Today’s Opinion: Kicking the Facebook habit

POSTED: 03/27/11 8:18 PM

That Facebook is past the peak of its popularity is becoming increasingly evident. Our managing editor de-activated his Facebook page last week and two articles in the Dutch Volkskrant show that he is not the only one. Two authors reported on the paper’s opinion page that they did exactly the same thing.

The arguments to drop Facebook are not based on principled objections against the terror of social media, but as one of the authors wrote, on its contrary effect on real people. The people we communicate with through Facebook are not becoming more fun, but less fun.

One author reports that her newsfeeds on the site consisted mainly of positive exclamations about the approaching spring, repeated complaints about the national railway, fellow-students and the Freedom Party.

The sincerity of all these expressions is not in question, but people who seemed interesting during face to face contacts lost a lot of their value under the pressure of their constant virtual presence.

Mind you, the trend toward kicking the Facebook habit is not a generational thing. Our managing editor is approaching his 61st birthday, but Sarah Johanna Eskens, one of the Volkskrant authors who eliminated Facebook from her life, is just in her early twenties.

The mechanism at work here, the one that turns people of, is easily recognized as information overkill. Few people are able to put up with somebody else’s presence on a 24/7 and minute to minute basis. At a certain moment, you want your guests to go home and leave you alone. At a certain moment you have seen all their boring pictures and you are simply unable to stomach another one. At a certain moment you have heard all the sick jokes someone keeps telling you and you do not want to hear another one for the next five years. But Facebook won’t leave you alone – unless you decide to leave Facebook, and that is a trend that has just started and will gain momentum over time.

Author Zadie Smith wrote in an article headline generation Why that the Facebook Generation deserves better than Facebook. Smith notes that the mystery that most people are to others seems to be disappearing.

And that is not surprising, if all information about all people you know is constantly at your fingertips. Recently we heard someone exclaim, as if he had just achieved something he ought to be admired for, that he had 4,000 friends on Facebook.

One may well wonder whether this is remarkable or pathetic. Many people have very few real friends, and when they end up in real trouble they are bound to discover that those real friends are not real after all. Hence the expression that befits people with a little bit more life experience: I have one friend, and you are looking at him.

On that level, nobody needs empty-headed entertainment tools like Facebook.

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