Why I Don’t Do Facebook

Dan had a bit about Facebook up this week, and it coincides exactly with several days of holiday-induced pleading from old college friends and colleagues I love to please, get a frickin’ page up, would you, what is your problem?

I’m not exaggerating when I say it hurts to say no. Anyone who knows me will tell you that friendships to me are like priceless orchids on an untouched Micronesian archipelago, deserving of the greatest respect and nurturing. Facebook can help, no question. (And never mind the slow seeping feeling of Facebook being the party everyone’s being invited to, but you’ve got to babysit your Aunt Fran’s budgie.)

I’ve been trying to put them off gently with the statement that there are people out there I’d rather not hear from on a social-networking site, my students among them, but here’s the rebuttal: that you can set your page to private, that people can only “request” for you to be “friended” (and as an English teacher I love that mangling of a noun, let me tell you).

To me, though, this feels a bit like saying that it really doesn’t matter if the axe murderer has left a note in your mailbox; he didn’t go in your house, did he?

I exaggerate. But it doesn’t matter. Because the real reason I don’t do Facebook is this: I am a storyteller.

Storytellers know that the universe is made of stories, not atoms (Muriel Rukeyser); we see the big themes, the metaphors, the threads of gold; and if all goes well, if we are teachers, we can open up a glimpse of those things for our students.

But storytellers also struggle with being scrupulously honest. The pedestrian truth bores us. The daily routines, the struggles, the dirt and grime and mistakes– it’s easy to try and gloss over those in our stories, or to polish them up, spin ourselves, cast them and ourselves in a different light. Brass does look an awful lot like gold.

Facebook encourages this kind of storytelling, the kind that often crosses over into the territory of just plain lying. Indeed, it thrives on it. Sociologists call it “ego-casting” (don’t just take my word for it). And so, while I know that my friends– and maybe even most people– are most likely of sufficient internal strength to handle such a technological tool, I suspect I am not. I even had to be coerced into blogging.

So sorry, guys. It’s the storyteller’s curse.

I write about this fairly personal take on Facebook primarily because I think it encapsulates well my case of the heebie jeebies about technology in the classroom. I have to wonder, again, about the blind acceptance/encouragement of the use of social media with our kids– especially as our students are, de facto, only beginning to explore who they are.

Seems to me we should be ensuring that they spend their energy on deciding whether they believe in fate, or God, or socialism– whether they work better with their hands or their mathematics– defining their egos for themselves— before allowing things like Facebook to do it for them.

After all, aren’t our kids the most vulnerable storytellers of all?

22 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Do Facebook

  1. ‘use of social media with our kids…only beginning to explore who they are.’

    Can things like Facebook or a blog help this exploration?

    It’s another tool for them to use to ascend the treacherous path.

    If you offered me a map to get to a destination, I’d take it.

    If you offered me a map, a compass, hiking boots, flashlight, etc…I’d take them all.

    The more tools the better.

    Now…I just have to know how to use them all, correctly, and to bring the metaphor home –

    ethically.
    responsibly.

    But I’ll never learn by not trying.

  2. Ken– unlike a flashlight, a compass, or hiking boots, Facebook (and other Web 2.0 media) require a molding, modeling, and presentation of the very person you are. And while I agree with you up to a certain point, I also think careless tool-based metaphors have contributed to the vast absence of a critical approach to Web 2.0– one that is desperately needed to be taught to our students, and hardly ever is.

  3. Over here at my small slice of educational heaven, we are working diligently and carefully to teach students and teachers about ‘digital footprints’ and ethical use. It is not an over-night process (I think we all know that).

    And for what it’s worth, I despise metaphors. I’ve just been out of the LA classroom now for almost three years that I really, just really wanted to use the word ‘metaphor’.

    I won’t let it happen again!

  4. Do you think that this is why some people are more into the Bible than others?

    “Facebook (Bible) encourages this kind of storytelling, the kind that often crosses over into the territory of just plain lying.”

    Pedestrian truth may be boring, but that’s a matter of perspective isn’t it. I happen to really love the day-to-day slog. That’s living. Finding out about my friend Adam’s broken nose in all it’s gorey details the other day on Facebook makes me appreciate him even more, not less, and the community response of widespread friends was really heartening.

    Perhaps I am missing your point though, but it seems like you’re putting yourself into a false dichotomy here…

  5. Thanks for saying that, Dina (and Dan Callahan as well). I like blogging (though haven’t really gotten into Twitter) but social networking isn’t for me. I think it’s the same reason I have no interest in reunions. I stay in touch with the people I want and they stay in touch with me. It’s not a tool–except for maybe self-promotion. And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against it. It’s just not for me. I’m too busy at work and my feed reader/blog keep me busy enough online. At home I just want to enjoy my family. Who has the time for this stuff?

    Cheers.

