The point of this article is to share my thoughts on Facebook for each of the three times I’ve been using it. You read that right. I initially joined when it went public in late 2006, then dropped off, rejoined in 2008, dropped off again in 2010 and joined back in 2012. I may have some of those years off a bit, but essentially, I’ve taken some breaks from it, and each time I came back, the experience was interestingly different.
Warning: this post is mostly rambling and blabbering.
When Facebook first popped up, I heard about it while watching something like Diggnation, the Screen Savers, TWiT, or one of the other tech podcasts of that era. The Facebook UI was very sparse (compared with today’s UI), and sported only a news feed panel and a few widgets to the side and along the horizontal banner menu. The timeline feature came soon after. There were no games, chat, very few ads, if any, and the ‘settings’ collection was barely a handful.
Nobody I worked with, nor any family or friends were using it. When I’d mention it in discussion, most of the responses were skeptical that it would stick around very long. I was also new to Twitter at the time and trying to figure out which of the two platforms best suited my tastes.
Most of the interaction was textual. People typed in thoughts, questions, statements, etc. and there was a lot of direct reaction from others. The “Public” aspect seemed most prominent, with private “friends” coming later. Or so it seemed to me. After a few months, I deleted my account and remained with Twitter for the time-being.
The deletion process was quick. I clicked “delete my account” and it was gone.
Sometime in 2008, Facebook added a ton of new features, and began marketing. Word of it sprang up on various TV talk shows, and within a few weeks everyone I knew was joining it. Family members started asking if I’d heard of it. Coworkers were talking about it (most of the same ones that previously scoffed at it). I joined and stuck with it for several years.
When I went back this time, it had no recollection of my previous account, so I literally started over.
This was a period when Facebook was shifting around features a lot, and playing havoc with privacy settings, feed and timeline options, photos, games and notifications, etc. It was sometimes aggravating, but sometimes nice as well.
The demographic that seemed most drawn to it in the 2009-2010 time frame were 30’s to 40’s working folks, family, schoolmates, etc. The most noticeable change I saw was that interactions shifted from textual to graphic. People began posting pictures more than text. Sharing became replaced with re-sharing and soon there was a deluge of repeat posts of the same graphics.
After a while I got bored with reading images of poetry, catchy political statements and cute kittens, so I closed my account. I went through the account deletion process, which at that time, sent an email for you to confirm, which took you back to the portal to finish the process. Along the way it warned many times that all of my content (photos, posts, notes, etc.) would be wiped for good. I click “Yes” and never looked back.
Sometime in 2014, I started hearing from people via email whom I used to see on Facebook. They were asking why I left and would I come back, and so forth. So I went back again.
This time, when I entered my email address and set a password, all of the content from my previous turn was restored. Every post, contact, group, photo, event, and note was restored. It was as if I never left. So much for the warnings.
The feature set seems baked, but still clunky (to me, anyway). The news feed sorting which used to work, now forgets the setting every few minutes. Probably by design. The chat panel was merged with the timeline on Gecko and Safari browsers, as well as the newer Microsoft Edge, but detached and weird-looking in IE.
Games are still there. Settings are still an afterthought. Groups and Pages have matured a lot. Friend lists are better defined and managed than they were as well. I still prefer Google Plus’ “circle” approach, but whatever.
Side Note: One of my quirks is that in person, I tend to be rather reserved, at least initially. After I’ve been around someone for a while (weeks, usually) I will begin to open up and run my mouth. Online, however, it’s like coming out of the gate on Kentucky Derby day. So, much of my perceptions are filtered through this subjective gauntlet of behavior.
Now, in late 2015, I’m seeing a very interesting shift in the tone of what people post on Facebook. The tone is much more driven by current events than it was in 2008-2012. At least as far as news is concerned. Back then, most of the current focus was on entertainment, tech and fashion. Sometimes politics and world events would creep in, but it never seemed to grab the steering wheel.
Today, it seems politics, religion and world events have killed the old driver, dumped the body, and taken the wheel and steered the entire platform off a cliff and onto an entirely different road. The tone is often a mix of silliness and anger. This isn’t just from my account’s perspective, but also gleaned from interactions on various Facebook Pages.
I’m getting old now and, while it may seem late, I’ve learned to appreciate originality and creativity more than rigorous repetition and mindless lecturing. Yes, I’m mindlessly lecturing right now, I know that. But still…
The feeling right now, with all of the recent negative news reports, is one of anger, resentment, frustration, abrasiveness and wagon-circling. Some of that’s been around a long time, obviously, but lately it’s taking center stage. I’m tired of sifting through it for something entertaining. Google Plus still has a lightness to it that doesn’t feel like it’s loading me down with negativity. Right now, at least. Who knows how long that will last.
As of this week, I’ve made a conscious decision to pull back from Facebook, but not close my account. Not yet anyway. I’ve still got some valuable connections there, which I don’t want to lose again. So, I’ve been keeping one eye on it, but not every few hours, as I used to. My goal is to post next to nothing, but simply click “like” on things that I enjoy or sympathize with.
Here’s why: It seems to me that Facebook, like a lot of social media, has become a cheap way out of committing to a real conversation. People will “friend” others who they won’t otherwise feel inclined to have a face-to-face conversation, even when they work in the same office. Family members, coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and so forth, quite often connect with people, but then never start a conversation. Some call it “lurking”, and others just call it a “casual connection”. Whatever.
Email is much more direct and personal in my view. Rarely does anyone send nothing but a picture, without adding some text. In most cases, it’s mostly text. Mostly conversation. I like that. I know that’s weird to prefer Email in 2015, but aside from marketing spam, an actual email from someone I know is like a text message but without the 140 character limit and only to a selected list (or me alone). It feels different than Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Google Plus.
Now, I spend more time studying for work-related projects, and trying to find ways to get back to a pre-Facebook approach to consuming my idle time. You might notice I didn’t touch on Twitter much, which is because I stepped away from it for about 5 years and only recently re-connected to it, but still very seldom.
I’ve also treated this blog in much the same way. At times, loading it down with a lot of noise (like this), and then pulling back. I’ve walked away from it twice, as well. I’ll probably keep this going until I die.