My social life has been a bit thin of late. To some degree I think this is just the usual thing that happens to people in the full swing of adulthood – my friends are mostly all paired up now and a surprising number are having kids. That’s been going on for years but it seems to have become more the norm than the exception, and perhaps the critical mass necessary to sustain a lively communal culture has been lost as people dig in to their more private family activities.
But I have also developed an increasing suspicion that blame for the apparent social silence can be laid at the feet of Facebook. I suspect that it has reached its own critical mass, where people are now so used to using it, and so used to finding all or nearly all of their friends there, that they have to some degree forgotten that there are people Facebook cannot reach. Perhaps us non-Facebookers are now such a small minority that one really can get away with forgetting to keep us in the loop.
How can you measure the number of parties or dinners or random let’s-go-to-the-arboretum-for-a-picnic events that you haven’t been invited to? How do I know whether they’re not happening, or they’re happening, and I’m not being invited because I’m not on facebook, or they’re happening, and I’m not being invited because nobody likes me anymore? Do I need to find new friends, or do I just need to poke the ones I already have and remind them to tell me what’s going on?
Ava learned today that one of her best friends is getting married in a few weeks and had neglected to invite her. Why? Because they sent the invitations out on Facebook, and Ava doesn’t have an account. Yes, yes, there was apparently a postscript offering to send out paper invitations to anyone who wanted one, but… you still had to be on Facebook to notice it. All the planning, all the messages, all the conversation has apparently been happening on Facebook. Ava didn’t know it was going on, so she didn’t ask about it, and everyone else was so used to everyone being on Facebook that they didn’t notice she wasn’t on the list.
I don’t like this. One company should not own the infrastructure for our social lives – especially not a company as greedy, intrusive, and all-around antidemocratic as Facebook. But who’s going to stop them now? Replacing Facebook with G+ would be just as bad, really: the problem is not Facebook itself, but the fact that we’ve lost the old, open, interactive web as everyone has piled into Facebook’s walled garden. Everyone used to complain about evite, but at least you could see an evite invitation when someone mailed it to you! With Facebook, you can either join up and sign your life story over to Mark Zuckerberg, or you get nothing. This is not okay.
It’s hard to imagine a way to solve this problem. When will we reach the point that not having a facebook account makes you an unreachable crank? Imagine how we’d feel about someone under the age of 40 with no cell phone in 2012 – when will society at large feel that way about people with no facebook account? Have we already reached that point? I certainly hope not, but the trends I see are curving toward that future and not away from it.