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Opinion: If you’re not already on Facebook, just stay away

facebook tab leaving facebook social networknigDuring a recent conversation with a neighbor about how we get along so well while our cats are engaged in a crippling turf war over the herb garden, I offered to use Facebook to send her a meme related to the topic we were discussing. She subsequently uttered were five words I haven’t heard in years:

“I don’t have a Facebook.”

“But you do have a computer, right?” I thought sarcastically.

She isn’t making some bold anti-establishment statement; she just hasn’t seen the point to setting up an account. I’ve had a Facebook account since early 2007, and I’ve seen it go through many iterations, mishaps and scandals, but I still use it all the time. Yet the apparent chasm between Facebookers and the rest of the world got me thinking: If you’re not on it already, are you better off without?

I could either coax my neighbor into joining the site – forever making it one of those things “Leo told me to sign up for,” or accept that Facebook might have drifted so far from its useful origins that it’s not worth joining anymore. After some consideration, I’m prepared to say my neighbor – and anyone not already on Facebook — is better off without it.

Look on the bright side

Before I enumerate some of the reasons to stay off Facebook, let’s take a more optimistic look at what brought most of us to it to begin with.

Informal sharing is the cornerstone of the Facebook experience: If you’re not on it, you’re missing out. The site has definitely created a new form of communication online that you’re inherently not a part of if you’re “off-grid”. It wasn’t the first social network, but it refined the experience. While MySpace embraced glittering backgrounds, Flash and seemed to crash IE 6 with startling regularity (OK, maybe that wasn’t just a MySpace problem), Facebook rode the minimalistic design wave that swept through the early 2000s. It provided little customization. Your profile can be any color you want, as long as it’s purplish blue and white. It is easy to find people, and the “friends you may know” algorithm is fantastic – disconcertingly accurate, if nothing else. Moreover, it has the killer feature that all good technology should: The more you use it, the better it becomes.

facebook thumbs up social media likeFacebook provides a means of instant communication that doesn’t really exist outside of the social network sphere. You’ll stay up to date with memes, other peoples’ lives, and your favorite sites. Contributing can give you a bit of an ego boost too – if you post something publicly, there is a chance it’ll “turn into a virus” (to quote Jennifer Aniston) and spread accordingly. If you’re not on Facebook, you’re missing out on all that.

To allow non-initiates a glimpse into the brave new world of crudely drawn (and even more crudely captioned) memes, there is always the option of emailing them, as my neighbor suggested.

I could, but that seems like a lot of effort for a meme. Emailing a link requires me to get my mail open, type in an email address, add an attachment, and have you hit refresh on your end for a few minutes. Posting an image on your wall requires me to type in the first three letters of your name and paste in the link. I don’t have to type in a subject or description; Facebook automatically pulls that data for me. Even better, our friends can like it — a small sign of approval in the Internet age that always makes you feel good. None of that can occur through the point-to-point communication of email. Emailing photos and videos seems like a step backward into the endless chain letters of the late 1990s. So, score one for Facebook: I’m far more likely to be in contact with you if you’re on my friends list. It’s just easier.

Now stay away

Clearly I use Facebook, but I don’t like it as it exists today; it’s cluttered, tired, and bloated. It used to be bursting with articles I wanted to read and interesting tidbits from friends lives. Now, I begin to lose faith in humanity when I see what people (whom I had assumed were good, wholesome folks) are really watching on Socialcam. What was a useful destination is now more an unwanted trip to visit a distant relative, who remembers everything about you, and also happens to be a hoarder.

So if you’re not on Facebook, why should you stay away? In a nutshell: because you’ve made it this far.

One major gripe with the social network is privacy. Almost yearly, you can guarantee there will be a privacy fiasco of some sort. I won’t touch on this much because we’ve all heard it before, and my opinion is that Facebook can only give away as much personal data as you agree to hand over. But it has gotten pretty good at asking. Facebook pushes users to share more data, which they do; then there is a media outcry; then we realize the new features are useful, and we wait for the cycle to refresh. It’s almost as if it’s planned that way! What a crazy notion.

Privacy aside, another issue is information overload. The mighty newsfeed: initially an uproar, it is now the core experience of Facebook. The newsfeed provided an excellent, single point on the Internet where you can peruse a highly personalized selection of media from both individuals and websites. Provided. I used past tense there.

Today, the newsfeed is so cluttered and messy that it isn’t useful at all. The space I used to get most of my news is now an overdose of app requests (a virtual farm? What!?), spam, and useless updates from brands. I’m now as likely to miss updates from Facebook friends as I am to miss ones from people not on the network, because it falls into the background noise. For example, I must have told Facebook I “liked” a certain brand of energy drink, years ago. I don’t now need to see how totally frickin’ awesome their sponsored aerobatics team is, three to four times a day. Facebook was supposed to cherry pick items you’d like, and place them in the newsfeed. In an tragic, cycle-of-life display of redundancy, you now have to sift through the newsfeed to find interesting things.

facebook deactivate screen leaving social networkingAnother reason I ultimately warned my neighbor to stay away: You’ll never leave. Kicking the Facebook habit isn’t easy – you’ll have become so dependent on it that you won’t have a backup means of contact for many people, losing contact with them forever. The company doesn’t want you to leave, naturally. Trying to deactivate your account (not delete, deactivate – like leaving a xenomorph in stasis rather than blasting it out the airlock) leads you to a page where a selection of your friends you interact with frequently say they’ll “miss you,” as if leaving Facebook will have some catastrophic effect on your relationships in the real world. You are also required to give a reason as to why you’re going. They make you try and feel lame for leaving a kickin’ party early… and it works.

A one-way street

Non-users should just stay away from joining Facebook. The site has become so embedded in the online experience that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to fully tear oneself away from the infinite stream of pictures, posts, and pokes after you step into it. While that may seem enticing to some, it has reached a point where signing up will thrust you into a confusing, overloaded world that you might not be prepared for. Especially given, at this point, everyone you know is already a power user, patiently awaiting for you to click on that invitation email that has been sitting in your inbox for months. If you’ve successfully navigated life for the past five years without help from Zuckerberg, congratulations. Proceed straight to Go and collect $200. If not, get back there. Your FarmVille crops are thirsty.