Is Facebook productive?
Bill Robinson published back in February a damning critique of Facebook. Robinson writes, “Facebook isn’t real or productive, it’s just an advanced version of the electronic bulletin boards that have been around since the Internet dawned.”
That’s where Robin is wrong. Yes, Facebook is an electronic bulletin board. But it does bring people together on topics, issues, and interests that they care about. And a meaningful exchange in dialogue occurs. For example, I’m a member of a Jimi Hendrix fan page group called Electric Guru. There are more than 1,000 members and I’m an administrator. I love this group. It is filled with extremely passionate Jimi Hendrix fans; these are the types of fans who can discourse about Hendrix each day of the year and never get tired of it. Photos are shared; recordings are shared. Sometimes there are disagreements but overall, the vibe is most welcoming to all who share the passion of Jimi Hendrix’s music. To say that this human exchange is not “real” or “productive” completely misses what is actually going on. Is it productive? Yes. I’m choosing to spend my time discussing and reacting to photos of Jimi Hendrix. I enjoy spending my time doing so. I don’t spend all day on FB. But I check in several times a day. I choose to do so. And it rewards me by providing me with quality content. I follow influential thinkers, like Sam Harris or Lawrence Krauss. For example, I enjoy the posts of Robert Reich, former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. I share Robert’s politics. And I enjoy reading his posts about the rising tide of inequality in the United States. I agree with just about everything he writes. He has forged a strong community on Facebook. I’m glad to be part of it.
Next Robinson writes: “A real ‘social network’ wouldn’t be virtual. It would involve real people, meeting in a real, tangible, bricks-and-mortar building or outdoor place, where they might have food, drinks and conversation.” I’m surprised Robinson would make such an ignorant remark. As if people who live across countries can just get on a plane and meet with members of their social network at a cafe or restaurant and share conversation? Facebook is global. I communicate and chat with members of my Hendrix group who live all over the planet. It is a virtual network and I’m engaging in real dialogue with real people.
Robin writes: “What’s not real is an online place where there’s no exclusivity or discernment about who gets in, and all manner of riff-raff voicing their opinions, exchanging links to news reports, photos of kittens playing with string, comic books and jokes, while espousing how great it all is that they’re meeting and making so many “friends.” Wrong again, Robin. There is exclusivity and discernment about who gets in. My Hendrix group is a private group and there is a waiting list for those who want to get in. And we’re not sharing photos of kittens playing with string; were not espousing about how many”friends” we’ve made. We’re talking about the topic of the fan page. Facebook can and does connect people wanting to discuss specific topics.
Is Facebook a waste of time?
Gotta love Robinson’s provincial take on Facebook. Describing it as “a waste of time,” he writes about what people have stopped doing, including “reading a book for instance (or, reading online to educate oneself). Or doing a crossword puzzle/Sudoku. Play chess. Improve your resume. Learn a new language. Teach your child how to ride a bike. Talk to your mom and dad. Surprise your wife. Go to church. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. You get the point–there’s SO MUCH more to do in real life, the real world than destroy your brain cells with fleeting FB chatter and fake friends.”
I don’t consider spending time on FB as destroying one’s brain cells. Quite the opposite. Facebook, when properly used, can be very worthwhile. It can serve to validate one’s opinion, especially when you have dozens or even hundreds of people liking your comment. It’s reassuring to know that others feel and/or share your views. I also know that many people have now established their social networks on Facebook, in particular, sharing daily posts about their lives with their actual friends (not people whom they have never met, BTW).
I don’t go on Facebook to necessarily “learn” new things. Learning on Facebook is serendipitous. I’ve sometimes learned something new on FB that I did not know about. I follow news stories as posted by Bill Moyers. I enjoy following Bill in this manner. I click on a particular story if I want to learn more about it and get taken to his website. You are “old school,” Robinson. I just don’t think you want to like Facebook because you hate it so much.
Just how obnoxious is Facebook?
Robinson derides Facebook for “locking in” its users. Facebook is by no means perfect. It has done a number of obnoxious things. I never liked the development of Facebook gaming apps. I never liked Facebook advertising. I agree that both served to only irritate FB users. But FB is providing a free platform and it must be paid for. Facebook is not a charity and Zuckerberg is no Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. I know that if the bulk of my social network left Facebook than I too would leave Facebook. I don’t use Facebook to “meet new people.” I’ve used Facebook to get in contact with people I once knew (former college classmates, for example) and I’ve met new people on Facebook who share my passionate interests, like Jimi Hendrix, for example.
Is Facebook sucking you in?
Now comes the part that really ruffles Robinson’s feathers. He calls it “dangerous” and “pathetic” when he reads that FB users are getting so much of their news from FB. Then he says that FB is “sucking you into their little world” because you end up exclusively there for your news and information and FB will then control your thoughts and further indoctrinate you into their revenue streams.
I’ve got news for you, Mr. Robinson. Is what you’re describing any different from, say, what a right wing republican will read for their news and information? Who are the types of people that listen to Rush Limbaugh? The right wing republicans who listen to Limbaugh enjoy doing so because he speaks for them on pretty much all of the issues that matter to them. Rush is “their truth.” And Rush Limbaugh is on Facebook. He has more than a million FB fans. FB isn’t “controlling their thoughts.” Limbaugh is. FB is just the platform serving up all of the content as provided by those who are on it, lest you forget. Facebook is a content platform. It’s nothing without the content of its users.
Will Facebook users abandon it?
Robinson, you parrot the study by Princeton University that Facebook users will lose 80% of its users by 2017. Facebook hilariously debunked this study. Yes, youth are fickle and there has been a drop-off in young users of FB. But guess what? It’s the adults who have settled into Facebook and now make up more than 70% of users. That’s no small percentage by any means. Why are you so concerned about the youth? They are off spending, no WASTING their time on such apps as Snapchat. And what kind of content are they sending to each other? Could it be porn?
Bill Robinson: You’re old school. You’re old hat. You’re a square.
In conclusion, I find Bill’s rant about Facebook to be coming from someone who truly is of another generation. Someone who didn’t spend time online to socialize; someone who wishes it were 1990 again. Yes, Facebook has awful ads. Yes, Facebook continues to run a fowl of privacy laws. Facebook isn’t an ideal platform. And Facebook won’t be around forever. MySpace died because it had an awful UI, among other things. When FB came on the scene it was a breath of fresh air. The UI was clean and the notion of getting back in contact with your college classmates was appealing. Who knew that it would take off the way it did? No one.
You write: “If you love FB, then don’t blame me because a growing tide of people clearly do not. While my ‘dislikes’ above are only my attempt to bring everything in my mind together, there does seem to be a thriving–and growing–‘Hate Facebook’ community.”
I don’t love FB. I accept it. But I also don’t enjoy hating it the way you do. My social network, people whom I am in contact with, are on Facebook. I will continue to use FB as long as the people I now care about are on it. The ‘Hate Facebook community’ can take a long walk off a short pier, as far as I’m concerned. And the same, I may add, applies to you.