  6. Your reluctance to interact with facebook is leading to your misunderstanding of how it is being used to tell stories. Most of the people (adults) I interact with on facebook are not spending the time making themselves look different or building themselves up. Actually the students (kids) I follow don’t either. They use the medium to tell the story of who they think they are and of what is important to them at the present time. They share it in what they say, the pictures they post, the video they upload, and the activities they engage in. This may not how you will choose to tell your story, but it is how they are. Refusing to dabble in it is like a novelist refusing to read the newspaper because that medium is beneath them.

  7. I”m with Henry on this.

    The status update is a literary form.

    Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.

    From an article in the NY Times
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/magazine/07awareness-t.html

    I would be very careful to category facebook as something so narrow. I totally respect anyone’s decision not to use any service/site/tool but what we’ve learned about the web over time is that it is highly organic and more importantly is used for things never intended by developers. That is not to say you aren’t right on some level but to try and label and categorize many of these new communication tools is a bit naive.

  8. @Ken: You make me laugh out loud more than anyone I read. “I despise metaphors.” Ha! And I’m pleased as punch that you’re talking to kids about the repercussions of digital social media. We’re not.

    @Dan: My mom’s a Myers-Briggs freak. I test out as INFP, so a dash of natural introversion does a lot of make sense in analyzing my reaction.

    @Teacherninja: I sympathize, although I wouldn’t say Facebook *isn’t* a tool. It surely is. I just balk at how uncritically it is accepted and used overall.

    @Hank: I take exception to your simile, mainly because it implies a fairly snooty aesthetic judgement of Facebook that I am not making (hope that helps, Dean). I don’t think adults who use it are slumming it intellectually, nor that my students are (although I imagine that might be an opinion that you come up against in your work, sadly.) When I say “storytelling,” I am not referring to the art form; but rather the act of self, or life, *definition*, in all its varied beauty. My criticism of Facebook lies elsewhere in that definition of reality– or narrowing thereof, I would argue. I’d encourage you to take the time to read the article I linked, if you haven’t already. It’s just fascinating. And for clarity’s sake, I have tried Facebook before, so my opinion of it at least springs from experience.

    P.S. @Dean: Have to say that I’m right on board with your hope/observation, along with Clay Shirky, that human ingenuity has the power to transform whatever it wants into something powerfully positive. You need to understand that I would be making these same criticisms about the printing press. 🙂 See this amazing book: The Spell of the Sensuous.

    @Joe: You haven’t read the Bible recently, have you. Try Psalms. Not a heck of a lot of ego-casting in there. 😉 My statement on pedestrian truth was meant to be self-critical, not serious. I wish it were different. I do understand (and think I stated pretty clearly) the aspect of community you describe via Facebook, and it pains me to have to give that up. But Facebook is just too dangerous for spin doctors in recovery like me, and I quiver at the idea that we’re just creating more of that by not giving our kids the critical approaches to harness Facebook and Web 2.0 for themselves– versus Web 2.0 harnessing *them*.

  9. I knew there was a reason I liked you, Dina.

    I think my college friends have given up on me joining (three years of refusing while we were together was enough). Now it’s the generation older than me (professors, mothers of friends, cousins) who keep telling me I should join. My students tell me I should join Bebo. The diversity of the networks makes it easier to say no. It doesn’t hurt to refuse anymore.

    Dan, I’m just reading your entry and think my reasons align more with what you expressed. If friends want to keep in touch with me, they can. But when a friendship fades to memory, I’d rather not put it on lifesupport.

    I’m not sure where I fall with regard to teaching students how to manage their digital footprints. I like the idea, still not sure where it fits in our culture never mind my classroom.

  10. Dina, regarding this comment:

    “I sympathize, although I wouldn’t say Facebook *isn’t* a tool. It surely is. I just balk at how uncritically it is accepted and used overall.”

    I’ve been wrestling with this for the last week. Is this any different than elementary students drawing in their free time? The vast majority of these artistic pieces are terrible, yet we rarely discourage the practice. I understand that most of these drawings are not open to the world, but it’s still kids being curious and trying to be creative.

  11. @ Mr Teach: I wrestle with this too. Again, it’s not that I think Facebook is inherently bad, or inferior to traditional reading and writing in self-expression. I just continue to be very wary indeed– and always– of jumping onto the Web 2.0 educational bandwagon with nary a thought for its repercussions: ethically, viscerally, socially, mentally, the whole nine yards. There is always a trade-off. (There was a tradeoff with learning to put words down on paper in the first place!)And in my view, very few people are talking enough about the tradeoffs.

    @Sarah: did you get your cookies? Do look at the great article Dean put up; it talks exactly about weak versus strong social ties.

  12. From my friend on Facebook about Ol’ One-arm:

    “I bet the easiest way to contact him would be through Facebook. He does public speaking nowadays. Good luck!”

