I have begun an experiment: I have banned myself from Facebook. It's been a month since I last logged on. It feels great.
I created a profile on Facebook in Spring of 2007. Initially it was just to socialize with my students and faculty friends. That went well because I knew the level of interaction I wanted, I had a very clear idea of how much privacy I wanted: just about all of it. I enjoyed getting to know my students on-line and staying in touch with former students. I liked the Facebook groups feature a lot.
Then the applications came. Soon, everyone jumped ship from MySpace and hopped on board with Facebook. I was poked so much that it got old. And then Facebook was opened up to non-college affiliated people. I had even more fun getting reacquainted with old friends and reinvigorating relationships with my cousins who live in the midwest. When we moved to Baltimore, Facebook became a way to stay in touch with NC people. And then with the run up to the election, everyone was posting all of these hilarious graphics and great satire and news articles. And everyone started using Facebook email instead of regular email. Plus, I just HAD to know what everyone's status was. I would even refresh the screen. "My name is I Zimbra." "I have a Facebook problem."
In the end, I had to face the facts: Facebook was killing too much of my time. It was my gateway drug to the internet. A meta party that never stopped. I knew that if I quit doing Facebook, I'd still be on the internet and email but a lot less. I wouldn't be directed to read long news stories by Naomi Klein and blog posts by John Hodgman and opinion pieces by Maureen Dowd every single fucking day. (Who I love.) Never in my life have I participated in something that is such a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME as Facebook.
So, I banned myself. I knew it was a good idea because I wasn't happy when I was on Facebook anymore anyway. It was way too much stimulation for me.
Basically, nothing changed when banned myself. But here are the things that did:
1. A week later, one of my students comes to my office. She's got an incredulous look on her face: "Why did you ban yourself from Facebook???" I just laughed. She wasn't fucking kidding.
I didn't know what to say. What came out was: "I needed to get some work done."
This was not a good enough excuse for her, apparently. She reported that there had been sixteen - no - THIRTY replies to my status update about the ban. I said, "yeah right". The next week, she brought to class a print out of the comments - all six of them. I decided she trying to tempt the junkie.
2. I missed a good friend's birthday. When I wrote him the next day, I apologized and asked how he was doing, CC-ing his girlfriend, also a good friend. She wrote back, "well, if you were on Facebook, you'd know it was his birthday!" She was joking, I'm pretty sure, but it's true. Facebook has a good birthday feature but the truth is that getting that information is dependent on checking the site. Whatever, bitch! (just kidding, of course)
3. I have started to write people more, both on email and in letter form. I think Facebook gave me a false sense of being in touch with people. Now that it is gone, I've also noticed that I enjoy personal interaction more, even if it's only on email. When I want to have some human interaction, I don't log into Facebook any more. I do something else - anything else. It makes me a lot happier and I think that's really weird.
4. I feel retardedly guilty about not "confirming friendships" on Facebook. I think this is bizarre. About 5 people have tried to "friend me" in the past month. I can tell because Facebook notifies me via email when somebody tries to add me but I can't confirm without logging in. I'd been toying with the idea of getting J. to log in as me and do it but I'm pretty sure that that's cheating. So I've told the people that friended me about the ban, too. "Sorry I can't friend you back - I've banned myself!" either in person or via email doesn't go over so well, let me tell you. They react with surprise and if in person, a weird look. "Look at the addict!" Ah, maybe I am. This further cements a sort of outsider status for me. A self-proclaimed outcast. It makes me want to go all the way and only communicate by telegram for the rest of my life.
But that's about it. The world has continued to turn. Facebook is one weird animal. I visited with an old friend from high school recently and we talked about it for about an hour. It really is a good thing, I think, because friendships are a type of social history. They help to contextualize yourself, as long as the interaction is genuine (which it is in my opinion). But it is the only time that I have started to really wonder if on-line interaction can be substitutive for me. And then one of the comments from my student's print out made me think I was not the only one. Christina P. had written, "noooooooooo, one defects and the whole system crumbles." And I wonder if there is some truth to that. By virtue of Facebook's great success of getting just about everyone on board, it requires that its members invest in its reality for it to be sustained. This could be a semi-powerful form of social control. The social incentives to stay interacting and updating on Facebook sure are something. By not confirming those new friendships, it tapped an old feeling in me that I hadn't experienced in a while. How dare I ignore someone who wants to be friends with me? I've known how that feels since junior high. But I think that in a larger sense, all of this friendmaking does sort of up the ante. In order to Facebook to be sustained, we have to keep logging in, reading those status updates, and consuming their fucking ads. It's all a little too crazy for me right now. Now that I'm safe on my Facebook-free island, I breathe a nice big sigh of relief.