This post is the first of several posts I intend to write on my Facebook experiences.
Like many (very many!) people, I’m a Facebook user. And like many of those people, I have a vexed relationship with it, a fact best demonstrated by my decision to leave Facebook a couple of years ago, close my account, and then return again. (I did so in 2010, and then returned in 2012.) Many users of Facebook have indulged in such short-term separations. When we left, we were informed our accounts would be waiting for us when we returned. I think it might have been an ‘if’ but it felt like a ‘when’. When I returned, it was all there: my old messages, my comments, my likes, just like I had never left. I had deleted all my photos before I left, but of course, they still exist on Facebook’s servers somewhere. Once you give your data to Facebook you don’t get it back.
Here is a composite of my response to two friends of mine who wrote me asking me why I had left Facebook:
It’s a distraction, and I’m a little freaked out by how much Facebook snoops on user activity. I don’t know what they are doing with all the data they are collecting, and I’ve found their privacy policies quite bothersome in general). I’m also trying to simplify my life a bit, sort of retreat from the techno buzz, so this is part of that. I’m feeling a bit done in by all of it; it either feels voyeuristic or like the panopticon. The way people are behaving on it is also ludicrous. The last straw is the grinning face of its founder, Zuckerberg.
It’s still all true: it’s a distraction, I’m being surveilled, I don’t know what Facebook does with its data, its still voyeuristic, people behave badly on it, and Zuckerberg is still leering at us.
I returned to Facebook because: a) I had started blogging late in 2011, and wanted to find more venues to distribute my posts and talk about them and b) I wanted to participate in what seemed to me to be some very interesting conversations taking place on its pages. Facebook has helped in both regards: some great discussions have spun off my posts thanks to my linking to my posts there, and I have had some very engaging and informative discussions on Facebook. There are, after all, many smart and passionate people on Facebook.
But all is not well: discussions based on my blog posts have taken place on the closed pages of Facebook, and not here, on my blog comments space, so blog readers don’t get to see them or participate. Discussions on Facebook and in this blog’s comments space take place separately; they are not informed by each other. This is a rather frustrating state of affairs, one that I have occasionally addressed by responding to Facebook comments in the shape of a post here. (As I did recently in my post on Glaucon.) But this is unwieldy and time-consuming. And Facebook’s user habits being what they are, it is extremely likely that they will continue to post their comments ‘there’ rather than ‘here’. For the time being, this problem seems insuperable. To me, at least. (A variant of this problem occurs with Twitter as well, but it does not feel as problematic because my Twitter discussions have been extremely few and very short.)
So what Facebook giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. As I will note in posts to follow, this is a recurring feature of its design and my experiences there.