via The Guardian), “That’s 59 million suckers, all of whom have volunteered their ID card information and consumer preferences to an American business they know nothing about.”
Now, I recognize the problems inherent in criticizing something I have never really taken part in. My perception of Facebook is clearly biased and I’m aware that there are a lot of positives I’m missing out on. The photo sharing capabilities alone often have me fighting the urge to sign up, and I am painfully aware of all the fun stories, invites and inside jokes that take place there, as a supplement to a face-to-face friendship. But in the end, it just doesn’t seem worth my time, efforts, or sense of privacy. So, next time you feel like giving me crap for not signing up, head over to one of these sites instead instead.