Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Facebook and the end of privacy

About a year ago, I blogged about Facebook and the impossibility of either not friending or de-friending someone on it, especially after you've succumbed to that initial urge to friend as many people as possible and learned that everyone you know knows at least two dozen other people that you know.

I use the word "impossibility" here not in the sense that it can't be done, but rather in the sense that you'll be viewed as a weirdo, jerk, or asshole if you do so. Because if everyone you know seems to know someone else that you know, then everyone you know will learn what you've done. And then everyone you know will be angry with you for one of two reasons: either they're angry because there's an unwritten understanding that you just don't do that, or they're angry because they wish they could de-friend people too (but don't feel that it can't be done).

And this means that, for all intents and purposes, it can't be done.

So you probably know where this is going. After a couple years where I accepted friend requests from pretty much everyone I'm related to, that I know, that I have known, only vaguely knew, met once, or never actually met, I realized that my friends list was full of people who aren't actually, well, my friends. Barely even acquaintances, really. And if Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is to be believed, this was intentional. He claims that "one day everyone would be able to use it to locate people on the web - a truly global digital phone book."

But a listing in a the 'truly global digital phone book' is not what I signed up for.
So I started defriending people: a few dozen of the people that I really never talk to, then a few more that I couldn't foresee having reason to contact over Facebook, and eventually I cleaved off about half of my list - about 150 people. And then I made myself invisible to everyone who wasn't still on my list. To say it was cathartic would be something of an understatement - only when I closed the door to the fridge and put a pad-lock on it did I realize that it felt as if people had been raiding it for years.

Zuckerberg's comment causes me to suspect that privacy and intimacy have not been valued by Facebook for some time, and it shows in the evolution of the space, its rules of ettiquette, and our friends lists. But, really, all I want is to be able to post a status update asking if anyone is free for coffee or wants to see a particular movie that Victoria would never see - and to not have to worry about who might respond.


James said...

When I deleted (not just deactivated) my Facebook, now that was cathartic. Fair play if you actually get use out of it though, and congrats on the clean-out.

(I don't have enough time/brains to comment lately, but I'm still digging the blogs, sir.)

neilshyminsky said...

I actually considered deleting the whole thing when I realized that I was starting to dread using it. But I figured that there was still some good in using it, if I would only pare it down to something that more closely resembled what it looked like when I still enjoyed it.

Any particular reason you got rid of your Facebook?

James said...

Oh, largely because of the "impossibility of not friending or de-friending" bit. And - I don't know how common this is - there seemed to be a somewhat ugly competitive aspect - like a "who's got the best social life" pissing contest. That's probably just my own insecurities there, but combined with the above, and the fact that I genuinely didn't get much use out of it, I decided I was better off without.

Jen said...

As a converted deleter/blocker, I must say that I agree in the sense that deleting does give a feeling of relief.

I'm not willing to delete my profile entirely, because I enjoy using it and it's handy for a lot of organizational stuff. It's also a fun time waster (spender?). But being ABLE to limit who you interact with is important.

I notice that anyone who has more than say, 400 "friends" is using facebook as a marketing tool, not a social networking tool. They're trying to drive traffic to their own website or promote themselves in some way. That's fine, but it's not what I use facebook for. As long as we/they retain the functionality of privacy options, I think facebook is okay, but I have no patience for anyone who thinks I shouldn't be "allowed" to delete or block them. Ridiculous.