I’m prepared to do something that’s a big deal for today’s quarterlifers: I’m breaking up with Facebook.
Facebook and I have been together for nearly six years; that’s 23 percent of my life. When I first joined in January 2005, it was a college network. All my Facebook friends were people I lived with, took classes with, or knew through campus activities – they were real friends or at least acquaintances. Nearly six years later, I’m still Facebook “friends” with these people, but now have to put quotations around the term friend because I know little about their life outside of their profile and status updates. Facebook in 2010 has changed what it means to be a friend and has watered down the term. It has expanded beyond college kids: What use to be a college network is now filled instead with parents, businesses and strangers asking you to be “friends.”
Our impending breakup was inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s National Unfriend Day on Nov. 17. Faux online friendships and oversharing on Facebook has reached such a point that Kimmel created a national event to get rid of people that aren’t your real friends. The slogan was, “Friendship is sacred, and Jimmy believes Facebook is cheapening it. So on Nov. 17, cut out some of the ‘friend fat.’” Kimmel said to unfriend, “Anyone that wouldn’t lend you $50 or take you to the airport.” Viewers had parties to collectively unfriend and throughout the night Kimmel updated a board common at most telethons or TV benefits that showed the billions of fake friendships that were deleted.
Facebook of the early 2000s was about real friendship, evolving to a new (still personal) dimension in cyberspace. At its core it was a central, accessible way to connect with classmates, have academic discussions, plan study groups and get notes if you missed class. It was a way to be in touch when traveling abroad or home for vacation that wasn’t e-mail or a chat program. It was more personal because you could share photos, while getting feedback and keeping many people easily updated in one single forum. It wasn’t all business; it was a way to meet new people on campus who didn’t share your major or that you wouldn’t normally meet. Through a friend of a Facebook friend or shared interests, you could meet a new friend or something more.
What prompted a fed-up Kimmel was the oversharing that takes place on Facebook. While it is interesting to stay in the know, it is exhausting. Every few seconds people are updating their statuses, posting photos and sharing links. It’s usually more than you want to know, ranging from the disgustingly cringe-worthy to boasting so obnoxious it induces severe eye rolling. Facebook has empowered people to make the small, insignificant parts of their day (that would never come up in a conversation) suddenly important and breaking news. While it feeds gossip and obsessive culture, it also includes the tragic: I found out through Facebook a few days ago a classmate had died. Despite hearing the news quicker than I would have without Facebook, finding out through the medium felt so cold. I wanted to feel the emotion of loss but was quickly interrupted by the next status update. The news of the death was in between (and given equal weight to) someone off to shop for pants and the details of another’s lunch.
The relationship status is an interesting concept that was initially created to simply label yourself as available or not, but like Facebook itself, it has evolved into something so much more complicated. Another upsetting experience on Facebook was reading an ex-boyfriend’s status change from “Single” to “In a Relationship” with accompanying pictures. It was a little bit of a sad moment, made even worse by discovering this fact on Facebook. This was the same relationship where he changed his status to single so soon (a little too soon in my eyes) after our relationship ended, it caused extra heartache and tears. Putting one up, taking one down – my experience changing status pales in comparison to some who find out they’re getting divorced through Facebook.
It’s not just the status updates that are too much; it’s also the applications Facebook has created to keep users’ attention, hoping to make it so fun and essential for daily life, it’s the only place they’ll need on the web. They’re hoping these apps keep Facebook from becoming irrelevant and not share the same fate as Friendster and MySpace. (The day after Kimmel’s National Unfriend Day, Facebook and MySpace merged, making Facebook the biggest social networking site and differentiating MySpace as a publishing site.)
Points of interest to keep users’ attention include games that require participation from friends, a chat option that mimics AIM or being able to “check in” at physical locations, made popular by Foursquare. (There are apps that combine fun graphics with oversharing: a former classmate’s pregnancy updates include the My Baby app that shares with her friends the anatomical details about the growing fetus.) Once a labeled a network, Facebook is now a huge business, illustrated through the many advertisements on the site, or more noticeably, by the ability to fan or friend companies, many of which offer incentives to be a fan of their business.
What has also changed through the evolution of Facebook is online safety and privacy. In the beginning, Facebook was a safe space for college students, which then expanded to high schools, then businesses, then anyone over 13 with an e-mail address. Facebook’s motto says it is a place for sharing, yet the Wall Street Journal reported last month that several of the top Facebook apps leaked personal information to advertisers and Internet tracking companies. This is a violation of Facebook’s most basic policy to keep user information private, despite the very public setting. Even if you select the most private of Facebook settings, headlines today have illustrated you’re at risk. No longer is there a separation between online and real life identity; the same could be said for Facebook “friendships.”
After meeting a new person, most people go home and friend the person on Facebook. Interested in particular people? Stalk them on Facebook. It’s more about projecting an image of how you want others to see you, through the pictures you post or what you say in your profile and status updates. It’s about showing the world and your fellow Facebook pals how popular you are, rather than developing real relationships. Facebook today has made me long for human connection. While I know what people are up to, real relationships and connections are lost. I am laughing at my computer screen, rather than sharing the bonds and dopamine that come with actually laughing with another human being. Facebook has also destroyed my attention span from constant updating.
Facebook and I have grown apart; I long for the simpler times we had. What once was a great networking tool has turned into a lucrative business, grasping to stay in the know and ahead of the curve, but at what cost? I’m getting out before all of my dignity, sanity, attention span and privacy are compromised. Is the quarterlife lesson here that I’ve matured, becoming less obsessed with technology and constant information updates and more people centric? Maybe it’s as simple as valuing my online identity? While Facebook is good at helping me stay in touch with my real friends who live far away, a phone call is always better. Facebook 2010 is more time suck than networking tool that makes you impossibly crave a million updates per second in your real life. It’s an unhealthy relationship and I want out. Facebook and I need to label our relationship, “It’s complicated.”
Katie Bell is a graphic designer and freelance writer with Current Publishing.Guillermo Rodriguez, left, and “Uncle” Frank Potenza keep tally during a recent episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” where the cast celebrated National Unfriend Day.