Sunday, January 5, 2014

Call me dramatic, but deleting my Facebook feels like getting clean

There are a lot of people out there who don't use Facebook; yet, I've deigned to soapbox about why I decided to delete mine today, as if that's some unique course of action.

I'm not saying anyone else should delete their account—I wouldn't delete mine simply because I was told to, although I do highly recommend this article, which helped enforce my own decision. Also, it's much shorter than this ensuing blog post that I've written. [I've made a couple more recommendations at the bottom of this post.]

I'm asking if we can create an attitude towards social media and socialization in general that is less universally alienating. [Granted, to do so would take a lot more than reforming our use of Facebook, although I think it's a significant perpetrator in recent years.] But really, what is dumber than a society of people who feel simultaneously crowded and alone?

[As an obvious disclaimer, I don't use Facebook as a marketing platform—there are other pockets of the Internet that work better for me in that regard—so I'm not considering it in that context. If Facebook was simply what got me paid through its exposure, you can bet your ass I'd milk that cow.]

I. Why Facebook makes us interpersonally impotent

We all know the phenomenon.

You meet someone, you think they’re cool, you’re getting to know each other, you add each other on Facebook.

Then you not only never talk again, but the mere idea of contacting them seems irredeemably awkward. You may be interested, but you can't get it up.

Think I’m full of shit? Go look at your Facebook friends—not on your News Feed, but on your friends list.

How many of those are people you could contact right now, for no good “reason”, without either of you finding it weird? Hell, how many of them do you even remember?

And yet, every individual on that list is someone that you personally either deigned to add or accept as a friend. Granted, some people accept everyone who adds them—arguably, that begs even more questions about how we perceive others and how we seek validation.

Prematurely adding one another on Facebook, before you're actually friends, is a pretty good way to turn the odds against your ever becoming friends.

So why does this happen? I think I know.

In real life, if you meet someone you think is really awesome, you might deign to get to know them better, to talk to them, to hang out with them. You might push yourself a bit to be friendly or outgoing, you might initiate contact or be opportunistic in social settings. If you want to befriend someone there's an impetus to put yourself out there so it can happen.

But if you talk to someone and jump the gun with, "Hey, you on Facebook?" then you've just taken the pressure off. You can be complacent. They're on your friends list now—you can get in touch with them any time you like. Social procrastination. Time passes.

And before you know it, the idea of getting in touch with them seems really awkward because, after all, you weren’t really friends with them to begin with, and it's been so long that you can't use a recent interaction as context. There is no context [except, "Hey, I think you're cool and I want to spend time with you," but let's be honest—most people are not willing to be so forthcoming, and it's on the borderline of socially acceptable behavior for adults].

I suppressed my grievances with Facebook the company and kept my account for years because I thought it was necessary for someone with my lifestyle; that is, nomadic and sporadic. For me, there's no externally mandated environment or routine that allows for casually getting to know people over time: no regular school, workplace, organization, or neighborhood. Sometimes I break into a social circle and make friends, but those friendships tend not to have any longevity, since I don't stick around for long. If I enjoy someone's presence in my life and want it to continue, I have to be proactive about it, rather than just assuming I'll see them around.

As a result, I have a lot of single-serving friends, and I’ve been a single-serving friend countless times. It's awesome, but it gets old. The people I really connect with tend to be as impossible to get a hold of as I am; the people who are easy to get a hold of may be lovely, but usually aren’t people I can relate to much [due to differences in our current experiences and values]. Catch-22. Hence, Facebook.

Except...on my friends list are a lot of people I used to be very close to, people I'm almost-but-not-quite actually truly friends with, people with whom I deeply connected for a short while, people with whom things were left off awkwardly or without closure...and people with whom I've never been close, but who like my photos and status updates and insist we "catch up sometime". As if there were some past relationship of value for us TO catch up to. As if we’d fallen behind.

Constantly, I'm sent hypothetical pleas to give someone a call, to make a return visit to their town, to crash at their new apartment. If I jot them down on my list of people to contact when I do return to their town, they act like I've crossed a social boundary somehow just for sending a Facebook message asking if they want to grab a drink. Hey, you told me to get in touch the next time I headed to Boston/Seattle/wherever, so I did. I'm not stalking you or trying to fuck you; the fact that I'm in your town at all means I had other reasons to come here.

Here's the clincher, for me: I probably get a hell of a lot less of this than others do. I'm a self-sufficient twenty-three year old female; people aren't so quick to deem me creepy. What if I were a bit older? Or male?

How much of this are other people getting—and is that why people do this kind of insincere-reach-out crap? Because they've gotten jaded and given up?

Meanwhile, online dating become increasingly mainstream.

Generally, when people sign up for those sites, they damn well intend to meet someone in person eventually. It's to be expected that you may contact or be contacted by a total stranger, talk a bit, and agree to meet up with hopes of getting laid, falling in love, killing time, or whatever.

Why is that widely acceptable, whereas trying to get to know someone you don’t really know already—but apparently know well enough to be “friends” with—and asking them to hang out is considered borderline creepy, invasive, or desperate? 

