I don’t know how many friends I’ve lost touch with over time. A lot, I think. The usual way it goes is, I have a job, or live in a house, or take a class, and while that is still going on, I become friends with a handful of coworkers, roommates, or classmates. We hang out and talk and do things. Then I move on to a different job, or a different house, and even though I tell myself, “I like this person, I want to stay friends,” most of the time that’s not going to happen. It doesn’t take long for both of us to get involved in whatever happens next in our lives, and we fall out of contact.
How many memories do I have sitting in storage, rarely having a reason to revisit them – hundreds, or maybe thousands, of experiences, with dozens of different friends that I will probably never see again. Each one of them carries a little regret with it, for what I allowed to be lost. I’m pretty sure this is a common experience.
In 2012, I attended a Lean In dinner at a chic, cream-colored restaurant in Manhattan with about 20 other feminists. The host was—oh gosh, what was her name—she was so pretty and cool. Oh yes: Sheryl Sandberg.
Imagine never having to feel that way again.
Facebook exists, at least in part, because we fear loss, specifically the loss of social connections that might otherwise be transient. Well, it exists because Mark Zuckerberg wanted to rank his female classmates based on how attractive he found them, but it succeeds because of that earlier thing. That colleague from the insurance company that I haven’t seen in person for 10 years? I can make a credible argument that our friendship has continued, with Facebook’s miraculous help. I’ve read about, and seen pictures of, all sorts of important events in her life. She’s moved to Georgia, and talks a lot about the weather there, and how her family is doing, and so on.
The episode is merely the latest in a long string of embarrassing privacy and security snafus that badly damaged the social network’s reputation over the past year. Facebook recently said that 30 million people had their accounts breached by hackers who made off with phone numbers, email addresses, search data, location history, and other potentially sensitive data.
I’ll make a scandalous confession: I’m a little skeptical of the value of maintaining a connection like this. But I still do it, with about 200 people. For about 90% of them, I have no active communication with them on Facebook, just passively noticing what pops up on my wall. I do like having a quick connection to that 10%, though, and even with everyone else, it’s kind of cool to know that my long-lost old friend has gotten married, or started that career they always wanted, or insert-life-event-here. I suppose it doesn’t cost me anything.
Except that it does. It does cost me anything. One of those anythings, the cost of doing business as a Facebook consumer, is to be constantly lied to.
Executives at Cambridge Analytica claimed that they had access to unprecedented quantities of advanced “psychographic” data that enabled the Trump campaign to micro-target its pitch to voters. But, this past May, the company filed for bankruptcy in the wake of allegations—denied by Cambridge Analytica executives—that it had improperly obtained millions of people’s personal data from Facebook, without the users’ permission, in violation of the company’s regulations.
Another anything? It’s habit-forming. You know this to be true.
[Explanation: The following video is funny even if you don’t understand the dialogue. I don’t either.]
Another anything? Facebook algorithms like to build echo chambers, and constantly expose us to the resulting cyclones of awfulness.
Social media connects the like-minded. Now we see the consequences no one paused to consider—what would happen if we created a single, self-sustaining Galaxy Brain of all of humanity’s worst impulses?
Facebook’s core premise is that networking people is inherently good. It turns out that networking shitty, racist people served only to better organize and strengthen their hatreds. Old relatives who once screamed into the void now know they have like-minded peers listening, Liking, and responding in kind.
Is it bad that we do this to ourselves? I mean, we know it is, because of all that stuff we were just talking about, but what I mean is, is it worth it? If our old memories no longer drift into the background, but linger on via the glowing screen, have we lost a valuable human experience, or have we gained one? Trick question: nobody knows! It’s probably both, and impossible to create a definite answer, especially if you’re a Silicon Valley techbro who’s been credibly accused of being an android.
Unhinged Lunatic Using Facebook To Spread Conspiracy Theories
For all that, I’m still not going to delete my Facebook account, if I’m being honest. I could come up with solid justifications, and they would be true, but I won’t bother. Ultimately, I’m just afraid of losing those tenuous threads to my old friends, and the memories they help me recall. You got me, Zuck.
As you spend time this weekend in this here digital space, please keep in mind that there’s a real person behind every glowing screen, and they – and you – are better than a Facebook profile. So whether we’re brick-and-mortar friends or digital only, and whether it’s for a lifetime or for a day, let’s do the right thing and treat people well.
No threatening Mayor McSquirrel or anyone else, please. Let’s do this!