It seems like most of the people I read online have a pretty adversarial approach with Facebook. Any mention of it is usually negative, and no opportunity to get a dig in is wasted. The latest round centers around a study that seems to indicate that leaving the site makes you happier.1 I get frustrated with my social streams as much as anybody, especially during election season (which seems like it’s more than half the time now), but there are some things about Facebook that I find pretty incredible.
Keep in Touch
This is probably the most obvious use for Facebook, but for me it’s actually a pretty big deal. I lived in Peru for a two year mission and came home about 10 years ago. I met countless people (literally, if I had to guess I’d say thousands), and formed pretty close relationships with dozens. Considering the cultural and economic differences that could divide us Facebook is the only way that we are able to stay in contact. Sure, it’s kind of weird to still be connected with some people from High School that I would have lost track of in past decades, but it’s really a great thing to be able to connect with people that are important to you whose phone numbers/email addresses/physical addresses are so transient.
Facebook Groups are a pretty awesome. If you are involved in a church or community group with a Facebook group you know what I’m talking about. It’s like Slack for non-nerds. Being able to share things with specific communities. In church Facebook Groups I’ve seen events coordinated, help solicited and extended, small scale Craigslist style trades and purchases, and regular communication. Facebook Groups are pretty amazing.
This kind of piggybacks off of Keeping in Touch, but Messenger is a way to chat with people where you don’t have to worry about protocols, access or technology. Almost everybody has a Facebook account and if you’re their friend you can use Messenger to talk to them. It’s a messaging platform that is ubiquitous in ways that AIM, Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts, or whatever could only dream of.
You’ll notice none of my favorite things about Facebook have to do with the News Feed, which is the central to Facebook’s own strategy and most of our experience with it. The News Feed can be a toxic place, where everyone adopts the language and combatitiveness of activistism. When discussing things in-person we avoid this type of language because of the extreme discomfort in causes, but seem to relish in it online, no matter the platform.
Despite its issues I think there are a lot of things on Facebook to like and get excited about. All the things I like about Facebook center around the fact that it has come closest to achieving the dream of an online identity that reflects the connections we make in our lives. It may not be for everyone, but I do think it would be good if more people who write about technology actually understood why so many people use it and the good things it does for them.
Having not read the report, I’m not going to comment on the rigour of the study, but the quotes I’ve seen seem… soft. ↩