on being the weirdo who's not on Facebook

by Heather Young

I never joined Facebook. Not when it was the hot new thing all my fellow college students were signing up for, not when seemingly everyone I knew gave in and signed up all at once, not when I became a freelancer and everyone told me it was a necessary tool for networking and drumming up business.

I know it makes me kind of... eccentric. I'd like to think it's in a cool freethinking bad-ass rebel kind of way:

Lisa Simpson, role model for life.

Lisa Simpson, role model for life.

 

But I know, to a lot of people, it just makes me a weird loner freakazoid.

I am not, for the record, a weird loner freakazoid. A weird disco nerd? Sure. A charmingly offbeat obsessive bike geek? Again, yes. But really, not a loner. I have friends! We talk regularly! See each other in person! And do other ordinary things that friends have done since time immemorial without difficulty, long before social media was a thing.

There's a simple internet maxim that explains the main thrust of my objection to Facebook:

 

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

 

Ain't nothing for free in this world. These tech companies don't spend billions developing and maintaining their websites, brands, infrastructure, etc. because of a cuddly, altruistic love for uniting humankind. They do it so they can show you advertising for you crap you don't need, and so they can sell highly personal targeted profiles of you to other corporations so they too can join in the fun and sell you even more crap you don't need. I'm an American consumer; believe me, I already have enough crap I don't need. I don't really feel the need to make it easier for corporations to persuade me through the means of impossible aspirational images of slickly packaged glamour and artificial happiness that my already unusually fortunate and happy little life is insufficient, that I'm doomed to be uncool or ugly or miserable or unloveable unless I rush out and buy Product X.

I'm all too happy to pay for worthy products. I pay for a bookmarking service, an RSS manager. I pay for apps in the App Store. I decide I need a thing, I research my options for the thing, I choose a thing, I pay for a thing, I get a thing. It's a nice system!

The cost of allowing the alluring falsehoods of targeted advertising into my life isn't worth it to me personally. My choose-a-thing, buy-a-thing system, imperfect though it might be, works beautifully without the help of advertisers. But not everyone is a research-loving dweeb like me. Some people — mostly advertisers, as far as I can tell — like to assert that advertising is not only not annoying, but useful. And plenty of people think that Facebook provides a valuable service, and that the cost of allowing Facebook to mine their personal data is a reasonable one. They look past the humblebragging, tedious small talk, petty drama, and nauseatingly ignorant political opinions that Facebook friends are famous for, and find real value.

I don't know, though. Whatever value Facebook supposedly provides, I kind of doubt it trumps the sadness social networking can inspire:

 

By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.
— The Anti-Social Network: Is Facebook Making Us Sad?

 

Questionable value aside, the idea of allowing a for-profit entity to monetize your personal relationships for their own financial gain is just fundamentally bizarre to me. Especially when the for-profit entity is as relentlessly creepy as Facebook has proven itself to be.

It's not that Facebook has made a few tiny accidental errors that can be construed as creepy by ungenerous, nitpicky critics. Creepiness is at the heart of Facebook's business strategy, a strategy whose success is dependent upon their users being too lazy and ill-informed to care about the endless litany of creepy things it does. Here's a random selection of stories about Facebook being creepy:

Facebook apologizes for toying with your emotions

Facebook is keeping track of what you're buying at the drugstore

Facebook is trying to get its hands on every photo you take on your phone

Facebook has decided the age of privacy is over

the "creeper potential" of Facebook's graph search

"Every single thing you put on Facebook can be used by the company in advertising"

Employers exploiting Facebook's privacy loopholes to profile potential employees

The dangerous ramifications of the detailed profile Facebook creates about you

Facebook tracks you across the web

 

This is just a random selection of examples. Anyone could find dozens more without breaking a sweat.

So Facebook is contemptuous of the notion of privacy. What's the big deal? Who cares about privacy anymore? If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?

I care. I care a lot. MeFite saulgoodman sums it up better than I ever could:

 

Privacy is not just or even primarily about hiding bad things, it’s about having clean social and cultural divisions between public performance and private mental and functional space. We use private space not just to hide things we don’t want people to know for ethical reasons, but to experiment with and develop complex ideas and to reflect on and develop aspects of our interior lives that are not merely public performance. We depend at a fundamental psychological level on being able to keep those boundaries intact, and the operation of businesses also depend on privacy. It is impossible for human beings to develop personal character or integrity in the traditional sense without privacy.

To applaud the destruction of the concept of privacy is to applaud the annihilation of individuality and freedom in its entirety. People need private space to be able to work without interference or judgment for so many different reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with “hiding” things from others. Privacy is a lot more complicated and important than those who view it as being all about “having things to hide” seem willing to understand or acknowledge.

 

Facebook is lovely and useful for millions of people, I am sure, but for me I can't help but see it as a tedious, envy-inspiring, sad-making timesuck where the purest contempt for the very notion of privacy is making a bunch of smug, arrogant bros even more obscenely rich than they already are. Call me a weirdo, but it's a pleasure to opt out.