It’s the end of the school term finally. And yet again, two of my close friends, David and James, are acting like they’re part of an elite clan for hating Facebook. Insert some of the usual clichés about how it’s too crowded, how it’s full of attention seekers, how there are so many people who complain about their first-world problems on it. All of the usual garbage. One of them then announces, to the eye-roll of myself, that Google+ is the solution, and that he closed his Facebook. I should do the same to my account, he says, along with my Twitter account, because Google+ is so much better. It’s as if it’s a scene from 1984, and Winston Smith has discovered a way out of the dystopian nightmare that is Web 2.0, as if it’s a place where you get trapped. As if keeping your account open makes you a lesser person. That’s not a very good parallel, but I’ll go with it.
They continue their conversation, with occasional interruptions from me, telling them how stupid their points are. David has to go. I continue the discussion, or argument, on the walk home, and I eventually persuade James that the problem isn’t Facebook, but rather the way Facebook is indicative of, to pardon another cliché, the “human condition.” Facebook is an amazing example of globalization, of technology ingraining itself in everyday life. Every problem people on Google+ seem to have with Facebook isn’t Facebook’s problem. Rather, it’s simply an example of the platform going mainstream, of this great mass of people then turning it into, and I’m not excluded, a Like-whoring, self-conscious, narcissistic second world.
Again, Facebook didn’t do this. We did. It’s like how people claimed Twitter was stupid, and how some people still claim status updates are dumb. They’re only dumb because some of us choose to make them dumb. Before Facebook Timeline spam there was MySpace spam, and before that there were chain emails that recommended you send them to 30 of your contacts for great rewards. Facebook has just become so big, so popular, that the people who “abuse” it aren’t blamed. Instead the dedicated group who builds it and gives it away for free is blamed. As if it’s their fault that people complain about their big assignment that’s due the next day.
Facebook is simply a reflection of humanity, of our need to belong, our need to feel good and be good. Slacktivism, for example, isn’t a Facebook problem. If you were to switch everyone on Facebook to Google+, you’d find that it would become bad, too. In fact, in some ways, some of the annoyances of Facebook are already there, right now. You just have to see the “What’s Hot” section that appears on the homepage occasionally to know this.
People love to complain about Facebook when instead they should be complaining about the people on it. Facebook is almost digital perfection when it comes to emulating real life. Likes are just a representation of an emotional response with two options: on or off.
If you don’t turn on the Like button, people won’t know your reaction. And we, as people, when the button is turned on, then interpret the meaning of that Like. If someone Likes a photo, it’s a simple compliment. If that photo’s funny, that one button can represent the fact that the viewer found it funny. If someone complains about something, and friends Like it, we assume that they’re in agreement. Comments expand this, but with Likes, Facebook has found a versatile, binary response to an open question.
Again, Facebook is just an emulation of real life. The difference, and the problem perhaps, is that in real life if you aren’t friends with someone, you’ll ignore, exclude, or just not talk to them. There is a hierarchy of friendship. On Facebook, however, most people simply have one bundle of friends — a lump of people who maybe you’ve simply walked past. It’s now common courtesy to befriend everyone on Facebook, whereas in real life, you subtly (or obviously, if you’re a douchebag) make a distinction between friends and acquaintances. And this is almost always a subconscious response.
Facebook isn’t the problem here. Like Google+, you can make lists of people, which is supposed to represent the hierarchy of life. Yet people ignore this feature.
Making the broad statement that Facebook is just bad, or even that it’s a waste of time, is stupid in itself. We’ve made it that way. And there are ways to improve it. We’ve failed to see that it’s a social setting made digital. The only difference between now and 20 or 30 years ago is that we’ve made our thoughts more obvious and our social availability unlimited.