Ryan Molitor | Ethnography

Plugging in: The Benefits and Disadvantages to Using Facebook

It seems like such a long time ago that I deactivated my Facebook account. It had occurred to me that I was at a point where I would no longer do anything else on Facebook, and that perspective made my view of other technologies change as well. When my Facebook account had been deleted I decided that using any other form of technology to its full extent would be an absurd thing to do. This was shown mostly through the selective use of my cell phone.

Before getting “plugged in” I would use my cell phone to limit communication with certain people. For the most part I would communicate mostly by text messaging, especially to my mother. Don’t get me wrong, I still talked with her once a week, but she has a habit of repeating things times over to prolong the conversation and eventually achieve awkward silences. It seemed as though I had a weird way of speaking on the phone, and still kind of do. The only way to take a step forward in this was to speak on the phone and make myself adept to carrying on a conversation with little to no interruption or silence. I would even talk with one of my best friends at least once a week just to see how work and the girlfriend were doing. I really only held a genuine conversation on the phone with only two people I know.

Communicating with most people remained the same in sending texts only to reach one concise answer. It also served another purpose of not having to interrupt myself during class-time or other important events. Most texts would be no more than four words, or even letters. I would send texts using single letters such as “where u at?” to receive an answer such as “Hokie House.” This was the simplest way to get what I wanted and needed. Eventually I began to text stories that needed a couple pages to people, and that’s when I began to alter my perspective.

Needing to be a little more interactive in my everyday life (and for the sake of this project) I decided to reactivate my Facebook account. As it would turn out, my hiatus from the social network caused me to forget my password. I did not remember the answer to the security question I provided for myself and was forced to go through pictures of friends, many of whom I don’t even know, and have the ability to recognize them. This is rather difficult when the picture consists of nothing but four women taking a picture of their feet from an aerial perspective. Nonetheless, I was able to match every picture to its corresponding tag and was back on Facebook in no time. In only a matter of minutes my sisters had taken notice to my reactivation and had made posts such as “welcome back!” and asking why I had deactivated my account to begin with.

The posts my sisters left seemed to make the rest of my family aware of my electronic presence and in almost no time I was befriended by about a dozen Molitors, including the new additions to the Molitor family such as Amy, my cousin’s wife. Facebook friends such as these were essential as it allowed me to congratulate my cousin and his wife on the birth of their newborn baby girl. I was even able to find the remainder of my cousins through the “people you may know” tool provided by Facebook and its invasive nature toward my life.

That’s not say that I ignored the rest of my family. I made ample status updates and my sister, Nicole, commented on almost every single one, even if it was to comment on a hockey game she had not seen. This provoked many other family members to also write on my wall, including my mom who will even comment if she doesn’t understand what my status is even about. This happened once when my status update referred to the events from the night before, and her only response was “what???” Getting back on Facebook also gave me the opportunity to notice things I would have otherwise missed. I have a habit of missing certain details and dates, such as birthdays, that I would not have known about had it not been for Facebook notifying me of a number of birthdays each week. This most particularly came in handy when I was trying to keep in touch with a friend who was having some problems and would appreciate my best wishes on his birthday. I was also unaware when my brother got a new phone and number without telling me. Fortunately, Facebook was capable of letting me reach my brother. Really, Facebook has proven to be quite useful when it’s allowing me to invade the privacy of other people.

Of course, there are still many things I still dislike about Facebook. The public advertising taken from anything you write on your page strikes up quite a bit of skepticism, and I have had to change my password several times because I feel as though these advertisements can simply be some sort of scam, and may have caused my account to have been hacked. I also don’t approve of everything that comes up on the mini-feed. Not everything they write can really be considered top news. I’m not sure I particularly care that my cousin is spilling her guts online about everything that had happened throughout the entire day. Nor do I believe it will be useful for me to know all the details of my Uncle’s Grandson’s baseball game. Privacy was the overall concern that led me away from Facebook to begin with. It seemed that anyone could access my information at any time they wanted. Not all of my pictures depict me in a manner intended for all audiences and I would hate for anyone to see me frozen in time in a less-than-perfect state. The privacy issue used to say the same about the general information posted in my profile. If I wanted an obscure quote left out, too bad it’s here to stay. Certainly my Godfather, whom I recently confirmed as a friend, wouldn’t want to see me use any such language.

The biggest problem when using Facebook came from its tendency to tremendously inhibit my attention span. It seemed every couple minutes into studying I was distracted by Facebook, even if nothing had actually happened to justify going to it. I would remember everything I had just done on Facebook, but remember nothing of what I had just studied from. There was a clear decline in the quality of my grades, because I simply could not retain anything I read.

I suppose all of this happens because I don’t believe I have the time to change the mini-feed settings, though I do have time to procrastinate and take a look at Facebook to notice all of these unimportant things. I hate Facebook, yet I’m uncontrollably drawn to it.

In using Facebook I also found that many of the friends I have, such as people I knew back in high school, were those I still had no communication with. I found it funny that people I haven’t talked to for only four years were those I could still ignore, but those I haven’t talked to for eight or more years I could rekindle a relationship with. I still managed to maintain a certain level of communication with certain people from high school. I even found out some things about old friends that I never even knew about them. This doesn’t mean I’d dare delete the people I neglected from my friend list. That might possibly be the biggest insult to a person today and, with just my luck, I’d run into that person the day after.

On the other hand, it seems the people I have reconnected with or connected with more are happy to see me do so. Most of my family, with the exception of my technologically inept father, has made it a point to show that they’re aware of my return to Facebook by making any wall posts that they can. There has also been a visible increase in the amount I have been talking on the phone with my friends and family. In the same respect, I appreciate what Facebook has made me capable of doing in terms of communication. It has brought me closer to the people I care about and has shown that it almost possible to have a personal life on a social network.

The technology is astonishing, though. To be able to reach anyone in the world at anytime is both a wondrous and frightening feeling. It’s good to be able to contact my brother-in-law whenever he goes to Africa, but it’s also disturbing when a Canadian person with the same name sends me messages. I am fairly certain that Ryan Molitor from Ontario will never find me, but some people are still capable of taking hold of a dangerous amount of information about me. This is something I felt insecure about through the entire reactivation process.

I guess overall Facebook has made many of the changes I would have liked to see, but there is still some skepticism I feel toward the whole thing. I also hate feeling compelled to friend someone I dislike, such as some of my very distant relatives I never see. I also dislike the fact that there is no “dislike” button, so I can dislike it when my aunt “pokes” me. These are all minor mishaps compared to the security issue, though. For now it is difficult to tell whether or not I will continue to keep my Facebook page up and running. I will either need to control my study habits or eliminate Facebook from my life entirely. Perhaps that’s not such a good idea as it might make hundreds of people feel insulted if I were to do so, but the thought does seem appealing.