Sunday, September 28, 2014

Oh Vwah, FaceBook, Part the Third

Continuing my ruminations on the pointless, I’ve recently deactivated my FaceBook page.

This is the third or fourth time I’ve done this. The first time was to jettison some really odious “friends” who had made their way onto my news feed. The other time or two it was because I really began to have doubts as to whether it was serving any useful purpose. Well, here we are again.

I’ve covered all this before, and god knows I’m only one of millions with these same thoughts (and not surely one of the more articulate ones). But as ever, this is kind of my way of thinking aloud.

My FB experiences always contrast with my wife’s. FB works very well for her, both in her capacity as a teacher and in running a theatre. It’s the perfect platform for keeping tabs on a large group that shares an interest in theatre (and in TV and movies), and she uses it to post notices for auditions and the like. It’s a very useful and convenient tool for her. But I’m just not a person who sustains a large number of acquaintances. Of course I know a bunch of people from various jobs over the years, but I tend to be a few close friends kind of guy rather than a bushels of acquaintances guy. Most of my work acquaintances are not people I need to stay in touch with, and I can keep abreast of goings-on in my smaller circle with emails and an occasional phone call or text.

The problems with FB for me are several: first, most of my feed is political in nature, and I’ve really begun to question the utility of interfacing with politics in this way (to say nothing of whether very many of my friends wish to read political subject matter on their news feed). On the one hand, I find that following a group of more politically-active people keeps me abreast of stories and developments to a greater extent than would be the case otherwise. But on the other hand, what am I doing with this information except to make a mental note and pass it on to others? I have never canvassed door-to-door nor even manned phones for any political organization. I give a little money on occasion, but honestly my views and inclinations have been EXACTLY the same now for a couple decades at least. My FB activity has not, to my knowledge, changed nor assisted in changing my mind nor anyone else’s about anything. None of the information I put forth is information that my politically-active and -informed friends would not have had anyway. So what purpose is served?

And related to that, I find that my immersion in these matters makes me a less happy person. I don’t know, maybe this smacks of the ostrich shoving its head in the sand, but if my views are not changed nor my actions changed, there seems little purpose in keeping myself stressed and miserable all the time (indeed, that’s one of my chief complaints about Faux “News,” that they sustain an audience by keeping people scared and pissed. That Faux does this by a steady stream of lies is another matter). I know who the bad guys are in life—I’ve known for years—and constant reminders are not terribly useful. My ballot gets marked exactly the same way in any case.

A second (and much more trivial) complaint relates to the constant, and constantly-evolving, marketing at work on FB. More and more it’s clear that the platform, like network television, exists to enrich someone else. I feel more and more like a patsy, clicking on things being fed to me based on past performance. The constant mining of data and the insidious targeted ads that cannot now be avoided seem like good things to thwart.

Third, for all the questions I have about the utility and healthiness of this kind of interaction, it sure takes up a lot of one’s time. I find that on days off I look through my news feed a hundred times a day, sometimes sucking up several hours in a single day. It becomes like an addiction: there's not anything on that feed that I even care much about, and yet here I am checking, checking, checking.

Jesus, what an utter waste of life.

Maybe underneath all this is a nagging question I have about the legitimacy, for me anyway, of the community that gets created this way. A friend is a friend, surely, and I’ve certainly burdened these pages before about the difficulties of making and keeping friends as the years advance. Certainly if I were housebound I would value the platform as a way of interacting with people with whom I would otherwise be unaware. And I surely value the contact with others who share my views of the world vis-a-vis both politics and religion; these are connections that are harder to accomplish in life than online. But the electronic nature of these relationships means they also yield smaller dividends. 

That’s been maybe the biggest hurdle for me. Given my work environment, I feel as though I need contact with people who share my outrage and continuous flabbergastery, and FB has provided this, albeit at a cost. So I’m having to decide if the frustration that comes from immersion in this world is adequately repaid by sharing that frustration and outrage with others, or whether I mightn’t be happier disengaging to a degree.

Honestly, I don’t know.

Lastly, I found that my attentions on FB have an inverse relationship to my writing on this site. My activity on the JW started hard and fast in 2005 and slowed to a trickle over the ensuing decade. This is pretty typical for a personal blog, I think. (And one wonders if blogging isn’t a ship that sailed years ago and we few remaining are already dinosaurs.) But it really came to a halt three or four years ago when FB kind of took over. I have missed the longer format of a blog vs the line or two that characterizes most FB posts—a line or two of your own thinking before one sends along someone else’s writing. I toyed for a while with resurrecting a diary to record daily thoughts, but I honestly think that FB kind of saps one’s incentive to keep at this. Mine, anyway. And I just find that my time put into the JW brings more benefits than the same time put into FB.

