Facebook: it’s complicated.

I’ve been thinking alot about Facebook lately, not just because it’s my job or because you can’t go anywhere in the world without hearing about it, but because my relationship with the social network has been a point of stress for me over the past few months. I have no intention of joining the post-IPO, Mashable media-fueled hate-and-negativity fest currently surrounding the social network. On the contrary, I’ve had an account for almost 8 years, and as of late I am more sad than anything that I just don’t know what to do with it.

For years, I’ve sworn that I wouldn’t remove pictures and posts from my Facebook account, mostly because I considered them all a part of important memories that I had built with friends, classmates and professors. I refused to pull anything down– I was the world’s most boring college student, it’s not like there was anything to censor, anyway!– and while this argument felt valid to me for a very long time, it just doesn’t hold water anymore.

Over the past eight years, I’ve done quite a bit of living (and learning). I’ve made new friends, met incredible people, ended relationships, began relationships, studied abroad, been part of one of the largest mass shooting tragedies in American history, struggled to define myself after college… I’ve even moved ~3,000 miles across the country in pursuit of happiness. And Facebook, which has been there since I legally became an adult,  it’s just there waiting for me to update,  wanting me to share my experiences and countless other preferences, orientations, relationships and life changes– expecting or hoping for a child, anyone?— on my Timeline. Except I can’t bring myself to reduce my life experiences into neatly packaged updates of  “Status”, “Photo”, “Place” or “Life Event.” Sure, on some level I am a summation of all of these things– but isn’t it also true that sometimes, a whole is more than just the sum of its parts?

I’ve been struggling with Facebook for awhile– since I moved, since Timeline launched, since frictionless sharing injected an entirely new round of spammy noise into my News feed, since my “network” has grown to include new friends, peers, former colleagues and coworkers who only know me as I am not, not as who I was before I moved here. I have almost eight years of personal history– read: inane status messages, unpopular opinions, silly groups, photo albums– following me, and even with an entire suite of tools, options and filters meant to manage them all, it’s just… it’s too much. Yes, I could set privacy filters to prevent certain albums from being visible to certain lists and groups, but it’s a work-intensive, non-intuitive undertaking in which I’d have to personally organize and choose settings for each friend, list and album. Sharing is important— but so is a knowing when not to share. And what personal benefit would I stand to gain from freely exposing so much private information when I should be busy doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing in life?

About a month ago, I logged in to Facebook and did something I never thought that I would do– I made many of my albums private, I untagged myself in countless photos, and I changed the settings of frictionless sharing apps to “Only Me.” As someone who works in and has an academic interest in social media, I understand the logic, the systems, the thought process behind why the default setting of the social web is “Public.”  I get that there is a powerful engine of open graphing and interest graphing behind everything we do on social networks– but I just don’t see how any of  this open sharing happening on Facebook is making my life and my relationships any better, much less those of anyone else. (Not even the marketers, y’all– Facebook ads just don’t work.)

To be honest, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the natural progressions of social networks and the communication that goes on within them. I am intrigued by and hopeful for what’s next.  Interest-based social media networks make sense, but with smaller groups of users, very few if any of them will ever see a userbase as large as Facebook or Twitter. Who will fund them, and how? And what of the cluster of social apps built around romantic relationships? A friend–  her startup aims to improve the relationships we have with one those we love– eloquently writes about using technology to enhance relationships here. While I’m not sure that I could bring myself to ask a partner or my social-media averse darling to test a social network built around our relationship– what if he thinks I’m weird? or if he doesn’t want to open the date-box because he thinks it is silly? what if he thinks that the in-app thumb kiss is stupid?! would we be overconnected? what happens to the data, who kills it, if it doesn’t work out?!– my heart is happy to know that there are people, smart people, trying to solve the problem of how to address and counteract the negative consequences social media can have on relationships. And yes, these things make me happy even if I’m not in a position (just yet) to use them.

When it comes to my complicated relationship with Facebook, I’m entirely open to the idea that everyone else is doing it right, and I’m the one doing it wrong. I’m not even friends with my favorite person (yes, darling, that’s you) on Facebook, though we speak every day and though our friendship is one of the most important relationships in my life. I could be doing it wrong, all wrong, but with users spending less time than ever on the site, and with so many people I know deactivating their accounts entirely, it can’t be just me. I can only hope that, as more and more of the world becomes connected, there’s a serious, meaningful shift in thought to privacy and discretion across the entire social media sphere. Until then– I can’t deactivate my profile for professional reasons– all I can do is disengage… and hope for the best.

(Don’t worry– I won’t hold my breath.)


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