As a general rule, I am not an early adopter. I typically wait until the development of a new product has stabilized, features have improved, bugs have been worked out, and prices have come down. This was the case for my use of Social Media. I never once even viewed MySpace, I have no idea what the draw are to Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram, and I even avoided Facebook up until just a couple years ago.
I began using Facebook a few years ago when I realized I was missing out on things my family were doing. I have a large family, and an enormous extended family. It’s difficult to keep up with them, and in fact, I have first cousins I haven’t seen in over twenty years. Facebook, for me, was supposed to be a way to keep in touch with them. Facebook was supposed to allow me to see at least a little of what they were up to and keep at least casual contact going, and it worked — for the most part.
Over time, I tried to use Facebook to do a few extra things. I wanted a broader audience for some of what I write, so I used it to share content I post here. When I went to print my poetry collection I offered the result up through Facebook. In both cases a few people were interested, but most of what I offered fell flat. Nothing I share with the broader public garners much attention, and Facebook didn’t change that.
For the last two or so years, I’ve tried to see the good in the platform. I’ve been aware of some of the joyful events in my sibling’s lives, and have watched them from afar as they’ve suffered through trials. This was the main purpose behind establishing an account in the first place. I’ve also found old friends with whom I’d lost contact somewhere in the long chain of moves and job changes. I’ve been able to get a glimpse into their lives since we last were together. With these successes, Facebook has been generally successful in doing what I wanted it to do.
If that were the end of the story I’d stop there and continue scrolling through posts and updates. Unfortunately, the reservations that formerly kept me from signing up for the service have proven to be justified. Facebook, for me, has turned into a barren wasteland with only a few small oases dotting it’s vast landscape. My understanding of the down-sides to Facebook has been growing, but it is still immature and incomplete. However, I have reached a point in the analysis where the bad heavily outweigh the good, the trend heavily favors continuation of that balance, and so it must go.
A few points in defense of my decision:
ONE: Our instant impersonal worldwide communication culture has created conditions where everyone is looking for an excuse to be a victim. There are very good odds that at least half of the ten or so people who will ever read this will feel like I am targeting them. Honest discussion is branded hate-speech, and any non-conformant opinion is deemed intolerance.
TWO: Facebook has been a polarizing force in the lives of those around me and has contributed to their misery. The online environment that Facebook has created fosters cliquish behavior that generally seems to create conditions where otherwise reasonable and kind people say and do things that are intended to marginalize, belittle, or generally crush people who hold a different opinion. People I care deeply about have used Facebook as a gathering space for their various sub-communities who focus on a given aspect of their identity. These groups have tended to shift from being a place to enjoy like-minded people into a forum for highlighting every attempted action they disagree with or fear as an effort to target them as a subgroup.
They focus on these events and develop a victim mentality that gets reinforced by the affirmations of others looking to be offended or feel attacked for their shared beliefs. Feeling attacked, they gather more tightly within the group and cling more tenaciously to the shared identity. Because they begin spending more and more time defending that aspect of themselves, it becomes a larger and more central piece of their identity and begins to push other things to the sidelines or off of the field completely. With the world reduced to a small number of contentious issues, they begin to feel personally attacked by any and all of the other subgroups, so they lash out in defense or revenge at the communities they feel are threatening them. Meanwhile, the groups they attack feel exactly like them, and return fire in what they believe is self-defense. This self-imposed segregation has resulted in a state of constant warfare where the only logical outcome is mutually assured destruction.
Conflict is necessary, but not in the frequency and amplitude engendered by the semi-anonymous and impersonal nature of online interactions. Things are said online that would never be said in person because there is a layer of dehumanization that is placed between you and the victim when communication isn’t face-to-face. It’s equivalent to the politicians and bureaucrats who are willing to send people to fight and die in foreign lands for political gain — they don’t see the costs and consequences at a human level. The kinds of conflict I see online are not necessary, and serve to make people miserable.
