Dear reader, if you’re more of a list-icle person (I’m silently judging you!), skip to the bottom. Otherwise, what follows is the tale of how I came to use, love, hate, and then love again, the book of faces.
In 1994, my tech-savvy mom bought our first computer, a Gateway 2000. I was allowed 15 minutes of internet per day (because it was a long-distance phone call) and I spent that time attempting to talk to strangers in AOL chat rooms (which was definitely the opposite of what a ten-year-old should be doing online). When I was in junior high, mIRC swept through our town and the nerds and assholes manned a chatroom (i.e. pit of despair) called #thedungeon. I loyally logged on every day to witness the horribleness that arises when a group of hormonally-charged almost-people are able to communicate in a semi-anonymous fashion. In college came Friendster, then MySpace, then finally, in my graduation year, came the social network we all came to know and love and hate and love again and hate again with the fire of a thousand suns: Facebook.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with Facebook over the years. I wasn’t the earliest adopter (I didn’t go to an ivy league school), but by the time my .edu address made the cut, people were making their exodus from MySpace over to this new exclusive-ish network. I happily followed them, if only to get away from all of that “top eight” drama. Before long it seemed like everyone I knew was on Facebook. It was all sunshine and rainbows. I could secretly stalk ex-boyfriends. I could rant about my day or rally the troops for an evening on the town. I finally had a semi-up-to-date address book of everyone I had ever met (under 30). Then, slowly, it all started to break down.
I had a pretty loose “friending” policy when I first joined—basically, if you asked me to be your friend, I would be your friend. Overtime, more and more of my “friends” were people I was only tangentially connected to: people I went to high school with but couldn’t actually remember interacting with; someone I met for a second at a party; people I didn’t know at all but were connected in some way to my new creative career. What started as a fun place to stay connected to people I cared about became one of my least favorite places to be.
In 2008 I had something like 2,000 “friends”—my news feed was full of annoying rants by people I cared nothing about and I was endlessly barraged by updates from groups I had never joined. I would go through seasonal friend purges to try to slough away some of the badness, but I’m such a horribly sensitive person it was painful to “unfriend” anyone I had met in real life, no matter how disinterested I was with their day-to-day.
A lot of people were making a big deal about quitting Facebook—writing whole posts about it and how their lives were better because they severed their relationship with the “evil” service. I contemplated this heavily. I asked myself, “Why does everyone hate Facebook so much?” “How did this once wonderful place become so shitty?” “Am I just some hipster that hates things when they become truly popular (like, popular enough that all of my technology-fearing family members use it)?” Also, more and more people I knew were using it as a secondary portfolio website. Facebook started to feel icky and networky—like a bad industry party in which everyone desperately handed out business cards to anyone that would take them. People posted images of their work to Facebook and then freaked the fuck out when someone pointed them to Facebook’s policies about image copyright. People started tagging me in photos of their own work because they wanted me to see it, not because I had anything to do with the photo. Part of me just wanted to jump ship, abandon the network all together, but part of me knew that there was a way to fix it. I knew Facebook wasn’t the problem, the problem was me. I had ruined my own experience of Facebook by allowing it to become more than it is or what it should be: a place to connect with friends.
And then Russ, my soon-to-be husband, was hired by Facebook. I was so proud of him for getting such a great job fresh out of grad school, and felt so sorry for him for all the shit he would take every time people asked him where he worked. I decided that now that he was working there, I would make a serious attempt to love the service again. I decided to declare Facebook bankruptcy—I quit completely and rejoined under a different email address, turning my privacy settings all the way up so that only people I wanted to find me could find me. I started re-friending actual real-life friends one by one. I was militant about who made the cut. Before accepting or rejecting each and every new friend request I would ask myself, “Would I be happy or weirded out if this person randomly rang my doorbell?” If the answer was “happy,” we were internet friends forever.
Things started to get a lot better. I started to post more photos and more content to Facebook, knowing that only people I cared about would see it. My love affair with Twitter was in full force (and still is) but Facebook was a completely different place. I started checking in at restaurants I liked, using check-ins as a way to track my travels and recommend spots to friends. In San Francisco, many of our friends are current or former Facebook employees so it was easy to want to use the service more—they use it for event planning and organizing hangouts, and more often than not use messages in place of texting.
I now find myself defending facebook a lot when I’m traveling for conferences—not because I have a vested interest in the company (which I admittedly do because of Russ’s employment there) but because I really believe it is (or can be) a great thing. The main thing the company is guilty of is putting too much power in its users’ hands to fuck up their own experiences. Whether you love or hate facebook is up to you, not Mark Zuckerberg.
