Call me crazy, but I am not on Facebook. That’s strange for somebody my age and stranger still for somebody who belongs to a group of writers here at UVenus who are masters at using social media.
It’s not that I am afraid of change or technology. I acknowledge and understand the power of networks and realize that people can use them strategically. I don’t shun all social media and have no objection to Twitter or LinkedIn for instance (although Twitter can have some of the qualities that I discuss below to a lesser degree) . And it’s not that I don’t see the usefulness of FB. I do. My family in Pakistan, my extended family spread across the globe, are all connected to each other through FB. For immigrants, FB is great for keeping in touch and staying connected.
I also realize FB’s professional benefits. Networking. Getting connected to people who are friends of my friends (I’m using the term loosely). Getting connected to other academics, sharing news stories, getting to know people who have similar interests, similar career trajectories, perhaps somebody I could do research with or co-author something with. Who knows? The possibilities are endless!
Still. Here I am. Boycotting FB. Every now and then I am tempted to bring myself into the present era and use FB. And no sooner does the thought cross my mind, I find myself cringing and I feel a shudder run through my body. Why? You ask? Well, I am afraid of FB. I am afraid that if I were on it, my life would suddenly have a lot more drama than I need or can handle right now. People who I tried my best to avoid at weddings, funerals, in school—people who are nothing more than a vague memory—would suddenly try to “friend” me (when did that become a verb anyway?). I don’t have the patience for the drama that would ensue if I refused to “friend” that distant cousin or that unbearable Aunty.
FB seems to have brought everyone together under the guise of one big happy “friendly” family: why would I want to shatter that illusion by not “friending” people? People who couldn’t have cared less about each other in high school and maybe even tormented each other, now devour every single update and picture posted by their “friends”: “Ate the best strawberries ever today!!!”, “Vacationing in Hawaii and Italy and Switzerland”, “Going into labor”, “Awesome party this weekend”, “Have a headache” (I wonder why?!) and so on. I have friends whose “friends” lists exceed 1,000 people! How many hours a day do they spend in front of this beast?
I am afraid. I am afraid that whatever free time I do have right now will be spent in front of the computer screen poring over pictures of people I don’t really care about instead of spending time with my husband and kids – who I do care about very much! I am afraid that FB will suck me into a narcissistic cyber-reality where cliques are rejuvenated, consumerism (through the display of certain lifestyles, products, clothing) reaches new heights, the partying never stops, appearance becomes extremely important (see for instance, FB apps to lighten your skin in pictures or tips to make yourself appear thinner in your profile picture- skip the High School reunion y’all: FB makes you look like you already have it all) and let’s not forget, everyone else seems to be living a far more exciting life than you.
Above all, and perhaps as a sociologist, I object to FB because it encourages us to think of ourselves as products. It is the McDonaldization and commodification of ourselves and our relationships that I’m most resistant to. At least three of the four characteristics of McDonaldization can be applied to FB.
Efficiency We put up pictures of ourselves or status updates and everyone can see them – we don’t have to send individual emails anymore (what a drag that is).
Calculability We measure ourselves in numbers: number of friends, number of likes, number of comments.
Control Facebook seems to give us the illusion of control as we manage the content of our pages. But given the concerns over security breaches and just how much information is leaked about us, we have less and less control over how information about us is used. We also have less control over our lives as we become addicted to the technology – the constant feedback, instant validation, a comment, a message.
At what point are we still the ones in control?
*As far as I know this term doesn’t actually exist. I simply put together the Latin words for face and book to coin Visiolibriphobia. You could use Greek instead to come up with Prosopobibliophobia.
Afshan Jafar is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.