Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Inevitability of Facebook

Over in Slate, Farhad Manjoo writes about that strange group of misanthropes that slithers amongst us: people who refuse to join Facebook.

I am among these, the 21st Century’s unwashed.

Manjoo interviewed several people who refuse to join Facebook and asked them why. Among them was one person who gave the same reason that I do:

Finally, I heard what must be the most universal concern about Facebook—I don't want people knowing my business! Kate Koppelman is a 23-year-old New Yorker who works in the fashion industry. She was on Facebook all through college, and she concedes that the site has many benefits. And yet, the whole thing creeped her out: "I had friends from back home knowing what was going on with my friends from college—people they had never met—which was weird," she told me. "I found friends knowing things about what was on my 'wall' before I'd had a chance to see it—which was also weird." Koppelman quit Facebook last year. She still uses it by proxy—her roommates look people up for her when she's curious about them—but she says she'll never sign up again.

I want to control the people who enter into my life: who and what they know about me. I don’t want my ex-girlfriend from college finding me. I don’t want that cretin of a roommate who said that he would be so much more successful than me – and turned out to be completely correct – to find his suspicions true. And I certainly don’t want the woman who hijacked my church or the Florida Conference public relations people (I can check IP addresses, folks), knowing what I’m up to now. Cracked magazine joked a few months ago that most of the people on Facebook from your past are just trying to show you up or play head games. And this strikes me as quite plausible. I don’t want to be stuck in high school, college, or even just a few months ago. I want to live today.

And, for that matter, I don’t have much today that I really feel like sharing with the entire world (my exit from ministry and organized Christianity being a notable exception). I started a MySpace page a year and a half ago (under my first name, but quite deliberately, not my last name) when I became a pastor and published it in the church bulletin, but I found that there was nothing I really felt like sharing. I wanted my private business to remain private. This is essentially the same approach that I take with this blog. I rarely write about myself, and usually only in character.

My wife was once compelled to create a Facebook page for a former employer in order to join the workplace Facebook group – and was shocked to see her fellow employees sharing intensely intimate information about their lives on their pages. But Katherine prefers to keep her private life private, and so had little to write about. My MySpace page was rarely updated on the exact same grounds.

I have no interest in being famous (although infamous might be interesting), and so have for several years consciously tried to keep myself invisible on the Internet. A Google search for my name reveals virtually nothing, and whatever information appears must be carefully sorted from that of my more famous Google twin. I prefer it this way. I want to, as much as possible, control who is in my life.

But as Manjoo notes, it is increasingly unavoidable to have your private life public. So I’m going to join Facebook. I’ll use the controls that will restrict access to my page, as Manjoo suggests, but these are really inadequate for the degree of Internet invisibility that I desire.

Under a pseudonym, starting in 1998, I began friendships with great people through Watership Down role-playing groups. This experience, as well as my blogging persona known as “John the Methodist” or “Rabbit John” was a fun way to mediate Internet social networking interactions with the rest of the world, but it has reached the limits of its effectiveness.

Internet social networking is no longer just a fun, optional, and pseudonymous way to connect with people. It’s becoming increasingly mandatory for living in the 21st Century developed world. And with its rise, privacy shall go into decline, for good or ill.


doodlebugmom said...

I have a facebook and I use it for fun, not networking or share intimate details.

I reconnected with some high school friends, keep in touch with family, one of my old college boyfriend tracked me down. (I thought it was cool catching up with him, hearing about what he was doing now, our families,and I even apologized for dumping

You share what you want to share. I don't post personal stuff. If my boss or my dad were to find my facebook, I would not be embarassed.

Different strokes for different folks I guess.

truevyne said...

Dear John,
I love my crackbook, I mean my facebook page. I do not become "friends" with anyone I feel negative about or whom I know nothing about. I am friends with one woman I've never met or blogged with- her name is Ivy Bean and she is the oldest facebook member- 103. I heard about her on NPR and she accepted my friend request. Other facebook buddies are great fun. My husband happens to be the funniest commentor of anyone I know. If you are up for bloggy FB friends, ask me. I think you know my real name, and it has my same blog pic.

trekkerjay said...

I have also started a facebook page... and I agree with doodlebugmom.... you share what you want to share.... and it is probably best that you don't put any "intimate details" on it... if you do start a facebook page, I would be honored to be considered a "friend".

TN Rambler said...

I joined facebook about 6 months ago at the invitation of a friend. I haven't used it that much and I really haven't shared personal information there.

I have been contacted by some "friends" from HS and college who really weren't friends 30 years ago and I didn't respond to their request. My thought was "if I haven't contacted you in 30 years, don't you think there might be a reason?"

PamBG said...

And with its rise, privacy shall go into decline, for good or ill.

I sometimes wonder if 'privacy' has been the privilege of modern urban life. There are villages around here where everyone knows everyone else's business, including more intimate details than they might have willingly put on Facebook. I know this because I'm minister to churches in those villages and I eventually hear a lot of the gossip (although obviously much latter than others since I'm not one of them).

I find it irritating to get invitations to social networking platform after social networking platform. One of them (nowhere near as good as Facebook) required my mobile phone number and then wanted me to sign up to pay £1.50 per month to get a message from the one person who asked me to join. Bah, humbug.

I understand being reticent on the internet. It's a good policy, I think. We all need to remember that we shouldn't say anything on the internet that we wouldn't say to a person in real life.

larry said...

I only recently joined because of there was a UMC Young Clergy group on FB; that group does not seem to be terribly active. If it were, I might have a better opinion of FB.

I log on about once a day to see what others are up to, but I have never posted anything at all for myself because I don't want others knowing my business, no matter how banal it may be. I am basically done using it; not a good use of my time.

the reverend mommy said...

I'll be your friend on Facebook.

I share very very little -- not even my address or phone number (ESPECIALLY not my address or phone number). I have most of the pubic stuff on there that is readily available. I'm with doodlebugmom -- it's there for fun and I would not be embarrassed if anyone found it ....

I find the status in particular very useful, as it helps me keep up to date with people that I should be keeping up to date with, but don't really have time to (like my in-laws and parishioners.) For this, facebook is useful.

The Progressive Deist said...

My wife loves using facebook but I am having trouble getting on to it for the very reasons you stated.

She has found many friends from the past and seems to enjoy the experience.

I know eventually that I will need to get on it but it will probably be sometime before I get around to it.

Rick said...


I'm with you 100%. I have a myspace page for my bands, but that's it. No family or professional information posts to those sites.

doodlebugmom said...

one more thing...its the only place I know where it acceptable to throw gummy bears! :o)

Anonymous said...

I don’t want my ex-girlfriend(s) from college finding me.

LOL, me too brother! In my case, it was because I was a cad. I could not possibly apologize enough. I'm not fond of skeletons.


The Ironic Catholic said...

I'm on facebook as Ironic Cath...but I harbor many of the same reservations you have. I'm cautious about what I share, plus Ironic Cath is a pseudonym, after all (you didn't guess that?)

(You can be my FB friend too if you want.)

~c. said...

don't do it john...consider yourself in the wilderness. is that the holy spirit or the devil himself telling you to do it. i have my suspicions.

John said...

I sometimes wonder if 'privacy' has been the privilege of modern urban life.

Good question. I remember that growing up, I had a room and my brother had a room. I grew up thinking that it was the norm for everyone to have a slice of personal space. But historically speaking, this is very rare for human experience except for the very rich.