Why I haven’t left facebook

We have an interesting relationship. Every time I want to leave, something pulls me back. Mostly, it’s our shared network of friends, the memories, and the promise of more to come. The truth is, I can’t pull myself away, as much as I’d like to.

Facebook is truly a seductive distraction. Psychologically, it’s interesting. If five years ago, someone said I’d trust a website enough to list most of my friends, announce where I’m traveling, and even post pictures, I wouldn’t have believed them. And yet I do, nearly daily. I’ve watched friends who began with noble resistance get sucked in. When it started out as just a place for college students, I thought it would be a fun diversion while I was in graduate school. Actually, I convinced myself that as someone who studies how people process information on the Internet, that I should really use it for work. I started out carefully trying to maintain professional distance; now, I have to stop myself from posting anything too personal.

Last year, Facebook opened up to everyone, no more need for a .edu address. At first, I didn’t want to friend my offline friends because I didn’t want to mix communities. Plus, Facebook was a place to stay in touch with people doing similar research, a place I could dip into when I wanted inspiration, say, from a few friends who always post interesting articles.

Back in April, I received a friend request from my mother-in-law. I didn’t respond, initially. I’m very close with my mother-in-law and she certainly knows more about my daily life than the majority of my FB friends, but I felt like it would be a violation of my privacy. Privacy? Facebook? It’s almost an oxymoron. People who really believe in privacy aren’t on Facebook. The rest of us are broadcasting the exciting minutae of our daily lives, collecting friends, posting pictures…sure, we have some control, but for the most part, we’re on Facebook to share not protect information. I accepted the friend request and am glad I did.

I know these aren’t new questions, but in what ways does Facebook mediate our friendships? I remember when talking on the phone was my preferred way to stay in touch with friends. It mediated communication, too, limiting the way we communicated (not face-to-face), when we communicated, where we communicated. Facebook seems different, though, because there seems to be more identity construction around the friendship given the very public space and the increase in loose ties (people we would probably never call to discuss our day, or even the weather for that matter) — first, we decide whether or not to friend each other, then we decide to what extent we are friends — full profile, limited? Are we close enough to comment on each other’s status? Do we use chat and e-mail to stay in touch, too, or are we just an extra in the friend count? Are we even interested in the other person’s status updates, or have we hidden them? We have a new way of communicating with each other, “poke” seems to have gone away, but we can “like” and “unlike” what each other posts, like we’re voting, or just supporting.

Do we feel more connected because of Facebook? A few months ago, an article in Adbusters cited Virginie Despentes, author of King Kong Theory, as saying “consuming pornography does not lead to more sex, it leads to more porn.” Is Facebook the same?

Does Facebook lead to more friends/social encounters or more Facebook? I’m still pondering the answer, though I suspect it’s the latter, or maybe that the two have become enmeshed.  In the meantime, much as I attempt Facebook fasts, I enjoy keeping in touch with my geographically-dispersed friends too much to leave…for now.

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