You Don’t Have to be a Tool to Use One

We’ve all heard it before. Sanctimonious friends telling us how much their formerly pathetic lives have improved since they got rid of Facebook and its evil lure of artificially sustained acquaintanceship. The perceived disservice done to True Friendship™ is an oft cited reason for dumping the service, e.g. “maintaining friendships takes more than ‘liking’ a status or typing an extra exclamation point on someone’s front page Happy Birthday message.” Rather than sharing pictures on Facebook of their latest weekend mountain biking (or whatever) to constantly project an image of a fun and active lifestyle, these friends achieve the same result by working their disuse of the service and associated happiness into every conversation.

Those who haven’t quite made the plunge often wax dramatic about their addiction to Facebook or the time they waste on the social networking site, often set against the backdrop of a fantasy world where their productivity levels far outstrip their real world potential. Still others cite their annoyance at the constant stream of drivel that emanates from their feed; to hear them tell it, Facebook itself spews these inanities, not the friends they’ve chosen.

Here’s the thing: any tool is only as effective as its user. If you use a splitting maul to slice bread you’ll get frustrated very quickly. You are also a moron. Throwing the maul away in disgust is certainly an option, but only as long as you don’t ever need to split any wood. Heavy-handed metaphor aside, the point is: if you’re using Facebook in a way that is causing you distress, stop using it in that way.

Here are a few ideas about Facebook use that may help in this process:

Choose your friends wisely: If your Facebook feed is constantly filled with lengthy bible verses, blow by blow reactions to the latest episode of Real Housewives of Schenectady, or passive aggressive attention-whore status updates like “real friends wouldn’t treat each other that way, just sayin’,” the fault lies in one place and one place only: Your crappy choice of friends. Not only do you have complete control over the people you add on Facebook, you also have complete control on the updates you get from them. Here’s a thought: don’t add people you know you don’t want to hear opinions from, and if for some reason you decide you have to anyway, add them as an acquaintance or unsubscribe from their updates. Also feel free to delete people you don’t think you want as friends. Trust me, the anguish they suffer at being unfreinded by you will pass, and in time they may even go on to live normal productive lives.

Own your procrastination: Now, I consider myself something of an expert on wasting time. At the same time I score pretty low in self-deception which makes for a pretty frustrating experience at times. Another side effect, however, is that at no point do I pretend that my time wasting is a function of anything other than my internal laziness, no matter what external outlet I may find. The idea that in the absence of Facebook I might somehow be hopelessly cornered into doing actual work is pretty preposterous. My procrastination isn’t so fragile a thing. There’s a whole Internet out there to distract me from important things I should be doing. And barring that, there’s an actual world outside full of even more distractions, or so I’ve heard. Facebook isn’t making you waste your time, you are. And who knows, if you own up to that then maybe you can even start to do something about it. Or not, whatever.

Convenience is not the enemy of friendship: If your interaction with your close friends really comes down to a few “likes” a year, it can mean one of several things: 1) you didn’t have anything to say lately – this happens; 2) you don’t value that friendship as much as you thought you did – this is probably good to know, 3) The friendship isn’t the type that needs constant maintenance – when the urge hits you, you’ll reach out and vice versa. The one thing that all of these things have in common, is that they have nothing to do with Facebook. If you feel awkward about the perceived superficiality of your Facebook outreach, that’s a personal problem. If you care enough, you can always call or write your friend (you could even do both of these things ON Facebook). And if you don’t care enough to ever call or write, why do you care about feeling like you don’t care enough to ever call or write? In any case, that you do or do not do those things has nothing at all to do with Facebook. Additionally, if having casual acquaintances offends you on some fundamental level, see the first point above.

Now, I personally could care less if you never plan to use Facebook, delete your current account, or decide the internet is altogether not for you. If you’ve got neo-luddite tendencies than by all means embrace it, you’ll be much more prepared when the apocalypse hits. But even if you don’t want to use it or dislike it for other reasons, it’s important to remember that Facebook is still simply a tool. The amount you use it and how you use it is totally up to you. So if you don’t blame a hammer for building a crappy house, then don’t blame Facebook for being a crappy experience.

One Reply to “You Don’t Have to be a Tool to Use One”

  1. Well said.

    In a less entertaining post but related to exactly the phenomenon you are talking about, Paul Miller from the Verge returned after spending a year “unplugged” from the internet. He felt the internet was fueling all of his worst characteristics and wanted to find himself again. His triumphant? return is linked at the end of this comment. What he realized was that it was how he related to his time that was important. Initially, he loved being “disconnected” because it gave him time to write, visit with people, be active. But soon after that, his context changed from living “without the internet” to just “living”. And this is when he started falling into the exact same habits he had before he dropped off the internet. The internet and technology are all tools. Amazing, powerful tools to communicate and be connected with people you’d never have the opportunity to be connected with. Just ask how my parents how important Skype is to them and my kids that they are able to see and visit with each other, thousands of miles apart. I don’t love facebook either, but as a means for family and some friends to communicate, it’s been a great tool. I won’t be sad when it dies and a better tool comes along (Google + anyone?) but it does what I need it to for now. I’ve read that the average FB user has 300+ friends. I have 103. What does that say about me? I don’t know. And I don’t really care.

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