Three Ways Facebook Encourages Banality

Two Words: Shopping!! Courtesy of LamebookI don’t find Facebook addictive or even interesting.

I check Facebook once or twice a day and skim updates from friends and family. It’s nice to know that individuals with whom I share varying degrees of closeness are still kicking. But that’s about all I get out of it: Confirmation that certain people are still alive. Surely there’s more to it than that.

The writer Corey Doctorow argues that the subtext of the banal musings posted on Facebook is “I am thinking of you, I care about you, I hope you are well.” Maybe so, but Facebook more often feels like a waste of time than any other social media in which I participate. Something about the platform encourages banality. Which is strange, because, unlike Twitter, Facebook was developed as a gated community in which only people you select can see what you post. (Facebook’s recent ghastly changes to their privacy defaults are a topic for another post on another day.) So why the hesitation to post anything meaningful?

(Full disclosure: the majority of my posts on Facebook contain maps of where I have ridden my bike. If it can get more banal than that I’m not sure how.)

  1. Facebook undermines conversation. Sure, you can post something, and dozens can comment on it. But it’s a free-for-all, like a verbal spitball fight from opposite sides of a large room. The spitballs never connect midair; they just go splat. Since every comment becomes a non-sequitur, people tend to post comments that can stand on their own, bearing little relevance to the original post.
  2. The “Like” button. Is there anything lazier?
  3. Its attempts to be more like Twitter. Even as a late comer to Facebook I recognize that it ain’t what it used to be. The Wall, which was once the main selling point, is now subordinated to the News Feeds and Status Updates. (Related: Can anyone explain to me the difference between the two?) At least when you posted on someone’s Wall you were attempting a personal connection. Now Facebook functions more like Twitter, except, let’s face it, your circle of friends and family isn’t nearly as interesting as the strangers you could be inviting to your dinner party on Twitter.

How do we fix Facebook? We don’t. You could thread the comments, add a “dislike” button, scrap the Twitter-mimicking. But Facebook’s management has made clear that it doesn’t want to be fixed. It just wants to monetize you. Time to move on to the next hot social media phenom: picking up the phone.*

*Yes, I know this makes me sound like a smarmy old git. But it’s in line with one of my New Year’s resolutions to acknowledge special occasions more. I plan to achieve this through snail-mail cards and phone calls and, for the bigger ones, actually planning in advance for once. Because I know something important is being lost when we resort to e-greetings and Wall posts.     



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6 thoughts on “Three Ways Facebook Encourages Banality

  1. Josh says:

    Way to get me here on the retweet Jose!
    Regarding Facebook, I would say that my experience with comments is the opposite if the initial post is good enough. Then people will start to talk and engage in the comments often in almost real time.

  2. Noah Masterson says:

    Jose: And I am intentionally unsearchable on Facebook after my initial foray several years ago. I’ll friend ya.
    Josh: Good to hear from you. I believe there is plenty of meaningful conversation on Facebook, but that is despite, not because, of the interface.

  3. Noah Masterson says:

    Not surprisingly, much of the conversation about this is happening on Facebook. I’ll start by saying that my post began life as a much longer rumination on introverts’ use of social media but my central premise didn’t hold water so I switched gears and turned it into mindless Facebook-bashing instead. 😉 But I’ll try to address some of the points being raised:
    1. “If you check Facebook once or twice a day you’re addicted.” Maybe. But the internet is at the core my life and career, so checking a website a couple times a day, often for less than a minute at a stretch, really isn’t much.
    2. “If your day job involves social media, and you don’t like Facebook, you are screwed.” Maybe so! Obviously many businesses are taking advantage of Facebook, some with apparent success (especially nonprofits), but that’s beyond the scope of my post. My point is more about personal communications.
    3. “You’re doing it wrong” (and variations thereof). Your results may vary, and if so, I applaud you. My point is not that there are no meaningful connections on Facebook, just that something in Facebook’s culture and interface discourages it. So you are succeeding despite Facebook — which just happens to be where most people are currently hanging out — not because of it.
    4. “You need new friends.” I love my friends and family dearly and would not trade them for anything (even strangers on Twitter). All I’m saying is that Facebook does not bring out the best in me, them, or anyone else.

  4. Colleen says:

    FB can be insipid and a waste of time.
    That said, it can be a useful tool.
    My husband’s pithy comments and posts got him a mighty fine freelance editing gig with a top publishing house. I reconnected with friends after 30 years and, for the most part, it turned out to be quite pleasant.
    I set up a page for the HIV/AIDS group I work with and it brought in new volunteers who hadn’t heard of us before FB. If helping feed people is banal, so be it.
    -Just one unhip gal’s take on social media.

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