There is a cottage media industry out there that writes endlessly about social networking. Some pieces from this corner are skippable, others are culturally noteworthy. As with the Twitter usage post from last week, this NYT feature on people quitting Facebook, entitled “Facebook Exodus,” is worth a read.
Apparently, lots of folks are leaving Facebook, albeit in different “waves” as writer Virginia Heffernan suggests:
The disillusionment with Facebook has come in waves. An early faction lost faith in 2008, when Facebook’s beloved Scrabble application, Scrabulous, was pulled amid copyright issues. It was suddenly clear that Facebook was not just a social club but also an expanding force on the Web, beholden to corporate interests. A later group, Harmsen’s crowd, grew frustrated last winter when Facebook seemed to claim perpetual ownership of users’ contributions to the site. (Facebook later adjusted its membership contract, but it continues to integrate advertising, intellectual property and social life.) A third wave of dissenters appears to be bored with it, obscurely sore or just somehow creeped out.
Here’s a further explanation. I don’t entirely get it, but the guy sounds intelligent enough, and his last sentence seems right:
Another friend, who didn’t want his name used, found that Facebook undermined his whole notion of online friendship. “It’s easy to think of your circle of ‘Friends’ as a coherent circle, clear and moated, when in fact the splay of overlap/network makes drip/action painting a better (visual) analogy.” Something happened to this drip painting that he won’t discuss. He said, “Postings that seem private can scatter and slip unpredictably into a sort of semipublic status.”
And here’s another example of why people are quitting the site:
That friend was not the only Facebook dissenter who was reticent about specifics. Many seem to have just lost their appetite for it: they just stopped wanting to look at other people’s photos and résumés and updates, or have their own subject to scrutiny. Some ex-users seemed shaken, even heartbroken, by their breakups with Facebook. “I primarily left Facebook because I was wasting so much time on it,” my friend Caroline Harting told me by e-mail. “I felt fairly detached from my Facebook buddies because I rarely directly contacted them.” Instead, she felt as if she stalked them, spending hours a day looking at their pages without actually saying hello.
So there you have it. People are quitting Facebook for a variety of reasons. We don’t get many statistics to support this case, but the anecdotal evidence seems true enough.
Really, social networking is fine, and it’s all the rage, but it seems to me like a fun but time-limited platform. There’s a “take your breath away” effect that works for a while, but when that’s gone, you’re not left with a whole lot–some folks who overshare, occasional funny or important pieces of information, and a whole lot of stuff that wastes your time and somehow leaves you feeling less happy than before you logged on.
I don’t imagine that my experience is normative, and some people really do benefit from social networking and use it to good ends. It can be good for advertising, networking, praying with information, evangelizing (would that we Christian Facebook users did more of this!), reconnecting, updating, and seeing what your high school classmates now look like.
Otherwise, though, social networking seems to me to often demonstrate the “thinness” of our lives, to use a David Wells term I like alot. What is it about the modern person that so needs to share with and be connected to massive amounts of people? Christian or otherwise, is this a healthy trend? What good, lasting good, comes of it? Or does social networking often highlight our less flattering features–narcissism, need to be linked to popular/cool/attractive folks and exciting events, endless talking/communicating, oversharing, and so on?
If you stay on Facebook, and you use it for good ends (like making meaningful kingdom connections, and especially encouraging other Christians and evangelizing friends), great. Keep at it. I’m still on it, and I hope to use it for good insofar as I can. Many of us may find, though, that because of limited time and energy, we have to quit Facebook.
Maybe we’ll find that the old adage is wrong–maybe winners do quit, and quitters do win.