I really hate Facebook. I only joined when I moved from London to Coventry in 2006, largely because everyone I met at Warwick used it. It’s something that’s useful to have when you’ve moved to a new place and you don’t know anyone. It makes it easy to archive new social connections, if that doesn’t sound like a horribly instrumental notion to apply to making new friends. But I soon started to hate it. I’d love to say this hated is high minded, reflecting an informed contempt for the corporation, its data mining and their project of digital enclosure. I’d love to say this hated is low minded, reflecting a deep contempt for Mark Zuckerberg as a human being. But it’s more visceral than that. Facebook just irritates me deeply.
Partly this might be because of the behavioural tendencies it inculcates. I’ve been prone to procrastination for as long as I can remember. In recent years, I’ve learnt to channel this procrastination in a productive and enjoyable way – a form of productive procrastination or structured procrastination in which a desire to avoid one task can be a creative stimulus towards another. Facebook is the one thing which short circuits this approach. If I’m stuck with work, I’ll sometimes find myself mindlessly browsing Facebook before stopping and registering the sheer number of things I would rather do, things I would actively like to do, yet I find myself exploring Zuckerberg’s private kingdom in a semi-conscious haze of habituation.
I deleted my facebook account a couple of years after joining. It was quite a liberating thing to do. It damaged my social life but I was in a situation at the time where this didn’t really bother me and I soon got used to being absent from facebook. A couple of years later, I reluctantly rejoined. I can’t remember why. But it didn’t really work for me a second time. Again, I found myself wasting time on facebook in a way I found peculiarly irritating, over and above the actual amount of time that I ended up wasting. Part of the problem was the lack of a clear public/private distinction. I vaguely understand the value of having a closed network of friends but only 20%-30% of my then facebook ‘friends’ were people I wanted on this closed network. Contrary to much theorising about facebook, I could see the point of it if the network was sufficiently locked down that I didn’t do self-presentation. By which I mean something different to ‘self-presentation’ as it’s commonly used I guess. Perhaps I mean self-presentation grounded in self-editing, thinking and sharing things but then suppressing them because they are incongruous with my intended self-presentation, as opposed to the sense in which ‘self-presentation’ is a mundane feature of all social interaction*. My point is that I could see the appeal of facebook (sort of) if it was unambiguously ‘private’ but it just isn’t, the massive data privacy issues not withstanding, nor could it be unless I deleted 80% of my then facebook friends.
So eventually I deleted my facebook account again. In the meantime I setup a facebook account for Sociological Imagination. I can’t remember why I chose a facebook account rather than a facebook page. Perhaps because I found the interface for the latter somewhat confusing. It turned out to be quite effective, given the later restrictions upon sharing applied to the latter, such that posts are only ‘seen’ by a small percentage of a page’s fans unless you pay to promote them. Initially, I just plugged in the sociologicalimagination.org rss feed to the sociological imagination facebook account. Then I plugged in the rss feed to my blog. When I worked at LSE I plugged in the rss feed to LSE British Politics and Policy. Some of my ‘real life’ friends started using the messaging service to keep in touch with me. I occasionally added friends on that account when I’d not seen them for ages and wanted to get back in touch but was too lazy/busy to just phone them**. I began to sometimes post status updates or use the facebook share button on websites.
It’s become a bit of a joke with certain friends about me ‘not being on facebook’. I obviously am. But I don’t want to be. I love Twitter (some people may have noticed this) but I really truly despise facebook. Both for the personal reasons described above and the social and political reasons too innumerable to list (but here are 10 to get you started). So I’m wondering if I should delete the Sociological Imagination facebook account. I think I’ll always gravitate back towards using facebook when I have this account. In a narrowly instrumental sense, deleting this account will knock down the sociological imagination traffic but not by any great amount. In a more meaningful sense, it seems a shame to delete it because for reasons I don’t understand, I’m pretty sure the facebook following is much more internationally diverse than the website’s twitter following. It’s also a wonderful place to find web memes – much more so than twitter, again for reasons I don’t really understand. But I really don’t want to be on facebook and I resent the feeling of having been lured back in. Though perhaps this is bad faith and I should take responsibility for my own actions. Or maybe I should just delete the account. Ok, let’s do that then.
*If I’m actually going to write this paper about Goffman, I should urgently address this issue, otherwise I’m probably going to piss off any symbolic interactionist who reads it.
**I used to spend hours on the phone with my close friends prior to social media. Excepting blogging, which I’ve been doing since my first few months of university, I didn’t use social media until late 2006. The amount of time I spend on the phone to my friends immediately began to decline and has been declining ever since. There are other factors at work here but this is surely one of them.
This is what happens when you try to deactivate your account. Manipulative, no?