When Does Life Without Facebook Become Unsustainable?

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An ancient joke (popularized if not invented by Henny Youngman) has a patient saying “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” To which the doctor replies, of course, “Don’t do that!”

I thought of that bit this week when I compiled some tips on how to enjoy Facebook–a service which I find mostly fun, but sometimes frustrating–for my Technologizer column on Most of them involve techniques for minimizing Facebook frustrations, but the last one I give is more radical: If you just don’t like Facebook, why use it? Why choose to do something that makes yourself unhappy?

I don’t plan to follow that advice myself: I do like Facebook, even if not unreservedly. But in the name of research I clicked on the Deactivate Account link. I got a screen which tried to tug at my heartstrings by showing photos of me with people who’d allegedly miss me if I left (see above image).

I also got a section which asked ordered me to explain my reason for absconding. Clicking on most of the answers provided pops up a little yellow box with a tip that Facebook hopes might resolve a disgruntled member’s concern without requiring the extreme measure of departing the service.

The last-ditch effort to make an unhappy camper into a happy one seems fair enough, but requiring the member to specify a reason feels unreasonable to me: This needs a “prefer not to say” option. (Or maybe I’m just pigheaded and unhelpful: When I’m canceling something like a credit card over the phone, I’ve been known to refuse to say why. I also tend to opt out of software debugging features that transmit information about crashes back to companies such as Microsoft.)

Anyhow, at this point in time, it’s possible to be a contented, productive human being without belonging to Facebook: I know both people who have never joined and ones who did and decided to depart, and none of them seem to be haunted by not having Facebook in their lives.

I do, however, wonder if it’ll always be that way. Is there some point at which not belonging to Facebook will be the equivalent of not acquiring a driver’s license or other form of government-issued ID, refusing to keep one’s money in a bank, or choosing not to have a telephone number–an extreme form of protest against societal norms that amounts to what my mom would describe as cutting off your nose to spite your face? I hope not: If that happens, it’ll mean that Facebook has something akin to a Ma Bell-like monopoly on the digitization of human relationships. But I wouldn’t bet against it happening within the next few years.

More on Techland:

FriendShuffle: Cruise the Sites Your Facebook Friends Like

Facebook Announces Three Upcoming Changes Dealing With User Privacy

Social Network: Celebrating the New Digitized, Democratized American Dream