I Can’t Quit You, Facebook!

brokeback mountain (72)
While I’d like to think that I sound like Otis Rush when I agonize over quitting Facebook, truth is, I probably sound a lot more like Jack Twist.

I find Facebook’s well-documented privacy shenanigans completely abhorrent, and, like Nancy Baym, I admire friends and acquaintances who have up and left. I’ve been trying to better understand my own rather visceral reactions to all of this and why I’m so hesitant to quit. Many who have left are fine with Twitter being their primary mode of online social connection. I’m not, and here’s why.

On Facebook, I’m connected to people I grew up with, went to Hebrew school or college with, to family members and to friends I’ve made in adulthood. They’re teachers, lawyers, journalists, professors, writers, nurses, doctors, engineers, social workers, artists, musicians, coaches, students, business folk, congressional aides, soldiers, and retirees. They’re Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, secular humanist, and there’s a few who’ve dabbled in Santaria. Many, but not all, are to the left of center, and most are to the right of me. These are folks from every step of my life, and I feel a lot of warmth in that space. When I post anecdotes about or photos of my kids, people comment or like or share stories of their own. When I post interesting things I’ve read or watched or listened to, people thank me, or pass along what I’ve shared. It’s a validating space, not least of all because of the bonds of affection I share with these folks. At one point or another they’ve all been non-digital “friends” of mine; we all occupy a space in each others’ memories. I don’t really have the time — or even, in many cases, the inclination — to put in the effort to stay in close touch with every one of them. But each I feel warmth towards, and think they probably feel it towards me too; ultimately, it’s nice to share an interest in each others lives. While it’s possible I’d be able to recreate this without Facebook, I think it’s doubtful. It wouldn’t be a tragedy to lose, but I’d miss it.

On Twitter, I’m connected to people I know mostly through work; either through CUNY or edtech/Wordpress or scholarly connections. Though I tweet personal things quite often, this is primarily a professional network. With a few notable exceptions, the people who talk to me on Twitter (those who @ me) are people I’ve known outside of the digital realm. I’ve had no shortage of folks whom I’ve spoken to on Twitter who’ve never acknowledged my presence, and while I don’t take it personally, I do find it kind of rude in an abstract way. When someone eng@ges me, I try my best to respond.

My Twitter network, though larger, has nowhere near the ethnic, religious, or class diversity of my Facebook network. When I put out a question, generally people who are my friends outside of Twitter are the ones who respond. I know that’s not the experience of many of my Tweeps, but it’s been mine. The bonds of affection that characterize my Facebook network are rarely present for me on Twitter; when they do appear in a shared story or a knowing quip, they’re especially noteworthy. My Twitter network does inspire and challenge and inform me more than my Facebook network. But at the same time, if I disagree with something or try to engage someone on an idea, I am almost never satisfied by the exchange.

Someone (whom I’ve met and like very much) retweeted the other day something along the lines of “Facebook is for who you went to high school with; Twitter is for who you WISH you went to high school with.” Gotta say, this is one of the more obnoxious things I’ve read. I don’t like all the people I went to high school with; but I don’t hate the fact that I went to high school with them. I am what I am because of what was. I feel like there’s a lot of this kind of snobbiness and self-righteousness and posturing in my Twitter network (says a poster who’s prone to snobby self-righteousness). I know I’m free to construct the network I want to have, but since Twitter is primarily a professional space, I feel I mostly have to construct the network I need to have. There are certain people I follow because they say smart things, even if I don’t think I’d really like hanging out with them. That calculus isn’t really present for me on Facebook, which filters I think into my overall affection for the network. Twitter can be a warm place, but it’s not always: there are people in my network who’ve displayed serious anxiety about a decision or the arc of their lives, and who’ve been met mostly with silence. On Facebook when this happens, I tend to see an outpouring of support. Twitter is great, but it’s a wholly different experience from the one I have on Facebook, and couldn’t really fill the gap that would be created if I deleted my account.

I keep telling myself that the next Facebook privacy fuck up will send me packing. In reality, I just don’t know. Facebook, you suck. I’m gonna lock my info down, but I don’t know if I can quit you.