    Awesome. By the way, check this out:

    http://www.deepsurvival.com/

    Let me know if you want to borrow it. I have it. It’s not on Facebook though. Good old fashioned printing press. I think that was pretty radical back in the day though…

  13. I went back and reread the Times article. Dean’s pull-quote was familar, so I think I skimmed it before. It continues to leave me feeling a bit conflicted about not joining in on the Facebook fun. In the networking hype, I wonder if/when I should harness the power of weak ties.

    I moved every few years growing up. First year of college (before FB) my friends teased that I knew everyone. I don’t think of myself as a super-networker, but expect my Dunbar number would scare me if I actually went through and friended those friends from elementary school on.

    I joined Twitter right before Christmas break. Thanks to the blog network, I started having conversations immediately with the same people I’ve never met but feel like I know. (Yay observing?) Currently there’s only one person in my network who I’ve met in real life. Oh dear. That changed in the midst of me writing that sentence. One of my college friends just joined in. This feels rather meta. I like Twitter. And Flicker. And, of course, blogs. So maybe my FB aversion is my own fear of addiction to those weak ties.

    Thanks for the chance to reflect on this more in the anonymous/public forum here. I’ve been working on a post for my blog for a few months that skirts around these issues. Maybe this will push me to actually get it up soon.

    I did get the cookies, THANK YOU. Our pipes were frozen last week, so I haven’t baked a batch to send you yet. Finals this week, but hopefully I’ll get some in the mail soon 🙂

  14. Sarah– yes, that’s it exactly– an addiction to weak ties. I think that it’s this that strikes me as potentially terrifying, as dangerously disingenuous. Not in any conscious way, perhaps, but in the sense that any activity that requires so much massaging of one’s import, one’s image, may lead permanently away from the authenticity of just, well, *being*.

    I guess all I can say is that this bit in the article here literally sent shivers down my spine.

    “…Yet Ahan knows that she cannot simply walk away from her online life, because the people she knows online won’t stop talking about her, or posting unflattering photos. She needs to stay on Facebook just to monitor what’s being said about her. This is a common complaint I heard, particularly from people in their 20s who were in college when Facebook appeared and have never lived as adults without online awareness. For them, participation isn’t optional. If you don’t dive in, other people will define who you are. So you constantly stream your pictures, your thoughts, your relationship status and what you’re doing — right now! — if only to ensure the virtual version of you is accurate, or at least the one you want to present to the world.”

    Frankly– and I’m not exaggerating– to me this sounds like hell.

  15. This would be why I use a created identity online. It allows me to present myself as I choose to whom I choose. I haven’t – yet, I suppose? – had a problem with others yammering about me. Posting rumors/gossip about someone is petty. Posting rumors/gossip about a persona you don’t know is just silly.

  16. I’m in the demographic of that quote. I know I’m tagged in photos, and think some people have friended me somehow, but that part of my online persona is not something I’m monitoring. There are enough other people there with my name to confuse people anyway.

    I’m sure if Facebook had come out when I was in 7th grade I would have jumped on it. At that point I would have connected to everyone in my elementary schools and my middle school. I would later be the kid who friended every person I had a class with in high school and every cabinmate at camp.

    I’m not sure when I would prune my friend list. It’s been hard for me to delete people’s inactive accounts from AIM. (I still have my middle school screen name.) But I also know that I don’t want to remember who knows what about me, which friends have access to what information. I’d rather not pick-and-choose my censoring, so it’s easier to just stay away.

    When I’m procrastinating I read the away messages for friends who I talk to twice a year and so I feel like I know what’s going on in their lives. In our annual e-mail exchange, I was excited to hear the friend I chatted with daily for half of high school is now engaged. Only on reflection did I realize he’d never actually told me he was dating his girlfriend of four years. I’m afraid of not realizing how tissue-thin my real relationships are. (I don’t have the same fear with the network I meet through the online persona. It’s ethereal anyway.) As you say, I want to experience my life, not just stream it.

  17. Different Sarah here.

    I have a feeling I’m going to spend some time thinking about what you’ve said “After all, aren’t our kids the most vulnerable storytellers of all?”

    I had and hadn’t thought about it. I do worry about kids. A teen’s sense of self has an ephemeral quality doesn’t it? (There’s a word I didn’t know I’d get to use today.) “I can tell you who I am right now, as truthfully as I know how, and yet I’ll be someone else tomorrow.” For current adults, thos past selves are captured only in photos and journals.

    But maybe the massive amount of information residing on one server or another means that their past selves will be just as lost?

    Thanks for provoking my thought processes. For what it’s worth, I’m a social Facebooker.
    Sarah

  18. I let my students create a Bebo account for me on the last day of school. The barrier is broken enough that I’m getting ready to put up a Facebook account. Hold me accountable for not getting addicted?

  19. Done, Sarah. Try my oven timer trick (see “Iphooey” post comments). Stupid, Pavlovian, and effective. 🙂

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