Doubling Down on Facebook

I have struggled with Facebook– as a concept — for the last several months. Much as with my friends, I find the election year did it no favors with howling political rhetoric and drama around every corner. It’s not the Facebook I joined.

Remember when you could “poke” someone? And then at the holidays, you could “send candy canes” or throw sheep at them? Remember when the status updates had your name in them, so instead of saying things like “Today I discovered the best maple bar doughnuts are to be had at Tully’s!” you’d type something like, “is enjoying a maple bar doughnut from Tully’s” because it would show up as “Bobbie is enjoying…” and so forth. But over the years Facebook functionality has changed; I can’t throw sheep anymore and it lets me do things like tag people and “react” to their posts and serves up ads to me (that are, I must say, pretty on the mark).

I appreciate Facebook needs to evolve and some of these evolutions I truly enjoy. I’m Facebook Friends* (that is a new definition of friendship, I think: you wouldn’t go interrupt them at 3am in the airport in Hong Kong, for example, but if you saw them wine tasting you’d wave hi to see if they wanted to be friends in person again) with a few dozen folks I haven’t seen in many years and I *like* seeing how they are doing. There’s the guy I used to work with who quit his day job and went full time DJ (and is making a damn good living out of it and seems to be having the time of his life). There’s the gal who decided to become a photographer, the Canadian who got his US citizenship and goes rock climbing all over the place, the gal who became a florist (and again, nice work!), the guy from the old SLT job who is raising two daughters *right*, the couple moving to Austin because they can get a brand new mid-century modern house and you know they are going to make it look good.  I can check in on my  cousins in Buenos Aires, my friends in London and my friends in Australia. I can check on my friends from high school– curiously I haven’t any from college — and my friends that I see regularly so when I see them, I can say things like “so how *did* the mustard sauce turn out on the pork?”.  Facebook is particularly useful to getting out the word for civic responsibility and nonprofit work, as well, and for word-of-mouth business (that’s how I found out about Silver and Salt, for example).

Perhaps like most people the part I am unsure of — unsure because I am not certain how much of it is my perception or how much of it is Facebook’s reality — is how much of what I am being fed is representative of the “real” world. That is to say, I have the power to mute people (which I admittedly did do during the last 2 months of the election — I’ve since unmuted everyone), I have the power to “react” to ads (don’t show me this because it’s not relevant, don’t show me this because I see it all the time — they really need to have a “don’t show me this because you are tempting me and if  it goes down much further in price you’ll have my visa card”), and I have the power to say “don’t show me so much of this” or “show me more of this”.

There’s been much discussion of the “bubbles” we live in and how Facebook feeds into that, I won’t retread the ground. With all due respect to Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t believe Facebook should be my only news source — something that is/was the case with many and contributes to the aforementioned bubbles. (I don’t believe Reddit should be your only view to the world, either)**. It is evident though that as you choose your circles and selectively mute or “show me more of this” to ads and content you are tweaking the algorithm in the background and reinforcing your bubble. (It isn’t clear to me how to re-set it back to 0, incidentally — remove all of the “customizations” I’ve either explicitly or implicitly requested and see what a “new user” sees).  I therefore have my bubble, reinforced and evolving, and that is just what Facebook is going to be.

My options are thus: I can leave Facebook (directly as in closing my account or indirectly as in just not visiting), I can stay on Facebook passively (the occasional thumbs up, the occasional “Happy Birthday” as it reminds me and I remember to look), or I can actively participate. I’ve been waffling between the latter two and seriously considering the former (I know a few who have cut the cord, as it were).

The problem with divorcing Facebook is that I would no longer have a ready answer to “I wonder what so-and-so is up to?”, and I don’t have contact information (short of LinkedIn) for many of the so-and-so’s. I would miss more birthdays, I am sure. I wouldn’t get the reminder of where things were at five, six, or ten years ago; in short: I wouldn’t get the things I signed on to Facebook for.  I would not at all miss the ads, the requirement to curate the content (“see less of this”), and I would certainly not miss the uproar that echoes through the platform whenever there’s an election. (To be clear: I have political opinions and leanings just like everyone, and I back them with money and action. I am just not a yell at the top of my lungs person.)

I think, therefore, I am going to stick with one of the three options as an experiment: I’m going to carefully work with Facebook. I’ll go and like all of the things I like, and work harder to engage with the platform; I’ll use the tools it provides for privacy and for filtration, and we’ll see.  I will not make it my only source of data for news (social, local, national, or global) and if this experiment fails I’m basically fine with that. I just figured I’d give it an official run.

*see Dunbar’s number for context.

**I much prefer the Economist and then I use Flipboard to subscribe to topics rather than platforms; so for example I’m just as likely to see an article from the Wall Street Journal as I am to see one from Fox News or USA Today.  I’m also a big NPR fan. I blame my dad for that, I can remember riding in the back of a 1981 Volvo 240DL on the way to and from school and listening to NPR, thinking it was the driest, most boring stuff on the planet. Somewhere in my late 20’s that changed and now I’m putting my son through that.

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