Facebook Versus Blogging–a Facebook Expatriot Explains

After a long damn time on Facebook, and having accumulated some 3100 Facebook friends (and some real friends, there), I closed the account on August 2. My primary reason had to do with family issues–and if not for that issue I’d still be on it–but I was also concerned about time-suck. Facebook had a way of keeping me there–and keeping me coming back after leaving there in the course of the day. I often lost track of time entirely.

Why? How’d that happen?

Facebook is responsive, especially after you’ve accumulated a good many facebook friends. I have disdained instant messages as far too distracting (they also get one involved in conversations that, after all, are often not terribly interesting) –but facebook can provide the instant message frisson without the downside of instant messages; one can get responses to posts and comments quite quickly. This responsiveness pushes the “enjoy getting attention” button in the human brain; that button gets pressed, eventually, even if it takes awhile to get a response. The brain says, I like the sensation. Stay there. Return there.

Compare it to meeting people in person. The downside of getting acknowledgement from people in person is that you feel a bit more social pressure to be entertaining, to be cordial, hospitable, and to linger. That’s a small price to pay for what is, actually, a healthier interaction than the online sort. But it’s a price we may prefer not to pay anyway. We’re more comfortable with Facebook because it’s relatively low-pressure, socially speaking. (Yes, Some people, who identify with it obsessively, eg socially vulnerable teenagers, have been known to contemplate suicide because of negative Facebook interaction, but most people aren’t identified with it to that point.) We socialize without much downside. We can jump off a thread, or off fb entirely, without anyone thinking we’ve rudely turned our backs. We can “hide” people from our newsfeed; we can “unfriend” more easily than we can with people we see in person.

But I don’t miss that part. What I miss is the responsiveness of Facebook. When I posted to more than 3000 people, at least some of them were online, some of those saw my post, and some of those were inclined to respond. Especially as I loved to create posts that prompted response. I tried to be insightful, to offer something useful, or at least intriguing, instead of “I just blew my nose”, and it paid off. It wasn’t merely that they responded–it’s that they responded with their perspectives, and with intelligence. They sometimes corrected me–which I like, if it’s done civilly; they elaborated on what I’d said; they disagreed in interesting ways; they helped build on the idea, the question, the humor. As this was something accessible to me at any time of the day and late into the night, one felt less alone. Facebook conviviality is something of an illusion, but it’s appealing. And there were many good contacts, good information sources, that came through Facebook.

Of course, I’d often link to an article I found interesting, and it was also often the case that people would respond to it, based on the article’s headline and the quick posting remark by me, without having read the article. That was frustrating, and it lays bare one of Facebook’s many flaws–the flaw that one finds even more in chatrooms, in instant messaging, on Twitter (so I infer–I’ve never been there), in most emails, the flaw that’s built into the internet…superficiality. Haste. A reinforcement of attention-deficit–even a creation of attention deficit where it hadn’t existed before. People on the internet are often (not always) like surfers talking as they’re catching waves. They can only shout a few words as they pass.

Blogs, now, are in decline, supposedly. But they’re still around and they do offer a chance to post at more length, which means posting with more thoughtfulness. Of course, since they’re on the internet, the more thoughtful the blog, the less likely it’ll be read by a lot of people. (I wonder how many readers have read this far in this piece.)

The blog counter for the John Shirley Blog shows a lot of visits, and even more “hits” to this site. Quite a lot of both; many thousands. But comments are few. It’s not as easy or as intuitive to comment here as on Facebook. Facebook in a way is one big comment form, and it’s a multidimensional, hypertextual one. A blog *tends* to be fairly one sided. People naturally find that less appealing.

The downside of my focusing on this blog, after Facebook, is a feeling that here I’m talking to myself; that I’m shouting into the void. But I know you’re out there. The blog counter says so.

On Facebook, I’d know you were out there more directly.

Here, it’s mostly just me and the blog counter. It has nothing to say to me, but statistics. It’s not such good company.

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