Why I’m Your Worst Facebook Friend: Confessions of an Anti-Social Networker

When I was about six, my father asked me if I knew what the word “exploitation” meant. I shook my head “no.”

“Get me a beer and I’ll tell you,” he said. I brought him the beer and he said nothing. He just smiled.

I wish I could tell you that I learned my lesson on that very day. But I probably fetched the equivalent of a case of beers before it started to dawn on me.

I think of my father every time I’m on a social networking site. These sites can be useful. But they are also there to exploit you. They don’t want your money. They want something far more valuable. They want your time - maybe even more than my father wanted beer.

There’s a fine line between using these sites and being used. And it all starts innocently enough.

You Need One Thing from the Kitchen and End Up Bartending for Life

For me, it started when my company was looking to hire an editor. There were two financial editors I had worked with previously in Austin. One was now the lead singer for the band Spoon. I had trouble locating the other editor. I suspected she may have moved. But I found her profile on LinkedIn. I signed up so I could send her a message. I never heard back from her. But in the weeks that followed, I heard from everyone else.

I “connect” with people I’ve worked with or people in my industry. If you’re a real estate agent, don’t hold your breath. I write recommendations for people whose work I know and respect. I use LinkedIn to find people I need to contact or to research people who have contacted me. I spend approximately 5 minutes a month on the site. My plan is never to spend more.

The story with Facebook started much the same way. My screenwriter’s group uses FB as a file repository. I joined the site so I could read scripts before our meetings.

Sure, I found two people I’d lost touch with - my best friend from high school and a former Barron’s writer. I also discovered that the poker writer Ashley Adams was the nephew of my favorite English teacher. But for me, FB has all the appeal of scrapbooking. Only scrapbooking probably takes less time and doesn’t exploit your privacy for financial gain.

I spend almost no time on this site. I suspect I’m getting close to unfriending it for life.

Finding a Safe Bar with Interesting Patrons

I know I’ve dissed Twitter in the past. I envisioned a world where the play “Our Town” would be distilled down to “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” I focused on its limits as a writing format and ignored its use as a delivery and exposure mechanism.

I have also become increasingly impressed with Twitter’s accountability to its users. Twitter recently fought a gag order associated with the US government’s Wikileaks subpoenas.

As Wired put it, “Twitter introduced a new feature last month without telling anyone about it, and the rest of the tech world should take note and come up with its own version of it. Twitter beta-tested a spine.” Read the entire article here.

I spend time on Twitter primarily because it saves me time. Instead of pouring through financial blogs and newspapers each day, I am fed links to the stories I need and want to follow. I’m exposed to information and ideas I might not find otherwise. And I like being able to help propagate well-researched, well-written and thought-provoking content.

I follow writers, journalists, economists, accountants, financial and investment folks and a few friends. I do follow a couple of poker-only twitter feeds but prefer blogs to stay in touch with that world. I intentionally try to keep the list small and manageable.

Mostly, I follow people who make me think. Irony, sarcasm and humor also score points with me.

I Can’t Follow You to Hell

I don’t follow people who worry me. For one thing, I don’t want to be an enabler.

If you’re a financial writer and tweet from seven different locations each day, including the Brooklyn Bridge, three restaurants, Pilates, the LIE and Macy’s, I have to unfollow you. I start spending time worrying if you’re meeting your deadlines or wondering if your apartment is infested with bedbugs.

If you’re unemployed or underemployed and tweet about eating out at expensive restaurants every night, I can’t follow you. I don’t want to be there to read the eventual 140 character account of how your financial train jumped the track.

Right now I’m considering unfollowing an interesting day trader. His analysis is great. But he spends all day trading and writing about it — and seemingly little time on his college studies. He’s already missed one exam this semester. I’m worried about his school performance. I suspect his “following” days are numbered.

I’m not being judgmental. But if I’m spending time watching your personal trip to hell, it’s a sure sign I’m on a path to beat you there.

If I have unfollowed you, it doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means I fear for you.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Guilt-Driven Version of Friendship

I don’t post on my FB wall. I don’t follow people on twitter just because they follow me. For that matter, I’m not offended if the people I follow don’t follow me. I block scammers and spammers. I don’t click through email messages from social networking sites when Johnny changes his profile or Susie recommends a friend.

Just because you found me on a social networking site does not mean I’m a juicy target for your real estate, energy, gold, SEO, [fill in the blank], marketing scheme. I believe that stalkers should have to work for it: I won’t voluntarily become the mayor of my own nightmare.

Social network sites would have you believe that this makes me a bad friend.

They say all great marketing campaigns are based on either fear or greed. But just as many people have been exploited with guilt. You’re depriving your kids if you don’t take them to Disneyland. Porsche’s “A Greener 911″ ad plays buyers’ environmental guilt - while selling them a sports car that gets less than 25 miles to the gallon.

I got tired of fetching beers by the time I was eight. And I loved my Dad. I’m really not trying to diss anyone on a social network site. I just don’t want to spend my time bartending for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.

4 Comments

  1. Matt
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Geez.

    Dad just asked me to get him a beer “Matthew, would you get me a beer (half, or more, of the time with “please” on the end).”

    The only lesson I got out of it was that I couldn’t say no. But you know me, always took me a second pass (or so) to really understand something.

    Amy’s-brother-Matt

  2. Posted March 3, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    This is a great blog. I don’t generally read blogs — though I write one — but I think I’ll make an exception in your case Amy. This isn’t because I was mentioned by name — though I admit it is how I came upon it. Your writing style has an interesting blend of musing and perception that corresponds with how I tend to view the world. Thank you for your thoughts. I think Jon Adams would be proud.

  3. Posted June 11, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    LOL@ your dad. I work as a teacher and some months ago I got the question what exploitation actually means. Now I’ll search for some way of illustrating it like your dad did to you^^

  4. Gord
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    lol @ exploitation and Dad. Most people my age can remember the times when TVs didn’t have remotes. In my house my dad always had a remote. Usually the closest kid to the TV! It gets worse. He would call out “who’s home?”. It was the 1960s, you had to answer - and yes, he wanted you to come change the TV station!

    On the Zuckerman thing. I run a small 50+ member euchre club in Toronto. FB has been invaluable as a tool to keep in contact with members and posting special events. It was annoying at first with all the “I had a bagel for lunch” posts and updates etc, but once I figured out how to change private and notification settings from the default settings I can use it as though I am my own parallel FB universe.