‘I quit Facebook.’

This was announced to me during a lull in conversation during my lunch break yesterday. G (not the same G mentioned previously) said it with a certain determination, a certain set of the jaw, and carried through with a hint of pride. Something like the way would announce giving up cigarettes, except with more certitude and confidence, like this was a particularly nasty and worthless habit and he was particularly certain he would feel no need to return to it.

I’ve been growing disenchanted with Facebook myself recently, having second thoughts about our relationship. I know about the pitfalls of posting too many personal pics online, and I neither get drunk nor pose for silly photos nor feel any urge to post photos of myself anyway. I’m kind of cautious about my visual representation. I took down some of my personal details (website, contact phone number) even though the only people who can access same are my ‘friends’.  I changed my name too (not radically) but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t be identified by a potential employer.

There was of course the story about the man whose girlfriend found out about the engagement ring he had bought her as a surprise. And there have been a rash of stories, articles, TV programmes and others about Facebook’s plans for targeted advertising and, more worryingly, its almost unlimited powers of omnipotence when it comes to collection of information from users. However, these are not the issues that are leading me to consider erasing this particular online presence.

Facebook is one big sprawling pot of social goo where all your friends are joined together in one place: people from childhood, teenage years, relatives, and often people you haven’t seen in a long time but have tracked down through ‘fb’. This is often the initial appeal: Facebook provides an unlikely virtual site to dwell in nostalgia and reconnect with friends lost to the winds of time, space and career.

But this is also the thing about Facebook that is awful – it’s like the party where you worry terribly about the friends from different parts of your life/ identity meeting each other and how this inevitably ends with stress, awkwardness and is in my opinion just a fraught and uncomfortable social situation. Do I really want my cousin, who doesn’t know me very well, reading something that would otherwise amount to family gossip? And so on and so on.

The fb ‘social network’ embodies the kind of loose, unfixed relationships characterised by Richard Florida as emblematic of the new field of social relations. These relationships are often with people kept at arm’s length, networked but maybe not connected. I am discovering that there is a limit to the number of virtual hugs, pokes and cookies I want to give and receive from such people who are tangentally ‘in my life’.

This is not to say that all of my fb ‘friends’ are like this: in the last month I met four people who were very dear friends who were found through fb, and we are now working on rebuilding these relationships. Which makes me feel some kind of debt to fb, and a reluctance to give up on it completely….

The site/ network/ phenomenon is one of those thieves of time unique to the contemporary age and workplace. And since I’m self-employed it is actually not very clever at all to be indulging in such time-wasting.

Breaking up with Facebook. I’m thinking about it.

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