Is Facebook a faux community?

Over the Christmas break I’ve had a lot of time to think through some of the social behaviors we accept, and quietly incorporate. Sometimes these are things we once scorned, and never thought possible in our lifetime.

Things like doing a Google search while driving; posting pictures the very second we experience an event (basically experiencing an important moment in our life through a screen, first); checking the status of things that once didn’t matter to us before (“What’s the temperature in DC today?”; What does Times Square on 31st night look like on Facebook –since the TV networks do such a sloppy job of it now).

You get the picture…

My wife and I have also contracted a curious digital illness, FAS. Call it the Facebook Avoidance Syndrome. We don’t check in on a daily basis because it means inviting a lot of useless information into our lives, and worse, making what someone posts the main topic of discussion, rather than real issues near us, and around us. I must admit, these are interesting sidebars, but do we really want to be informed how deep the snow is, or the ingredients of one’s holiday cookies? Is this community?

  • Yesterday our neighbor stopped my wife and wanted to tell us they were moving. “I didn’t want to leave a note on your door to tell you this, he admitted.”
  • Friends dropped in a few days ago to check how I was going. No status updates were required in this old-fashioned practice.
  • While we’ve been more-or-less off the FB grid, the phone has been off the hook

I felt the need to post a short message on Facebook the other day to say this: Going forward in 2014, I would further reduce my Facebook activity. I said I won’t be breathlessly posting the food I consume or the anniversaries I celebrate.

What “activity?” you ask 🙂 I hardly add content to the Zuckerberg machine. I don’t subscribe to birthday apps, and the likes. But the point was that, if folks needed to reach me, or keep me informed of things, I didn’t want them to assume I knew, just because it was on Facebook.

Many hard-core Facebookers –and I know plenty, have interviewed many– can’t imagine life without it. Some have begun to feel like this is the only way to stay in touch with community. Granted, we have all used Facebook or LinkedIn to discover people from our past, analog communities. They feel as if there is no other way to trade empathy.

I beg to disagree. If all you had is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

One of my friends asked me “What this means in a Chat Republic?”

I EXPECTED THIS.  My book dealt a lot about online and virtual communities, so I knew this question would come. I’m sure some of you are shocked I would even take this attitude. If you are, all I could say is re-read the  book’s introduction – “Why don’t we chat?” (If you don’t want to get the book, or borrow it from the library, I’d be happy to send you the chapter.)

Another asked me, why make a public announcement of this? Public announcement? I thought most people assumed our posts were just between friends. Maybe some realize that Facebook goads us into self-publicity, even while giving us the sense that we are engaging in private conversations. Indeed, Facebook’s public-private divide is confusing.

Digital Social networks were intended for communities. Humans weren’t built for the networks. Simply sharing whatever crosses our path –or our camera view finder– does not enrich our community involvement. Over-sharing is indeed a disease. It’s sometimes nice to be in the presence of a community where no one is taking pictures and setting others up for a Facebook post. (Sigh!: It’s an adjustment for me. There are places I go to now, where I don’t carry my SLR, and never, ever use my camera phone.)

It’s nice to avoid faux communities, and be in the presence of real communities.


1. There’s an interesting Carnegie Mellon University study if you are interested, about this very confusion, and how the many changes in Facebook’s privacy policy first reduced how much personal info people shared, and then how it began to rise. 

2. You may actually not see a link to this on Facebook. I don’t intend to post it there. The link between this blog and FB have been disconnected. This blog is obviously a public medium. 

One thought on “Is Facebook a faux community?

  1. Pingback: The urge to exit Facebook | Hoi Polloi Report

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