I made a decision last week to delete both my MySpace and my Facebook accounts. I had been thinking about it for a while for myriad reasons, but every time I considered it, I came up with a reason not to do it: But, I have all those photos on there… But, how will I know about all those ‘events’… But, what if that ONE person I MUST meet is on there… But, what if I miss something really, really, really cool…
I spent a lot of time as an adolescent worrying about missing shit. Like, if you were not somewhere, something amazing might happen. This caused me tremendous stress the one time I was put on “restriction” by my mother for antics that had gone just a few steps too far. My mom decided that I would be on “restriction” and this meant that I had to be home by 9 pm on weekdays (you know, all those nights spent at the Petaluma Public Library – working so hard…) and I could only go out one night on the weekend with a midnight curfew. I thought my life was over. Only one night? What if I picked the wrong one? Oh.My.God. Total devastation. Looking back on this now I have to laugh for a couple of reasons: 1) I lived in freaking Petaluma after all, if it happened on a Friday it was gonna happen again on a Saturday and truth be told, shit rarely ever happened… and 2) The fact that what I just described was restriction is sort of hilarious – my unborn children better hope they never cross the line because I will lock them down – and for the record, after like five months of said “restriction” I asked my mom when – oh when! – would it be over and she went for the total killer blow saying, with complete coolness and appropriate aplomb, “Oh, yeah, I suppose it can be over now.” Talk about fished in. Mom, FTW.
Anyhow, to have this happening in my adult life was becoming too much of a recurring and horrifying déjà vu.
Then consider the fact that I have more than 300 “friends” on Facebook, and 150 or so on Myspace. [This after much culling, which has led to all sorts of drama. I have actually received emails asking why people had been deleted. From the people in question as well as other friends. Seriously. And then, someone I know was speaking to another person about me, and person #2 said, “Well, can Amanda be trusted? She deleted me from Facebook.” I know you think I must be making this shit up – but I assure you, I am not. ] Who the FUCK has 500 friends? I mean, SERIOUSLY. I have already expounded on Dunbar’s number here, so I will not bore you with that, but SERIOUSLY. And the politics of social network friends. Holy Mother of God. I know there are tons of articles about it already, but it is like people lose their sense of reality when they enter the virtual world of social networking. Perhaps that is the point for some people, but where have the boundaries gone? In real life, you have to have a reason to be someone’s friend, don’t you? Just because you know Person A does not mean you are therefore friends with all of Person A’s friends… or does it? Though, to be sure I have fallen on both sides of this equation as well, as I mentioned here.
It is entirely likely that this is totally about me, and not the social networks. Consider this story: I returned to Petaluma for my 8th grade year after having been in Seattle and San Diego since the 3rd grade. I had wanted to “go back” to Petaluma since about ten minutes after leaving the place and had made it abundantly clear (sorry Mom & T.) When I did get back, everything was different. I have already talked a lot about that here, but suffice it to say, nothing was as I remembered, people had new friends, I was the freaky tall “new” kid and the social order – not to mention the mores – were totally foreign to me. When we received our school pictures that year, about a month in, I was approached by my (eventual) dear friend Kelly C. Kelly asked me for one of my pictures. I looked at her with what I am sure was confusion, but I know it just looked snotty. I replied, “Why do you want one of my pictures? You don’t even know me.” [Kelly still tells this damn story all the time, so I suppose I can too…] Kelly was like, “Whatever.” I am fairly certain she added a few other choice words there too. Looking back on it, I see both sides. I understand now what I did not then, which is that the number of school pictures one had was a very big deal. It was the absolute quantitative demonstration of one’s social viability. And for 12 year-olds I think that is mildly appropriate. I also see my side of the story, which was why would people want to have photos of people they did not know? Perhaps it was a way to get to know someone. Perhaps it was just the thing to do. Either way the similarities to the current friend situation of online social networks seem about the same. I suppose there are good and bad reasons to collect friends, but I liked it better when we ‘made’ friends. [Don’t even get me started on the way that ‘friend’ has become a verb. So annoying.]
