Lately I’ve had a flood of emails from friends and acquaintances who are thinking of getting off of Facebook, and want to hear my perspective as someone who has never had an account. Joe and I set up a page for Conversion Diary through his account for the convenience of readers who prefer to follow blogs that way, and I read the comments there as often as possible, but I’ve only logged into Facebook a handful of times in my life.
Anyway, per my semi-annual tradition, I’ve been agonizing about whether I should finally get an account. As my friends talk about why they don’t want to have a face page (as Yaya calls it), I’ve been thinking about why I might want to have one. But it’s a decision I want to make carefully, since getting a Facebook account is like jumping into quicksand: it’s not easy to get out once you’re in, and if you start thrashing around you’ll only sink deeper.
For those of you who have a similar dilemma, here are some thoughts off the top of my head about the advantages and disadvantages of my non-Facebook alternative lifestyle:
1. I see people in a different light
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations like this one:
Friend: [Brings up name of someone we both know. Let’s call her “Jane.”]
Me: Oh, I love her! She is so quiet and sweet.
Friend: [Looks puzzled. Everything in awkward now, and I can’t figure out why.]
Me: Am I missing something?
Friend: Oh, no. I mean, I love Jane too. It’s just that I’d never think to use those words to describe her.
Me: You don’t think she’s quiet and sweet?
Friend: Have you seen her posts on Facebook? This morning she was ranting about how all parents who don’t follow Dr. Amaze-o’s Theory of Potty Training should be arrested and shot, and yesterday she said that you’re a bad person if —
Me: I’m not on Facebook.
Friend: Ooooooooh. That explains it.
When a Facebook-using friend and I know someone in common who is active on Facebook, we invariably tend to have different impressions of our common acquaintance, and my impression is almost always more positive. It seems that following people on Facebook rarely improves your impression of them, and so, for better or worse, I live in ignorance of certain sides of my friends’ and neighbors’ personalities.
2. I’m not in touch with my best friend from fifth grade
I spend a lot of time debating whether it’s a pro or a con that my Facebook-free status means that I’m not in touch with old friends. I guess it’s both:
On the one hand, it would be nice to see that my friend from junior high had a baby or that my college buddy just moved back to town. On the other hand, it acts as a filter for who is really interested in rekindling a true friendship. Old friends who want to reconnect can always call, email, or text me; if that feels like too much effort, maybe that’s a sign that right now isn’t the best time for us to be getting back in touch.
3. I’m not always aware of current events
Sometimes I feel like I need to step away from the news in order to remind myself that not every single thing in the world is terrible, and not being on Facebook makes it fairly easy. I can avoid Twitter since it’s not a primary method of communication for me, and then if I just don’t check news sites I can hook up a nice little news fast. The downside, though, is that it’s easy to remain too out of the loop if I’m not diligent about keeping up with current events.
4. People don’t know when I’ve read their messages
That thing where people can message you and Facebook will tell them that you saw it? There is no way. I’d die.
5. I’m not as well networked as I could be
I’ve found that there’s a lot of value in networking — not in a cheesy, business-card-swapping, what-can-this-person-do-for-me? way, but in the sense of reaching out to others in your field, taking a genuine interest what they do, and seeing how you all can encourage and support one another. In terms of my writing “career” (using that term verrrrrrry loosely there), there’s a big disadvantage to not being on Facebook. Back when I was speaking regularly, I met all sorts of great folks at conferences whom I would have liked to keep up with. We didn’t get to know each other well enough to exchange emails or texts, and the fact that I’m not on Facebook meant lots of missed opportunities to stay connected.
6. I’m still distracted by the internet
My friends tell me that Facebook is particularly addictive because you always want to check in and see what the people you know are up to. There’s always fresh content posted by folks whose lives you are invested in, so who can resist taking a peek at what’s new? I can see how that would be a big lure, but I assure you that I’ve never found myself staying offline on the grounds that there’s nothing interesting on the internet today.
7. It’s easier to remove myself from toxic situations
Fortunately this hasn’t happened in a long time, but every once in a while I’ll encounter a person or a situation that is really stressing me out and draining my energy, and I’ll decide that I need to step away for the sake of my sanity. In these cases I find that I can make more of a clean break than if we were officially connected on Facebook.
8. It helps me cut down on mental clutter
This, for me, is the single biggest reason I’ve never gotten an account. I find that any online interactions tend to be more stressful than in-person interactions, even when they’re positive. Did she understand that I was kidding? Is it rude that I replied to his tweet but not hers? Did my answer seem too curt? These kinds of little low-grade stressors are ever-present when I’m on email or Twitter or any other virtual forum where I’m interacting with people. It leads to a lot of psychological “clutter,” and, as I said earlier this week, I tend to get really stressed by that kind of thing. Especially that I’m in a phase of life where I barely have enough brain clean-up time as it is, I’m afraid that Facebook would create a level of mental mess that I can’t keep up with.
. . .
As you can see, I’m conflicted. I might never have a Facebook account…or I might have one by the end of the week. And I certainly can’t tell you whether or not it’s good for you to have an account. But I thought that sharing this list might be helpful for others who find themselves in similar dilemmas.
Let me end with a question for those of you who are on Facebook:
–> If you could go back in time and never sign up for an account in the first place, would you do it?
I’ll be very interested to hear your answers.