tyler butler

The Social Revolution

I’ve been avoiding services like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and the like for a long time despite their growing popularity. In the MySpace case, it’s a philosophical choice – MySpace sites are often so bad! They look horrible, music plays when you go to them, the formatting is terrible… This is a natural outcome of pure freedom; when you allow people to customize things and make them look exactly like they want, you give them the freedom to make horrible looking stuff. But I’m getting a bit off topic… Anyway, I avoid MySpace sort of on principal, but I avoid Facebook due to some other reasons that I think finally crystallized in my mind while attending a roundtable discussion at MIX that included folks from Six Apart, Twitter, and Facebook.

The guy from Facebook was talking about how they view Facebook as being not an extension of your identity, but rather a representation of it (my words, not his; I’m trying to paraphrase the conversation). In other words, your Facebook simply reflects the things that are happening to you, what’s going on in your life, etc., and then shortens the gap between those events and occurrences and the people that potentially care about you. Their philosophy as I understand it is to reduce the amount of overhead that comes with keeping track of what’s going on with people.

That’s a noble goal, I suppose, and one I can certainly appreciate given that I have friends strewn all over the world (ever since the great Diaspora that was my high school graduation in PNG). It certainly would be nice to always know what was happening with those folks without ever having to do anything about it. But I think that’s the crux of my opposition to it.

You see, I think there is a great deal of worth in getting an email after a long time from someone who has taken the time to write you and give you a brief update about them. It took time and energy for them to write you and update you on their life – and I believe it shows they care. This type of rich interaction with someone occurs more naturally after a time out of touch.

Imagine a 30-year high-school reunion if everyone was on Facebook the entire time after graduation? Would there be anything to talk about? I suppose the conversation would revolve around politics, religion, and other matters of opinion, because life events would simply be old news. Everyone would already know that Sam got married last summer and Mary got a new job. There’d be no excitement in learning that Joe’s son spoke his first words last week or that Sally was finally able to get that surgery she needed.

If we’re always connected to one another all the time, it removes the excitement and enjoyment that comes from the re-connecting after a disconnect. It’s cliché, to be sure, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and for that reason, Facebook’s just not for me.