Reflections on Facebook, Part One

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.

11 comments on “Reflections on Facebook, Part One

  1. Add to the problems with conversations that there’s no word search on your profile, so finding an old debate (and maybe links in it) is difficult. I was going to suggest twitter as the alternative, but maybe that’s no good. I just signed up tonight for similar reasons – looking for a broader audience for certain posts.

    • Samir Chopra says:

      Michael,

      Great to see you here. Thanks for the comment. The FB interface is very frustrating as you point out – I feel like many things just get lost. Twitter has been useful in some regards but you can’t really have discussions there.

  2. jessmittens says:

    Looking forward to some more facebook posts. I had a post on my experience with it early on but might need to a new one soon. Though seriously, I worry that facebook will find my post about them and send me viruses. They’re just so snoopy and involved in everything!

  3. I’ve considered leaving a few times, but “just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” I justify my continuing participation on the basis that I need to be informed about how the platform evolves so I can continue to criticize it. Sort of like war reporting, I guess.

  4. Satish says:

    I didn’t do anything drastic like closing down my account, but my time spent on FB has dramatically decreased compared to say, a year ago. I have become more of a consumer of content on the site, and hardly post anything myself these days, apart from links to posts on my blog. I wrote a post too on my FB ennui… http://42ing.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/a-billion-connections-and-a-bit-of-ennui/

  5. I think many of us feel that way regarding FB. I find that most people on my account have little if no interest for anything but “light” and perhaps near indecent stuff. Although I keep it as a connection distant friends and family, I have very little interest in the type of social networking that stems from it. I limit my most recent twitter account to my professional and more “serious” ventures and that seems to be more constructive.

    • Samir Chopra says:

      SIAB,

      Interesting; I’ve heard many people say they find Twitter more useful. I wonder why that might be given the limitations of the medium. Is it because people are forced to be concise?

      • Actually, what I like about twitter is that your profile is on top of your page – which in my case includes my picture, what I do (medical writer), as well as the link to my professional website That’s all!!!. I follow the companies I target and many times, related companies or head hunters follow me out of the blue (because they saw me as a follower somewhere). If I want to stand out, then all I have to do is tweet about topics related to the field (a way to show up on the page of your followers). It took me a while to understand what twitter was really useful for. So really, it’s all about networking and lighter than LinkedIn which asks you for a ton of personal information. Some people use twitter as a “social” kind of personal site, but I use it strictly for business contact.

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