Moreover, it’s not being the one to suggest meeting up who gets deemed the creepy one—it’s the person who deigns to follow up. 

What I think is creepy is people who respond to one of your new photos out of the blue and insist that you need to hang out, and then find it weird when you say, “Sure, next week?”

I’m all for spur-of-the-moment reunions or self-imposed half-blind dates. But in many cases, being Facebook friends is not a sufficient springboard to actually interacting, even via Facebook chat or Wall post, let alone in person. 

Then why is it not weird that you can see each other’s updates and personal information—where you went to school, where they live, where you work, what their baby looks like, what your boyfriend looks like, how their new dye job looks? How is that less creepy?

We’re teaching ourselves that socializing is an ebb and flow of exhibitionism and voyeurism.

II. An army of self-inducing obscure celebrities

Maybe you don’t chew on that rock or that leaf. Maybe you don’t skip or laugh loudly in public. Maybe you suck in your tummy when you walk. Maybe you don’t pick your nose or bite your nails.

We’re all dictated by conditioned societal and self-inflicted pressures that we aren’t constantly aware of, though they may surface from our subconscious from time to time.

Today, in the form of a rather unflattering revelation, one of my own surfaced:

At times, I gauge the quality of my own life less by my own happiness and closeness to those I love and more by how appealing I can make it sound on Facebook. The moments that have made me the happiest tend to be ones I can't or won't share on Facebook, yet in retrospect I've come to dismiss those moments because they had no third-party audience.

I put my life on the Internet to be used as porn by the bored and unfulfilled who want to look at the greener grass on the other side.

I put my life on the Internet, and then what? I accrue meaningless likes and comments from people who aren’t taking part in it, rather than focusing on the people who are. If anything, the validation of strangers recorded on a public platform almost starts to seem more important. I don’t remember who’s “liked” what, and neither do they, but if the number is low then it almost feels as if some sort of judgment has been passed—like I lost the daily interestingness pageant.

The thing is, I don't consider myself to be someone who really cares what other people think. At least, I don't think I used to be.

And the crazier thing is, as far as seeking validation goes, I'm focusing more attention on how many people made fleeting, meaningless, instantly-forgotten acknowledgments of some post of mine [probably forgetting them the instant after clicking "Like"—do you remember what posts you've liked this week?] than on earnest validation from people that are actually in my life.

I feel like I'm in some removed position of mini-celebrity, with far more fans than friends. And while my heart/soul/better judgment despise the idea of dwelling on fans, my ego's been eating it up.

You know what's nice about not being a celebrity? Privacy, intimacy, and being seen for who you are rather than a glamorized persona. Keeping your toes dipped in real life. 

You know what's [er, arguably] nice about being a real celebrity? Fame and fortune.

Thanks to social networking, we subject ourselves to a manufactured notoriety that doesn't actually grant us any of the "glamour" that actual celebrities get in exchange for having their personal lives made into a public spectacle. Yet so many of us choose to do this to ourselves, more or less.

Right now, it's easy. I'm a reasonably attractive and articulate young girl from a first-world country living a charmed life and with energy to burn; the world is my oyster and right now I could afford to be shallow and frivolous if I so chose.

Right now, if I was lonely or bored and wanted attention, I could Instagram my cleavage. BOOM. False adulation.

If all that won’t teach a kid to feel both entitled and self-conscious and to devalue the meaningful relationships in her life, I don’t know what will.

And while my sense still has my ego reined in, I don't want to push it. I want to spend my time on things--and people--that cause me to look back and feel glad that they're what I chose to spend it on.

III. Generating social retardation, ambiguity, and expectations that wouldn't naturally exist

As I said earlier, I have a lot of single-serving friends. People who switch up their location [and hobbies, interests, and lifestyle] all the time tend to.

This used to be more than fine with me—in fact, it was a huge perk. I could meet people for a day, appreciate our time together, and then move on, knowing it had run its course and appreciating it as a beautiful moment. I got to experience such a variety of people!

Facebook's turned me into something of a people-hoarder, at least in theory, leaving me less sure of how to categorize the different interactions in my life.

Now I'll become friends with someone on Facebook, and they become a source of discomfort. In seeing their updates it may be hard to maintain my former illustrious opinion of them, or I may feel compelled to get to know them better and I may write them, to be met with an awkward response back, as if they’re saying, “Uh, yeah, that one time was cool, but uh—that was then?”

Which is fine. But then why the fuck are we friends on Facebook, if not to leave the door open for being in touch? If there's no possibility we're ever going to interact again, why the hell would I want to keep abreast of your whereabouts?

It's left me with an eerie sense of social ineptitude, of having no inherent knowledge of where boundaries lie. I've always been a bit awkward and bad at picking up on social cues [I could almost never identify sarcasm before about age sixteen, and the first time a boy asked me out I threw it in his face because I somehow interpreted it as him making fun of me...mwop, mwop], hence the high value I place on candor.

In real life? I'm groovy; no one intimidates me. I'll meet a person. The progression feels natural. There comes a time where it's obvious whether we want to keep hanging outor wish each other well and move on along, regardless of how much we connected. Sometime it's all about the shared moment, no follow-up needed.