Maybe the solution, as my lovely wife suggests, lies in modifying my interface with FB so that it more closely corresponds to my convictions (assuming those two things are not fundamentally incompatible). There are a few people in particular with whom I only have contact with FB, and in truth I have missed them these last few weeks. Most people know where to reach me, but there are a handful with whom I have only ever had a FB relationship. But I might also just figure out how to email those people. I know that whenever I encounter someone now who has renounced FB I am impressed (as I am of those who have forsaken television).

In truth, it’s been a lovely three or four weeks, enough that I’m really in no hurry to amend my current situation.

And maybe that’s all I need to think about.


CyberKitten said...

I think I'm one of those few people who doesn't have, and has never had, a Facebook account. It feels a bit like being the hero in one of those end of the world zombie movies who has a natural immunity to the bug that killed the world.

From a practical point I really can't see what all the fuss is about. People have tried to explain it to me, and get me to join, but to no avail. I do not see the attraction - at least not for me.

Plus I spend far too long on-line as it is without the Facebook monster getting its claws into me! Personally I'd rather be reading books.... [grin]

William Stachour said...

I especially relate to the idea of FB taking time away from reading. I listen to audiobooks now quite a bit, but I actually read very little. The time spent online surely detracts from the time available to read, and the latter seems of infinitely greater value, certainly than FB.

I have a deep-seated antipathy for broadcast television, and I wonder if my ambivalence about FB isn't similar. I don't think the medium is inherently evil, but in practice it's a time-waster and maybe worse. Certainly I think TV is worse than just time-wasting.

I spend a little time thinking about how I might modify my interface with FB and return, but more often I marvel that life is quite good without it.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

You commented on my post when I wrote about this very thing, so you know I agree with everything you said. I've found Facebook and the Internet in general to be a HUGE waste of time. It's like a drug, it hooks you, and before you know it, hours have gone by. When I finish on-line on FB, I never have anything to show for those wasted hours. When I spend time on my blog, however, I have organized pictures, thoughts, writing, memories, to keep. I often will go back through my blog and re-read old posts. I never do that with FB. I would like to print out a bunch of my blog posts for my kids, to someday understand what I thought about things, like a journal.

I left FB for a week and didn't miss it at all. Since that experiment, I've practiced not going on there as much. Not "liking" or responding to everybody's posts. I feel better when I can breeze through it, see if there's anything new I need to be aware of, then move on. Also, don't even get me started on the data mining! That enrages me to no end. I will stop there before my blood pressure rises.

William Stachour said...

It's been two or three weeks for me, and I'm quickly adjusting away from it. I do miss a little knowing what's going on with some people, but the question is whether I can manage what you do: to just look quickly and move on. I'm afraid I'd get sucked into forwarding and commenting and so on, and I'm right back where I started.

I think I'll stay away for now and see how it goes.

Like you, I love going back and re-reading posts. Even movie reviews are fun because (of course) they say what I thought at the time, and they bring me back up to speed with the plot, etc. But the more personal things are fun too.

I've never really thought about shutting down the blog, even when I rarely write on it. Unlike FB (for me), it just feels like a thing that has value, even if just in a personal history kind of way.

Karlo said...

It is addicting and it wastes a lot of time. I've seen enough cats doing amusing antics to last the rest of my life. Good for you. You're an inspiration.

dbackdad said...

I love it when you (or any of you) rant. For reasons that keep me visiting (albeit far too infrequently), I'll keep coming back. Sadly, these interchanges are some of the few interactions that have any intelligence or depth in my life.

I've talked about FB with Bil before. I couldn't agree more that it is a complete waste of time. And a waste that I, unfortunately, cannot divest myself of. Not for time-wasting purposes, but more utilitarian ones of communicating with far-off family. ... just not about politics. :-)

William Stachour said...

I keep thinking about ways I might make it tolerable to me, and then I find that life is just fine without it. I've been doing more reading and, at least when I'm on the road, more writing.

So I'll sit on it a while and see how it goes.

The politics thing just gives me strongly mixed signals. On the one hand, I think it's vitally important that we be engaged and that we attempt to inform ourselves--and that we thwart the big-dollar corruptions of our news processes; but on the other hand, I really don't think that *I* have been instrumental in informing anyone about anything, and (as I've said) I find I'm voting exactly the same way as I have always voted.

I like being happier! But I also feel like I'm pushing the shit-shoveling off to someone else in my efforts to keep myself blissfully happy.

If you figure it out, let me know!

Antonio Sepeda said...

Mr. Stachour, did you ever once own an extremely stubborn basset hound while simultaneously having a deaf white cat that enjoyed chewing on metal?

William Stachour said...

Ha! Guilty as charged. Yours is a name I've not heard in 25 years!