THREE: I prefer to see the best in people, but that can become difficult when I get a glimpse of some of the unfiltered and poorly thought-through things they post — and the worst part is that I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. Watching some of what people post just makes me more aware of the intellectual poverty around me, and exposes me to parts of people’s inner workings I’d rather remain ignorant of. The same person who posts something supporting late-term abortion with the slogan “My body, my choice” will shortly thereafter post something supporting forced vaccination in direct opposition to the very same “my body, my choice” argument made earlier. People seem to revel in their intellectual bankruptcy.
Facebook and other online tools make it possible for people to accentuate their bad sides, and find those few who agree with them to reinforce them.
Facebook makes it simple and preferable to boil a complex topic down into a single sentence “meme” that garners a gut reaction without addressing any of the complexity or nuance that is intrinsically linked to any contentious topic. This kind of communication makes people appear intolerant, angry, impatient, unkind, ignorant, selfish, etc… If that is who people really are, I’d rather be unaware of it.
Facebook (through likes and affirming comments) rewards posts that pander to a specific audience, creating a vicious cycle of positive feedback. Application and reception of positive feedback, if not managed very carefully, leads to instability and system failure.
FOUR: People will post a range of things attacking others for disbelieving any number of things that science has “proven.” Be it climate change, vaccinations, the specific shape of the globe, or countless other issues, anyone with a heterodox opinion is vilified. Let me be clear, I believe in science. I have a PhD in Electrical Engineering that incorporated large parts of the curriculum from the Physics Department. I am a scientist, but I would never try to use the outcome of “science” to belittle someone else, and it bothers me when others do that.
Anyone who actually believes in science understands that there is great utility in questioning previous conclusions and assumptions. In the early 20th century, physicists thought they understood how the world worked (with the exception of a few “minor” inconsistencies that they were sure would be quickly resolved). A handful of heretics questioned a few of the fundamental assumptions on which Newtonian mechanics was based, applied heretical views to the few “minor” issues, and quantum mechanics was born. If you like the capabilities represented by your computer and any number of other modern conveniences, you need to thank the heretics.
Anyone who actually believes in science understands that we fundamentally know almost nothing about anything. They understand that all of our knowledge is based on assumptions, approximations, and models, and that these are only useful to the extent that the results it produces are consistent with observation and useful for prediction. Newtonian mechanics is based on this logic, and is quite useful for a wide range of applications, but it is fundamentally incapable of explaining some critical observations. In a sense, Newtonian mechanics is “wrong.” By the Facebook standard of treatment, anyone who happens to believe in the macro-scale concepts of mechanics would be branded a heretic and a mental midget. Anyone who would take time to study and understand Newtonian mechanics would be ostracized and made to feel like a pariah. Never mind the fact that for most people Newtonian mechanics is more than adequate to explain their experiences.
People who understand science will acknowledge that the underlying assumptions on which all our understanding is based may be fundamentally wrong. Heretical views may be wrong, but they may also contain the key to unlocking a whole new universe of possibilities. An unwillingness to countenance heretics is a fundamental hallmark of intolerant dogma — not science. It saddens me to see anyone fall victim to intolerant dogma as either a receiver or giver, and yet, that is the vast majority of what I see posted on Facebook. Dogma should be a personal matter, and it should be tolerant of those who don’t conform.
FIFTH: Facebook hasn’t proven to be particularly useful. I thought, for a time, that Facebook would provide me a a broader audience for my poetry and other writings. All told, only a few additional people have even noted the existence of my work as a result of Facebook. I suppose I could use Facebook’s tools to heavily advertise and market, and that I could commercialize what I do. It’s well suited for that purpose. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that any attempt to monetize or commercialize what I produce is counterproductive. Commercializing it takes all the joy out of it. If I don’t find joy in it, it isn’t worth doing, and the results from trying are terrible.
There are other reasons I’m ready to ditch my Facebook account, but they follow along these same lines. I haven’t been able to determine that Facebook has done anything to make my life, or the lives of those around me, better.