Monday, August 11, 2014

Leaving Facebook, Part 2

It's been over a year and a half since I left Facebook, and most days, if you ask me about it, I'll tell you my experience has been great. I'll probably be smug about it, telling you how I don't often think about it anymore, how I don't have to get jealous or manage how I'm projecting myself to disparate "friend" groups, and how I am surprised when news outlets make Facebook sound like a big deal (making them sound less and less important as well).

And this is true, mostly. When Facebook goes down, or it comes out that users don't have as much privacy as they thought (shocker!), or users are forced to reckon, again, with the idea that they themselves are the commodity sold on Facebook, I shake my head and wonder why anyone's still hanging out there. Most days I really do forget that Facebook is a thing that people still do, just because it is now so far removed from the things I care about.

But last week, for almost the first time since quitting Facebook, I regretted it.

I'm not the greatest at staying in contact with people, and it's not because I don't like them or don't think about them. I don't like talking on the phone, and I will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid it when I can. (Even when I do talk on the phone, I try to prepare a script beforehand, along with contingencies of what I might need to say, and I have to psych myself up before hoisting the receiver.) This is not a recipe for staying in contact with people who are not in close proximity. While I love my college friends dearly, I'm just not that great at keeping up with them.

I was reminded of this last week when two people who were good friends in college talked to me on Google Chat (another service I intended to leave, but I really can't without leaving Gmail). One was asking me for my phone number for the other friend, who was too embarrassed he had misplaced my number to ask me what it was. (His first thought for obtaining contact information is Facebook; he forgot that e-mail works as well.) I hadn't talked to either of these friends in months, years--it's hard to say. I didn't even know where one of them was living. Shameful.

This information, of course, is available with a click of a button on Facebook.

I got in contact with my friend who wanted my phone number, and we picked up where we left off--as if we hadn't each had children in the intervening year since our last conversation. As is typical when we talk on the phone, we fill in the other one on what our friends are doing--the ones we stay in contact with, at least. He had a lot to say because he's on Facebook, and even if he isn't in direct contact with people, he knows at a glance what's going on in their lives. My half of this conversation was...lacking.

Because the truth is, while I love my friends from college, there are only a few I stay in contact with, and for some of those few, it's because they make the effort to contact me. I'm not sure why this is. To some degree it's the phone excuse above, but in other ways, it's exhausting to maintain relationships over great distances. I suppose I should be used to it--most of my family lived in another state when I was growing up, and now we all live in different states--but I'm not. Maybe the energy required to stay in contact with family depletes my reserves for other long-distance relationships. I don't do very well with multitasking; perhaps long-distance relationships are friendship multitasking.

In this regard, Facebook seems so positive. Never lose contact again! Of course, Facebook contact isn't really "contact." Facebook profiles are not always (often?) truthful depictions of life, and being a Facebook voyeur is no better than being a friendship ignorer. I can "know" what's going on in other people's lives--but is that necessary or desirable? Well, a step above voyeurism: I can comment on other people's lives on Facebook, but it's kind of like those articles where people in the Pacific Northwest say, "You Won't Believe What's Happening in Florida!" There is certainly some merit to outside input, but it seems so futile. Those who often have the most influence are those closest to the situation.

I've said before that Facebook also artificially extends some relationships further than they should go. Ebb and flow is natural; losing contact, in some ways, is both natural and a blessing. I don't want constant contact with everyone I've ever known; that dilutes the importance of the present moment. But at the same time, it's disappointing when relationships you want to last don't.

Some people have offered me the solution, "Join Facebook and keep a tight rein on your friends list." But that's easier said than done. Because the truth is, "friend" has a different meaning on Facebook than elsewhere. Facebook, because it can handle some of the outsourced responsibilities of friendship, artificially broadens the circle of who can be considered a "friend." Basically, if you reject a friend request from someone you even remotely know, you're an ogre because being someone's "friend" on Facebook doesn't require much of you. Managing this question of accepting a request or not is definitely not something I miss. And, removed of the opportunity to request my friendship at the click of a button, others are presented with an obstacle to friendship, which allows me (and them) to focus on relationships that will be more fruitful.

Still: there is something disappointing about realizing a friendship you value has drifted.

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