I know everyone loves lists more than anything in the world so here’s a list of tips of how to hate Facebook less:
- Only friend people you actually want to be friends with.
This sounds dumb, but is amazingly hard to adhere to. As mentioned above, I only friend people that I would be happy to see if they stopped by for an unexpected visit. If you follow this rule, there are a lot of Facebook services (like check-ins) that you will feel a lot more comfortable using.
- Set your privacy settings to a level that makes you happy.
Facebook isn’t a leather-bound diary you stuff under your mattress. It’s a public place. Privacy is the thing people complain most about on Facebook, especially since the launch of Graph Search—which makes all public content on Facebook a lot easier to find (note the emphasis on public—if you’ve marked posts or photos as only viewable by friends, these won’t show up when non-friends search for things). Truthfully, Facebook would be a very boring place if every person had his or her privacy settings all the way up. Searches that are now possible because of Graph Search (like “restaurants my friends have been to in Portland” or “friends of friends who used to live in Brooklyn and who now live in San Francisco”) wouldn’t be possible, and this new tool would be a whole lot less useful.
Yes, Facebook isn’t “free”—we pay for it by sharing personal data about ourselves—but all other “free” services (like all of Google’s products) operate similarly, they’re just better at making us feel good about how they sell our information to advertisers (I mean, how amazing were those commercials with the dad and the guy who gets married? They make me cry every single time.) I do get a kick out of the Facebook sidebar advertisements and how amazingly off they can be (rehab and egg donation in the same sidebar? Who do you think I am, Facebook?!).
After spending a lot of time with the people that help make Facebook what it is, I can say that I haven’t met a single employee that didn’t think they were making the world a better and more connected place by working there.
- Don’t mix business with pleasure.
I choose Facebook to be my friends-and-family-only social network, but some people have found it to be incredibly beneficial if used as a business network. My only advice is to use separate social networks for friends and for business. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to befriend work peers on Facebook if you choose it as your “friends only” zone, it just means that the person you present there is you. I’m a very open person and don’t think that my professional self is different from my personal self, but there are still things that people that know me in real life would care to read about that total strangers would not. I share almost everything that pops into my brain with my Twitter followers, but sometimes if I need some real friend advice about a personal matter, I’ll only ask on Facebook. It’s my opinion that Twitter is an amazing work-centric network, and Facebook is best used for personal interactions, but every person is different. I don’t advocate one over the other, I think that the two work in tandem to create a well-rounded online social experience.
- Don’t be afraid to hide people.
Hiding is one of the most wonderful things Facebook has introduced. If someone starts showing up in my newsfeed that I don’t regularly talk to or see in real life—like a friend from high school that I would love to reconnect with when I’m home for the holidays but don’t want to see frequent updates from—I will hide them. I can still check in on them when they pop into my head on a rainy day or I can message them over Thanksgiving when I’m back home, but I’m not flooded with their baby pictures on a daily basis. Hiding people (checking or unchecking “show posts in news feed” when you hover over the friendship button) will change your life. You have control over who shows up in your newsfeed.
- One word: stickers.
Now on Facebook, you can use these things called stickers, which are like elaborate emoji, and they will cause you so much delight you will never want to use traditional text messaging again. There are days when Russ and I communicate only in “Pusheen”.
- Use Groups for more private experiences.
I love groups on Facebook and frequently use them as pseudo-chatrooms that are easier to follow and less annoying than group messaging. I’m currently organizing a Ladies Scotch Tour of Scotland (yep, it will be as amazing as it sounds) and did all of my group planning / organizing / survey asking in a Facebook group.
- Treat timeline like a digital scrapbook of your life.
Some people hate timeline. I mean really really hate it. I am not one of those people. Timeline has its issues, but I love adding life events (be they actually significant—like getting married—or fairly insignificant—like finding my first gray hair), and I love seeing my photos and posts chronicled in a way that is actually digestible. I was always terrible at keeping a journal and there are giant periods of my life from which I have minimal clear memories. When timeline launched, I was in the in the posse of people that was excited to dig through their history and revisit all the asinine things they posted to the internet in their early 20s.
People are so afraid to put personal information online, but I believe that the more you share the more boring you are to stalk. Remember high school? If you had a secret, people would do anything they could short of water-boarding you to find it out. The more mysterious you and your happenings were the more people cared. As soon as I started putting it all out there, the less people poked and prodded for information. I definitely feel like the more I share, the more open the world feels around me, and I know that years from now I’ll be happy that I chronicled this crazy period of my life in some way online.