I do not have a Facebook. To most people, this is surprising, sometimes frustrating. Friends get mad at me for being difficult to contact and others resent me because they just think I’m stubborn. But it’s not that I am vehemently anti-Facebook. I just fall into the category of the 100 million Americans that don’t have a Facebook.
Currently, Facebook’s statistics page claims more than 800 million active users, about 25% of which are from the United States. The Census Bureau estimates the current population of the US to be about 307 million, which means, on average, two out of every three Americans have a Facebook. At Yale, however, I imagine the ratio to be much higher. It was more difficult to find Yalies without Facebooks than I had thought.
The story of my deactivation is unique amongst the students I interviewed, but I’m not the only proof that you can survive in the world today without Facebook.
One afternoon during my junior year of high school my mom called me into her room using that tone of voice no son ever wants to hear. “Matt, we need to talk,” she said as she pulled an unmarked, manila envelope out of her purse. She had just gotten home from her work as an elementary school teacher, where she’d apparently received the envelope in her school mailbox that day.
The envelope contained two 8.5×11 color photographs and an anonymous letter. These pages have since been destroyed, but they are permanently seared into my memory. One of the photos was taken at a party from the previous winter break when I was a sophomore. In the foreground, one of my friends is seen holding a fifth of tequila and another is holding a three foot glass bong. And blurrily, in the background, I am partially visible looking off into another direction. The other picture was taken in my kitchen, in which I appear in a semi-inappropriate gesture with a girl (she is bent over in front of me and my hands are up in the air; we are fully clothed).
The note anonymously explained the sender’s intention in the most angry tone possible. It called my mother out for being an irresponsible parent (as well as educator and public figure) for allowing her son to be associated with such illegal behavior. It called me out for being a drinker and a pot smoker, as well as a sexual deviant. It also commented on the girl in the photo, calling her actions disgraceful. In my defense, not only was I totally sober in the party picture but I was also totally a virgin in the other picture. The first picture was an incidental moment where I am seen in the vicinity of typical high school contraband and the second was an immature display of (glorious, consensual) sexual tension.
The creepiest part, and the main impetus for this article, was that these pictures had been taken from a friend’s MySpace account. I didn’t even have a MySpace, and yet these pictures were available to (apparently) anyone who wanted them. And no matter what was actually happening in the photos, the viewer had the right to draw his/her own conclusions. Photographic evidence is the most official, right?
From then on I was acutely aware of social networking’s major flaw: the difference between my cyber personality and my real one.
JUST GIVE IT A TRY
By the end of my senior year of high school, however, I caved and made a Facebook profile. I eagerly uploaded all my vacation and me-and-my-girlfriend photos. I even began tagging myself in my friend’s photos. I blocked out the memory of the manila envelope and enjoyed the experience of Facebook’s social freedom. It felt like a security blanket, an easy way to connect with all of my friends back at home after high school —especially my girlfriend of the time, who ended up going to college in California.
But within the second month of freshman year I fell victim to another stereotypical Facebook paradigm: the battle between my Facebook personality and my long-distance girlfriend. You can probably guess what happened: I get a call from my crying girlfriend who is upset about a picture on Facebook in which I appear on a couch sitting next to another girl. I desperately have to convince her that the picture means nothing and that I barely knew the girl, much less had any sort of adulterous interaction with her. Argument ensues, I blame Facebook and she blames me for being untrustworthy —you get the picture.
Once again, I was disturbed that this picture wasn’t posted by me. It was on someone else’s account. I don’t even remember if I had been tagged in it.
I’m not blaming my high school girlfriend for my absence on Facebook, nor am I citing Facebook as the actual destroyer of our relationship (we dated for 10 more months without Facebook) but after that incident, I couldn’t stand having my real life actions judged in cyber-space. Thus, in November of my freshman year, I deactivated my account.
YALIES OFF THE GRID
What I have come to learn, however, is that I’m not alone. Difficult as it was, I tracked down a few Yalies who have unplugged themselves from Facebook.
Alex Schmeling ‘15 has never had a Facebook. Like me, she is uncomfortable with photos of herself on Facebook and she’s aware that Facebook uses up a lot of time —time she would rather spend talking on the phone or writing a letter.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I love writing and receiving letters. There is just something about getting a piece of mail and seeing the other person’s handwriting,” she told me.
Ironically, she sent this via email, certainly a more convenient option than mail or phone. The best part of email, and, admittedly, Facebook, is that conversations can be had at your own pace. You don’t need to answer immediately and you don’t need to hang up.
But why do we need so many modes of communication? I can email links to my friends, I can send them pictures and I can do most of what you do on Facebook without it. It may take more effort, but it is a much more streamlined manner of communication. It comforts me that my cyber persona comes mainly from my email address, as opposed to a combination of email, Facebook and Twitter.
With or without a Facebook, the internet, and Google in particular, can be used to expose parts of me that have been posted online. This leads to the seeming ironic fault of this article: that it will be published online under my name. But there is a fundamental difference between publishing work to be read by an engaged and active reader and having someone’s thoughts be shoved in your face when you log on to Facebook. I imagine Socrates would have been the most annoying Facebook friend ever. No matter how prophetic his status updates, they still would have been obnoxious.
I have always wondered what compels Facebook users to read everyone’s status updates. In general, most of my friends with Facebook complain that the overflow of irrelevant information is the worst part about it. But if you don’t care, why read it?
Procrastination seems to be the underlying reason. Because when you are up at three in the morning writing a paper, it’s always nice to look online and see someone else’s status pop up as “FML. Fell asleep on my keyboard. At least I hit my page count. Hope my TA likes FFFFFFFFF’s.”
It seems that, when you sign on, you look for things that are new: “updates.” It is a means of escape.
Sometimes, however, it is nice to escape from Facebook itself. Emily Villano ’13 deactivated her account at the beginning of last summer for this very reason.
“I wanted to disconnect from Yale a bit this summer and getting off Facebook helped me do that,” she said.
Although she had planned on reactivating at the beginning of fall semestet, she decided against this. She said she was surprised at how easy it was to live without Facebook and how little she wanted it back. Deactivating in order to disconnect is not uncommon. The overload of info can sometimes be too much, even for a good procrastination session.
“Some people have a million status updates a day and I didn’t want to waste time reading about people I didn’t know that well,” said Perrye Proctor ‘12, who deactivated her Facebook account last June. For Proctor, enough was enough.
“I also got a lot of ads on the side, like, ‘Take this quiz: Why are you single?’” she said. And if feeling violated by Facebook’s intuitive advertising wasn’t enough to make her deactivate, the idea that anyone could search for her was also a major factor in her decision.
“Obviously, Facebook allows you to find out information about people. But I don’t like that people can do that about me,” she said.
Hannah Loeb ’12 set up a Facebook account to meet her roommates the summer before freshman year but deactivated soon after. “It was a conscious exception I made to meet my roommates so they didn’t think I was an antisocial weirdo…But when we met in real life, suddenly I didn’t need it anymore.”
Although Loeb admits that Facebook has a purpose —to meet people— she says that it cannot be a substitute for real interpersonal relationships.
“I’ve always oscillated between an ideological reason and just not having one because I don’t care,” she said, “But maybe those are the same.”
I agree with this statement. I don’t have a Facebook for the same reason that many people do have a Facebook: complacency. It’s become a part of my personality just like having one has become part of the personality of 800 million people, regardless of how often they use it.
As much as I want to know when “Occupy Occupy Occupy New Haven” will be taking place, I don’t think that I miss much without Facebook.