Why I Left Facebook (Our Online Selves Open Call)
I don’t have much of a web presence these days; just this here OS blog. I once was on a site called “Facebook” that a few of you may know. Facebook is run by a billionaire young person (anyone younger than me is a “young person” – I understand that to be the first sign of elderly curmudgeonhood) who does not respect his customers. I spent lots of time on Facebook, mostly playing Mafia Wars, until one day I realized that I was not getting anything out of it. Not one thing. I’m an introvert, so I thought that having relationships with people online would be easier for me than doing it in person; after all, I can think before I say anything and I don’t actually have to look at anyone. Truly, though, these relationships were, well, about as multidimensional as a pixel on a computer screen. The people I talked to most online were the ones I saw in person. Crazy, right? There was drama, too, and bitchiness and easily hurt feelings. I found myself glued to the news feed, hoping I wouldn’t miss a single update by one of my hundred or so friends. I marveled at those friends who had four or five hundred friends – how could anyone know so many people? Then I did something amazing. I visited my folks for a week at Christmas and did not log onto Facebook. It was so freeing! But then I returned home and logged right back on again. I was a person with a problem, a real user. I was having dreams about Farmville and wondering at work what was going on online. So finally, I quit. Shut down the account, closed the tab, deleted the bookmark. And I was free.
Well, I wasn’t entirely free. The thing about Facebook is that it’s everywhere. Sure, now I had time to do constructive things like read, knit, and write. But I was also missing out on social events. People would post events on Facebook, forgetting that I wasn’t out there, and finding themselves unable to figure out how to get in touch with me because Facebook makes you lose the ability to use email. Queries about the time and location of events were met with blank stares when I said I was not on Facebook, which is a shame because I rather consider myself to be old enough that not using Facebook is a charming eccentricity rather than an inability to be hip (or whatever the kids are calling it these days). The other problem I faced was a disturbing frequency of newspaper articles about how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is stealing our identities, one by one, and selling them to third party marketers. At least now I had a semi-reasonable excuse – it’s just too much trouble to keep up with the ever-changing privacy settings.
Despite my fear and loathing of Mark Zuckerberg and his evil teenaged empire, I have a rather large amount of trust in Google. Maybe it’s their motto, “don’t be evil,” or the amenities they offer their employees. Maybe it’s because their search engine is minimalist and the Google doodle is usually pretty cool. It could be their reliably delightful April Fool’s jokes or perhaps I just like Google because it’s free. It’s tricky to deal with companies that provide a free product. Nothing is actually free and I know that Google is collecting information from me to feed the advertising machine. Let’s be honest, we’re really trusting Google with much more sensitive information than the average user puts into Facebook. We get emails from our doctor’s offices, balance alerts from the bank, and password reset emails. Some enterprising Google associate could probably find out everything he wants to know about me, including how much I pay for belly dance classes and where I’ll be next Thursday. Google knows about every medical condition I’ve ever searched for, what month in the year I get my car inspected, and how often I transfer money from my checking account to savings. So why do I not drop email, burn my computer, and never do another internet search? Well, which of these guys looks more trustworthy to you?
Eric Schmidt, (not evil) CEO of Google (image source)*
Mark Zuckerberg, (evil) CEO of Facebook (image source)**
The correct answer is: the one who is old enough to shave.
Ok, that was a little petty, and I may still be skeeved from watching The Social Network this weekend. It may turn out in a few years (once Google has taken over the world, as so many say it will), that I will have to Gprint these words and eat them with a Gfork. Even so, they aren’t making films about Google’s rise to glory. It’s probably because no one wants to watch a film about people sitting in front of computer screens actively not being evil. On the other hand, The Social Network 2: Identity Theft will be riveting.
*Funnily enough, when I was looking for a picture of Google's head honcho, the first link I clicked led me to this article in which Schmidt is quoted on these very topics. If this article doesn't make you feel better about Google, nothing will.
**And this is the first article that came up when I looked for Facebook's evil overlord, in which our villain plots to copyright the word "face." (In the interest of fairness, the copyright extended only to situations in which there was a potential connection to Facebook. Even so - paranoia anyone?)