August 25, 2010

Facebook Purgatory

Face book Purgatory
“Totus liber faciei in tres partes divisa est: cupiditas, victoria, servitus.” Jewel Ceasar

The painting above is a study for a collage that I’m calling “Facebook Purgatory.” It is being worked on while I am in my two-week waiting period for my release from Facebook. The image is based for the most part on my readings about Facebook because I wasn’t on it frequently enough for firsthand experience. The profiles of two women to one man at the bottom of the painting, for instance, comes from my reading a number of studies that claim that women outnumber men in social networking, especially on Facebook. The prints of pumpkins deteriorating on a vine are there to indicate games such as Farmville and the intertwining relationships of “players.”

I have been clearing out e-mail subscriptions and internet groups that I don’t keep up with to free up more time to get my other work done and found some interesting results from my fall clearance adventures thus far. I found that most social networking groups and businesses have a convenient “unsubscribe” button. But sometimes they don’t work and phone calls are necessary.
Generally there is a polite response to ending the e-mail solicitations but one company actually sent me a return e-mail that I was now on their “blacklist.” They seem to be taking a departing potential customer rather seriously. Others are perhaps a tad too sentimental for the circumstances. “We will miss you,” they tell me like a departing friend - people who don’t know me nor I them

But what I found truly amazing, and somewhat disconcerting, was the trouble it took to leave Facebook. When pressing the “delete profile” button, I first got an option to delete only temporarily, keeping a profile intact so that I could come back anytime. That option did cross my mind but my curiosity about what it took to clear out completely got the better of me and I pressed “permanently delete.” After some importunate “are you really really sure?” messages I firmly sealed my commitment to drop out. I was surprised to get an e-mail from Facebook some time later to tell me that my profile was only in the “process” of being deleted and that it would take two weeks - during which time I could continue to log on and reactivate my account should I change my mind. It seemed like coercion cloaked in good manners so I started reading up on the history of Facebook, the current research on social networking and articles both pro and con on the use of Facebook as a communications tool. I did this to see just what it was I was getting out of and how it came to be that I, along with so many others, took an unthinking leap into cyberspace networking.

Generally I read up on something before I become involved but as I mentioned in my previous writing, there was social and business pressure that came to bear upon my joining chat group networks. To condense my experience here as well as the promises and expectations, I was told that Facebook would grow my business. One year after joining I can say with assurance that it did not - in fact I could say that it was actually detrimental for it took time away from productive studio work as well as more conventional modes ( and in the long run more effective methods) of keeping up with clients. And the final push to leave came this summer. When interfacing with successful artists, I found that many of them eschewed Facebook and other forms of on-line networking. One of these artists had a thriving business even in the recession and had put two children through college - all without a web presence.

Now from my “holding cell pattern” with Facebook, I can wonder about their need to put people on a two-week probationary period before allowing them to leave. Two weeks is a significant block of time. It has an interesting correlation, for instance, with the outer reaches of the time it takes for withdrawal symptoms from an addiction to subside. This could perhaps have a bearing upon people with the social networking addictions that seem to proliferate these days. Someone getting off their fix on Farmville would have to resist the dying calls to farms from pumpkins rotting on a vine - with their accruing farm cash evaporating by the minute. From what I read about Farmville, a person can only cash in points for their virtual vegetables if they are harvested promptly. Considering the fact that the program accelerates growth so that everything ripens by the hour I don’t see how it would actually be possible to win at such a game without being tethered to a PC all of one’s waking hours. But I suppose that is the point - to keep people plugged in to Facebook as much as possible.

So what is it that makes millions of people abrogate privacy and creative ownership to an on-line corporation? From a practical standpoint, Facebook doesn’t seem like a user friendly place for anyone to promote a business that involves original creative design work. If I read my fine print correctly, Facebook maintains ownership to everything posted on the site. For people who need to advertise their wares then, how does giving away a design or idea help them? And what will happen to all their data once Facebook closes?

When I started expressing my misgivings about Facebook and thought of leaving it, colleagues who were favorable to the site told me that I just “didn’t know how to use it.” That could very well be. I found the site confusing to navigate and too cluttered to make sense of. Perhaps if I had better on-line skills I could have networked more effectively, but I gradually came to understand that the time required to learn those skills might be more efficiently spent on keeping up with my regular e-mail and web sites.

Problems with Facebook had started almost immediately upon my entry. For the first few months I received Facebook messages from friends and colleagues but could not reply because I couldn’t log on to the site. It took a few months for Facebook to solve the problem. In the meantime I missed announcements and appointments. Then there were the viruses that got into people’s Facebook accounts which caused them to spew out assorted rapid fire spam and pornography to my e-mail. Praise for the networking possibilities of Facebook started to sound cloying and I began to resent having to log on in order to retrieve or respond to information that would have been more appropriately sent via regular e-mail. So what possible allure did Facebook have for people and considering the fact that I was not overly enamored of the site, why did it take so long to drop it?

Perhaps there is something that Facebook taps into with regard to psychic needs that draws people in and keeps them once they are there. After I left the site, I was listening to a program on NPR about a music performer extolling the virtues of Facebook as a way to build an audience. She had thirty thousand “friends” on Facebook. During the course of her interview she explained that these “friends” could get to know her personally through the site and have a real “connection” to her as a performer. Well, first of all, in this context, the term “friends” is something of a misnomer. One does not have a personal relationship with thirty thousand people. This “relationship” of familiarity is only going one way. A large audience becomes aware of the details of the life of someone they admire. They are fans, not friends. And I think that here is where the illusion of intimacy is so attractive. Even though we may have some real “friends” on Facebook, mostly it is an information sharing network. But the latter is not a particularly engaging phrase so Facebook uses the term “friends” to sell the site better. Most rational people understand that you cannot maintain a personal alliance on the level of “friendship” to thousands of people. Yet the term “friend” still resonates in the consciousness so that on some psychic level, a person does believe that he or she can collect and maintain an ever growing entourage of admiring friends. And the rush to do so becomes something like an attention getting information dispensing arms race.

Most of the critics of Facebook argue that it is a colossal waste of time. By steady increment s I began to edge towards that sentiment but in retrospect must admit that what is or is not a “waste of time” is relative and subjective. If some people are sharing information that is useful and valuable to their personal or professional growth then the time spent doing so is not wasted. And even if there is nothing to social networking but entertainment then that has its value as well in keeping people happy. I would argue that it becomes time wasted when Facebook becomes an unpleasant or coerced obligation that takes time away from what is really important to maintaining a productive and happy life. For myself, as soon as my presence began to edge towards the latter scenario I felt that it was best not to devote time to it.

Having made my peace with the social networking scene, I will say that there were some interesting moments on Facebook - one that actually yielded a short poetry chapbook which I will discuss later. But for the most part, making use of on-line social networking for me was like looking for a pearl in an ocean.

If you have read up to this point, you might wonder at the Latin quote at the beginning of this essay. While reading up on the history of Facebook I found that although we are apparently worlds apart, I actually do have something in common with the founder of Facebook. We both studied Latin in secondary school. Every school boy or girl begins the study of Latin by reading the works of Julius Caesar. I recall the beginning of Caesar’s description of Gaul: “Totus Gallia in tres partes divisa est...” All of Gaul is divided into three parts. The tongue-in-cheek (and I hope grammatically sound) feminized Caesar says in the beginning of this essay: “All of Facebook is divided into three parts: desire, conquest, servitude.” Or perhaps I should just summarize by saying “veni, vici, proficisci.”

No comments: