Facebook Made a Misanthrope of Me

Quicker writers than I have already scoffed at the Slate piece by Farhad Manjoo arguing that holdouts from Facebook are just indulging their own affectations and diminishing the value of the service for the rest of its users. Alan and Daniel, linked above, both dismiss Manjoo’s article out of simple disinterest, which I, alas, can’t claim. I’ll cop to being genuinely interested in the potential of Facebook to keep me in touch with friends, introduce me to strangers, and provide low-grade constant novelty, but I still killed my account recently. The main reason was that Facebook was showing me my peripheral acquaintances — high school classmates, spouses of friends — at their least appealing, and I realized that charity demanded I stop learning just how needy and insecure they could seem when they put their minds to it. As my network of quote-unquote friends grew, that much-touted “network effect” compounded the problem — Facebook is like a breeder reactor of solipsistic fatuity.

“Hey!” I hear from the back of the room. “He says ‘solipsistic fatuity’ like it’s a bad thing!” It probably sounds like my sensibilities are much more precious than they really are. I enjoy a steady drip of non sequiturs as much as the next guy, but there’s no avoiding the fact that some people are better at it than others. The fact that you went to school with someone turns out to be a lousy predictor of the satisfaction you’ll get from reading their sighing and kvetching online (but maybe that says more about my school experience than about Facebook, and of course, if you were one of my friends, I’m certainly not talking about your witty status updates).

A good blogger lives in constructive fear of two things: writing for everyone, and writing for no one. Recognizing that your boss, your kids, or even your future self will be able to read your work long after you’ve written it should impose some temperance and moderation, while the knowledge that every one of your readers could simply opt out should encourage selectivity and creativity. Facebook, however, smashes both of these healthy constraints to self-expression. The semi-captive audience of all those friends fosters the illusion that somebody cares what you had for breakfast, while the exclusivity of the network implies that your more ill-considered announcements will be charitably received. Reading the status updates of long-lost friends and acquaintances convinced me I’d like them better if they stayed lost for longer.