Then there was what had started to show signs of an addiction to life on line. Is that who I want to serve? Like, knowing things about people that I barely knew, and so then having this really weird sort of intimate knowledge when in fact we should be more like “What’s up?’ type of friends. That, I suppose, is a result of online stalking of your friends, and their friends and so on and so forth… of which I am guilty. And that is creepy. But ultimately it came to this: I was taken in by a connection on line one year ago – almost to the day. I was absolutely gobsmacked at how cool this person was. I began to seriously live for being on line… including changing sleeping patterns and social engagements to accommodate conversations. And though that came to a well known dissolution (hello, euphemism!) it did initiate a pattern of behavior that I did not like. Not one little bit.
So, when I made the decision to delete the accounts.. I checked to see how I felt about it. I considered what I would lose. Would I lose friends? Family? I sort of doubted it. I deleted the apps from my iPhone and nothing really happened. I did not get more or less interaction I simply discovered that I had all this time. Time to look around a little more. Time to read. Time to write. Time to sleep. Suddenly the thought of not having those pages pop up on my computer seemed really great. And then people started to ask me about it. A guy at work (who thinks he knows me better than he does) said, “But you LIVE for Facebook.” Uh, no. There are a few other things. Mostly though, the questions were legitimate, and honestly, the people who I spoke to about it are definitely people I will stay in touch with. My friend Mikey V, who I met only because of MySpace (serious) sent me a very reasonable message – Why? FB makes it so easy to link to your blogs and keep up… And he is right. To this end I certainly do not discount ever re-joining the world of online socializing, and I am keeping a dummy page to have my blog upload so my friends have and easy way to track that because I have to admit, Facebook has hugely increased traffic to my blog and this certainly soothes my savage ego. What I told Mike and I will share here is the following:
I want to not have Facebook be something that takes up time in my life, and I know I do not have the discipline to not constantly be wondering what “might” be happening out there in the world of online social networking… it is certainly not some sort of test, like to see who my real friends are or something, but at the same time, I think it will make the interactions I have with people a little more meaningful, at least on my end – more intentional, you know? Lastly, a year ago something unpleasant, though educational, went down. It is another reason why I want to step away. I want more time in the meatspace – not cyberspace. It is so easy to hide away in – or behind – all this stuff, especially as an ex-pat when the desire for connection might be that much greater.
I think I am more at risk for delving into an online life than others because it is such a connection to people from ‘home’ and I have my struggles with finding the genuine purpose in my life as an ex-pat. Plus, let’s face it, I am nosy. There are a lot of things that I like in the world of online social networks to be sure. But I believe I can get them in other ways. I like the photos – those are easily shared a million ways. I like the occasional “Wow! That person… haven’t heard from them in a while!” I like seeing the funny side of my students, who honestly impress me constantly with their insights and senses of humor. I like the ease of event maintenance, but you hear about them in the meatspace simultaneously and I honestly just don’t go to that many events. But at the same time there are even more things on there, which I cannot stand: Farmville. Mafia Wars. Apps. The perpetuation of negativity. Dishonesty. Entitlement. Social lubrication. The slow, but sure replacement of direct contact.
I do not think these sites are going to go away, but I think the future for all them is in the business and branding realm. Tila Tequila taught us well. For interpersonal connections and building friendship? I stand behind my belief that you have to get real.
I was asked about keeping in touch and I hope that the people who are interested in keeping in touch do – I know I will. I still have the same email address and I am keeping my blogs active (this one and my photo blog) and my Twitter account. Plus, you never know, I might be back. For now I just need a little time away from the machine. As my friend Anna said, (the one who reminded me of the importance of the meatspace when things were looking a little (a lot) dodgy):
“Ah, the first stage in reentry! Welcome home Major Tom.”
(image courtesy of this site.)