All of us know the feeling: You wake up in the morning and the furnace is busted and you have to hover around the woodstove wearing a thick wool sweater. Or the days when the car won’t start or the power is off and suddenly we’re living in ancient times again when we’re left to rely on our own devices of our modern devices like kitchen appliances and computers.
The recent crisis over the disclosure that Cambridge Analytica used data obtained from Facebook on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has a lot of people thinking about quitting the social network. But quitting Facebook means a whole lot more than removing an app from your phone. Quitting Facebook means living in ancient times again when we’re left to our own devices.
According to the American Sociological Review, social scientists have been canvassing America for years, asking people how many close friends they have; how many people they could really count on in a crisis. In his new book, Lost Connections, the journalist Johann Hari reports, “When they started doing the study several decades ago, the average number of close friends an American had was three. By two thousand four, the most common answer was none.”
So of course we turn to the internet which kind of mimics social interaction. We find out what people are doing, hear where they’re travelling, get updated on their health, see their snapshots, listen to their political opinions. No, we don’t hear them laugh at our jokes or see them nodding in agreement with our ideas but, way better…we get likes! And smiling emojis! Some of you may remember that old song, It’s Almost Like Being in Love. Well, Facebook is almost like having a life: like having relationships and companionship and connection to other human beings.
So for all those people who are angry as hell and thinking about deactivating their Facebook accounts, what will it actually mean? Well, for one thing it’ll mean a lot of work. Instead of posting to Facebook to tell people what’s on your mind, you’ll have to start writing a lot of emails, and start CC’ing a whole lot of people in your address book. And you better start reminding all those people to do the same, because if they don’t, you’ll miss out on their updates.
And remember how nice it used to be to receive Get Well cards when you were sick? Facebook not only made it really simple to tell people about your illness, especially when you weren’t feeling up to making a lot of telephone calls, but created a simple platform for people to shoot you some good vibes when you needed them most. How many of those folks are going to send you a three dollar Hallmark card instead?
Another thing Facebook does is store all your old photographs. In the old days a lot of people kept those clunky loose leaf binders with sticky paper and plastic over leavess to save their snapshots. Now, all your vacations, your weddings, birthdays, Halloween parties, and memories of goofy drunken evenings with friends are stored in your Facebook photo album. Because there’s no quick and easy way to download or export them, deleting Facebook can be the equivalent of a house fire.
When I thought about my own dependence on Facebook, which I frankly considered limited, I realized how hooked I really was. For example, a lot of people get in touch with me via Facebook Messenger. They’ve known my email address and telephone number for years, but they don’t use them. Go figure. Then there are the groups I’m in.
Yeah, it’s nice to know there’s a place to unload an old couch but the groups that really count are the ones that tell me if there’s an important issue coming up at a Selectmen’s meeting, or how many other people are waiting for their electric power to be turned back on.
And, I’d really miss being able to check people out. Whenever I hear a name I don’t know or meet someone new I almost always search for them on Facebook to see if they belong to any weird organizations and who we might know in common. And I’m totally aware that people do the same to me. Have you ever met someone who had no presence whatsoever on Facebook? It’s like they’re a ghost.
So while I’m awfully angry at Mark Zuckerberg and company, I’m kind of mixed about deleting Facebook. It would be like deleting my life.
I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.