Instead my departure from the Republic of Facebook feels like a natural distancing act: no more fretting about comments on my status, no more checking if I am tagged in a disadvantageous picture, no more mysterious friend requests. If we want to stay in touch we do it old school: write an e-mail, make a call, go for a drink, even skype. After all, a certain degree of separation is necessary to maintain a sense of individuality. Jason Lanier, Internet pioneer and author of You are not a gadget, states:
Different media designs stimulate different potentials in human nature. Weshouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.
Trying to figure out my facebook-less afterlife I read Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent The Revolution will not be twittered and Zadie Smith’s Generation Y. What started looking more and more suspect was the basic description itself: social network. I ultimately arrived at a simple, basic question: is Facebook really social? Isn’t the Republic of Facbook where the social comes to die? Did I eliminate my FB avatar to avoid this digital death in life? At times I fear that a 500-million-faced Leviathan has cannibalized the meaning of social: hundreds of passing acquaintances, people one would not even say hello to in public, are clicked into friendship; a living individual is compressed to a set of data; if one is not careful one’s personal data becomes a tradable commodity on the vampiric advertising market; there have been lawsuits due to cyber-bullying and trolls have been known to upload pictures of dead people. These outcomes are not inherent to Facebook’s technology but it seems that the ease of connecting and presenting it enables, frequently encourages members’ less virtuous traits: superficiality and a lack of consideration. Gladwell has remarked on this trend:
‘Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,’ Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.
Society is about connecting but it is not about connecting for connecting’s sake. It is not about establishing as many connections as humanly and digitally possible. Having too many connections these thin bonds become spears on which a healthy sense of self is impaled.
Facebook is good for maintaining one-on-one relationships but society, the social, is about more than friendships and staying-in-touch. It is also about assembling collectives, about multitudinous movements, about people in the streets and in public places. Facebook will never throw a brick through a tyrant’s window. The groups on Facebook, everybody who has ever participated in one knows, are frippery or a sham. As Gladwell puts it:
The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still [1950s, Southern USA] lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.
It would be foolish to deny that Facebook when used sensibly can be a social glue: it helps re-discovering long-lost friends, staying in touch with those special facebook friends that are also friends in reality, inviting people to events, etc. Zuckerberg is neither a savior nor a heartless demon as portrayed in Fincher’s movie; his Republic can be a force for connecting people.
Yet personally, I do experience my FB departure as beneficial: I have the freedom to imagine, perhaps nostalgically, what my friends are up to without being force-fed the hard facts, I am more aware of who I stay in touch with and how, I actually do spend my time more sensibly and I feel a bit «more natural» because I experience no urge to tinker with a profile that anyway will never represent me adequately as an individual.
But this is not a declaration of definitive digital death. After all, even my own ressurection is just a single click away.