On Facebook, I mean. Is there a prize for clicking on that goofy thumbs-up symbol? Does it provide a sense of belonging, of validation, of being part of some vast herd of likers? That’s not the affirmation I need.
The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.
On Facebook, I mean.
In nine short years, it has become the town square, reflecting the public mind and shaping the daily routine, as in, “I saw it on Facebook … Like us on Facebook … Friend us on Facebook … Find me on Facebook.” A Facebook page has become as essential as a smart phone, website, cable access or call waiting.
I am unlisted.
Created in 2004, the social networking site has also become a major player in the news — both reporting and creating it. When something happens globally or personally, Facebook is where everybody, from preschoolers to grandmothers, goes.
By last fall, a billion people used Facebook regularly. In one survey, college students gave Facebook their highest accolade, ranking it as popular as beer. Users are supposed to be at least age 13, but plenty of children are on, aided by parents who fear nothing so much as having offspring who are out of the loop.
I am the empress of out-of-the-loopiness.
Users create profiles and post messages that can be shared widely or restricted. They assemble contact lists, known as friending. Should things go sour, they unfriend one another, which, though verbally graceless, is clearer than the gradual decay of face-to-face relationships.
People shake their heads when I say I do none of this. They slowly explain, because they have my interests at heart and they question my mental acuity, that not being on Facebook renders me invisible. As they patiently list benefits, I envision being found by former nemeses, and unknown relatives, the former plotting, the latter asking my blood type. I anticipate tech-stalkers around every cyber-corner, eager to poke around in my business like so many digital Nosy Parkers.
Too much information
Facebook may be the Nosiest Parker of all. Frequently criticized for the way it captures and releases member information, Facebook is a hunter-gatherer of visitations and tendencies that can be repackaged and marketed.
Even pre-Facebook, too much personal information was available. This includes data kept by government agencies, financial institutions, employers, health care providers, insurers, and credit bureaus, not to mention search engines. These tidbits can be connected with frightening speed and efficiency, with or without a Facebook page.
When I apply for a driver’s license or credit card, I know what I get from the transaction. With Facebook, I don’t — other than drilling a few more holes in my already leaky sense of privacy.
I don’t deny that there are benefits to Facebook. So, setting aside my reluctance, I visited and, without registering, entered my own name.
I may be the only Pamela Forsythe not on Facebook. My name is so well represented that people probably don’t realize I am not there. Which gave me a new concern: Who are these other women? And what is the virtual world saying about us?
One of us is in Minnesota and likes “Stop Global Warming.” Admirable. Another Pamela, in Jamaica, spells our first name with an extra L and cites a music web site. She sounds like fun. The profile of another contains a reference to medical school. I am so vicariously proud! I hope she contacts the Pam who seems extraordinarily fond of sweets and baked goods. I am concerned about her. Can major friending with adult-onset diabetics be far behind?
Of course the view was limited, and my purpose was tongue-in-cheek. Seriously, though, what is the point? I don’t want to be on a party line with the world, or to attend a reunion with everyone I have ever known. Facebook is everything I don’t need: more superficiality, more time staring at glowing screens, and more time checking online messages, 90 percent of which are virtual junk mail.
Facebook doesn’t need another me, either. They’ve got Doctor Pam and Dessert Pam and the Pam who is part of the Price Is Right Community. (I wonder if she’s posted any pictures of the inside of her garage.)
Is there a point to all this?
Friending is not friendship. And what does liking accomplish? Is there a prize for clicking on that goofy thumbs-up symbol? Does it provide a sense of belonging, of validation, of being part of some vast herd of likers? That’s not the affirmation I need.
Granted, locating lost friends or relatives is useful. Unfortunately, the relatives I most want to reach are no longer accessible, unless Facebook has a séance app in development. As for relatives on this side of the non-digital divide, being on Facebook would give them just one more way to ignore me. Awkward encounters at weddings and funerals are quite enough, thank you.
If social media help you connect to the world, that’s great. Just don’t say I must connect in the same way. For me, Facebook is a superficial waste of time. I already have enough superficial relationships and waste plenty of time.
That could always change. Perhaps I will be like Ivy Bean, an Englishwoman who joined Facebook at age 102. According to Wikipedia, by the time she passed away in 2010, Ivy had almost 5,000 Facebook friends and 56,000 Twitter followers. In fact, social media make a lot of sense for those limited by age or physical challenges.
But while I am capable of escaping my screens and walls to engage in interpersonal communication, I won’t be following, friending, or liking. Admittedly, I am missing Facebook’s remarkable reach and access, but I am also avoiding its mindless distractions, privacy problems, and trivialization of relationships. I can live with that.
Pamela J. Forsythe is a writer and communications consultant in Philadelphia.