Social networks are designed around who you are and who you know. They’re for 24/7 contact with your family, classmates, friends, bosses, coworkers, ex-classmates, ex-bosses, ex-coworkers, ex-friends, ex-family, and exes, in a medium that doesn’t leave much room for humanity, filtering, subtlety, and nuance. Some people love it; I only see the irrelevance, drama, and baggage that comes with it, and being politically impossible to un-“friend” many of them.
As a teenager, I escaped from these real-life people, problems, and social statuses to the internet — the last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by them there, too.
Marco Arment, referring to “A Teenager’s View on Social Media”. Unlike Marco, I didn’t see using the internet (or in my case, pre-internet BBSs) as an escape, but a way to connect with people I had more in common with. I completely agree with his assessment of social networks, though.
The good points about the major social networks in Andrew Watts’ article are far too numerous to quote. Just go read it, and then take a look at his follow up on a grab-bag of other social media.
Though I’m far away from being a teenager, I agree with nearly everything he said about why Facebook is ubiquitous, but painful to use. I have a Facebook account only because social obligations virtually force me to have it. I check my feed about once or twice a week, at most. I rarely post anything. The exception here is that I do sometimes post family pictures, which I restrict to family members and very few select friends in my privacy settings.
No one in my family or ex-whatevers cares about anything I care about. I have virtually none of the same interests as anyone I knew in my past. I don’t want to share anything that has any meaning in my life with most of my “friends” on Facebook. I’ve ignored quite a few friend requests, and have blocked a couple of people whose feeds were unexpectedly filled with unfiltered nastiness or stupidity. I quickly found that if I have lost contact with the people in my past, it’s usually for a really good reason.
I could maintain contact with my family through other channels, including “meatspace” ones, but they apparently would rather use (and thereby pressure me to use) a shitty invasive service with constantly varying privacy rules and a proprietary interest in personal lives. (Oh, did I mention that, while I love my family, I don’t get along particularly well with most of them?)
Instead of exchanging email or phone numbers, new people I meet lately seem to prefer using Facebook. Why? Probably because:
- It’s easy and nearly ubiquitous.
- It maintains some social distance in case you turn out to be a nutter.
- It’s not that hard for you to unfriend someone you don’t have significant social ties to already (see: 2, above).
- It’s a good way to see what kind of things a new person is interested in, assuming their feed isn’t completely based on a bullshit public persona (see: 2, above).
- It consolidates contacts into a single service.
My experience with the major social services seems to correlate pretty well with this:
LinkedIn is for people you know. Facebook is for people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know — (possibly originated with João Sanches)
… except that very few of the people I know in Japan have any idea that LinkedIn even exists.
Mixi used to be the predominant social service — see Mobile Internet in Japan for some discussion about how Japanese mobile practices made using many Japanese social services cumbersome or impossible for people with non-Japanese handsets. Facebook surpassed Mixi a couple of years after I wrote that article and, surprise-surprise, part of the reason for that change was attributed to foreign-hostile design. ↩