Facebook turns everyone into a big What if? and prevents me from either fully letting go of or progressing within a given relationship. I wind up sitting in limbo in a virtual stew of others' masturbatory exhibitionism. I'm nostalgic enough already without it being artificially perpetuated. [And for that matter, I get annoyed enough with people in real life without seeing the shit some of them post on Facebook as if they're personally trying to induce misanthropy.]

Here's how I'd see it: If you were on my friends list? You could contact me.

Even if things got weird with us, or it'd been a long time, or we didn't know each other well, I'd be receptive.

If I couldn't be receptive, you'd be off my friends list. Easy. Over the years, I've deleted hundreds of people. Anyone remaining could assume that I'd welcome correspondence, even if I hadn't recently been considering it myself. 

IV. In an actual friendship, Facebook is redundant

As I've said, Facebook houses my fan base and couchsurfing shortcuts. People I’ve collected in hopes that they may be of future use. People I met and liked and added, vaguely receptive to the idea that we may become friends, by chance, without being willing to put any actual effort into it, or initiate anything lasting. People who've added me for whatever reason, who sift through the details of my life and like every single one of my photos or updates, but are conspicuously absent if I respond to one of their comments. 

To quote the fox in The Little Prince:

“One only understands the things that one tames….Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready-made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.”

Facebook is not the means to a friendship. Rather, if a true friendship is preexisting, Facebook can be a potential supplement—like emails and phone calls. In the context of a true friendship, Facebook is never necessary.

Through my transient lifestyle, in an age of social media, I've had to re-learn what a friend is. 

They're people you get to know over repeated shared experiences—laughing, crying, exploring, getting scared, and getting fucked up in real time—not over a couple grand one-shot adventures and subsequent conversations that feel like an uphill attempt at connection. They’re people who become valuable to you, in part, because of the time you’ve lost to them. [That's my second reference to The Little Prince in this post—can you tell I just discovered that book today?]

A relationship is a process, it flows, fluctuates, evolves—probably not forever, but for a while. 

It’s not a solitary magical week in Portland, it’s not a single night of great conversation in the desert. It’s those things—plus a next time. 

I've had a thousand phantasmagorical, explosive adventures with new faces. That's how I met the boy I'm in love with, and a couple of my best friends. The difference is simply that all those other people were ones with whom I decided the connection could or should die with the adventure; we were supporting characters that had no place in one another's lives after the bells and whistles were taken away. However, amidst that tide of people were a few I knew I wanted to know—in the daylight, in our hometowns, while sober. I met him at my first month-long Burning Man stint, a land of lights and drugs and serendipity [and many other boys], and then we parted ways, thinking it might've just been the magic of where we were. Two months later, we met back up—in the context of suburbs and restaurants—and the magic hadn't diminished. We laughed raucously through the grocery store.

And it’s not just the exciting parts—it’s the kids you want to hang out with the morning after, while you’re all hungover.

These are subtle things that you can't evaluate from a distance, from an artificial platform like Facebook, where a person can show you whatever sides of themselves they want to. To know what a person doesn't [or does] mean to you, you've got to observe them in real time, and see how you respond to one another. [Hence my increasing confusion about what I think of different people since Facebook became a common denominator in my interactions—some people look really cool through my News Feed, and then I meet up with them and can't fucking stand them; others may be fantastic people, but not in a way that shines through their Facebook presence.] 

Besides, I don’t want to “catch up” or “go out”. Much less talk about doing those things, never to do them. I want to talk, and I want to play.


This is all just me. Perhaps I'm just a bit more neurotic than everyone else, but I have a hunch that some of you out there can relate. 

And again, I'm not calling for the end of social mediait's not going anywhere, and it's got a lot of good points [after all, I've been a loyal user for about seven years]. Maybe I'm trying to vouch for a shift in collective consciousness when it comes to how we approach it. It's a cliche now to mention that globalization has led to increased alienation and loneliness for the individual—but how sad that that's become a cliche observation. Let's do something about it. Remember how nervous people used to get when calling someone they liked for the first time? Remember taking the time to write someone an email—or a letter? To personally invite someone to something? Grow a pair; fucking reach out.

And hey, if that shift happens...who knows? I might find myself crawling right back. 8P

PS. Recommended things that are all shorter than this post [in order]

This video has won several awards; it's simple and poignant. It's less than five minutes long. Watch it, asshole. Then share it on Facebook. Nyak. 8P

So...this isn't really relevant to my post [and also isn't shorter than my post], but it's relevant to me, since I just read it. If you haven't, you probably should [it's the length of, say, three normal children's story books, easy to squeeze in at bedtime, during breakfast, or on a lunch break]. I much prefer Richard Howard's translation to this one, but couldn't find it online.

In case you didn't click my link up top, this article's great. Generally I find e.j.'s content click-friendly but ultimately disappointing, mainly designed to tempt page views through recycled wisdom and topical kitschrather than content that's actually sustainably valuable [just calling it as I see it]—this may be their first article I've ever been pleasantly surprised by in that regard.

Frivolous. 8]

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