Queen's University

End of a love affair

What happens when you fall out of love with the planet’s most popular form of social media. Is there--can there be--life after Facebook? Heather Grace Stewart, Artsci’95, is about to find out.

[illustration by Graham Romieu]Illustration by Graham Romieu

This is not a tantrum. It is not an article about how I got out alive, and am therefore superior to 499 million other people who are still using Facebook. I’m not. I loved Facebook for over three years. I started growing out of love this year, and finally realized it was time to move on.

Every boyfriend I’ve had knows I still care about them–none of my relationships ended in animosity. I feel that way about Facebook. Perhaps it’s odd referring to a social networking site like a relationship, but there was a lot of give and take. In the end, I decided it was taking more than I could give.

When I first signed up for Facebook, I knew I was signing away an element of my privacy. That was fine with me. I’m an author; I already had an online presence. What I didn’t expect was for Facebook to continually make privacy-related changes without my knowledge or consent.

Facebook has made several significant changes over the years. Most were controversial and lost the site members. The last straw for me was the launch of Friendship Pages, which allow any friend of one user to study the friendship between two of their friends–or between one friend and another user, if that user’s profile is open to Friends of Friends. They’re repackaging previously-shared information, so it isn’t a breach of privacy in the traditional sense, but the way they’re repackaging the information feels just plain creepy. It takes voyeurism to a whole new level–indeed, it does all the heavy lifting for us. I didn’t sign up for that. I signed up to reunite with friends from high school and Queen’s, and to stay in touch with family–not to spy on my friends or have my friendships dissected by other people.

I’ve never been the kind of person to follow the crowd. I love being a leader. I wasn’t always like this. I remember as a preteen I’d tell my father, “but so-and-so is doing it!” He’d reply, “Would you jump in front of a bus if so-and-so did it?” I’d roll my eyes, but got his point. It didn’t take long before I realized I prefer marching to the beat of a different drummer. But with Facebook, I’ve felt almost obliged to stay, for fear of losing friendships. How will we stay in touch? No one uses e-mail anymore, and forget about the phone–everyone’s texting or Skyping. As the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Now I realize the friends who think I matter will simply sign my blog, send me an email, or give me a call. I’ll do the same.

One of the main themes in my poetry is about how we’re failing to connect on a deeper level any more–that our technology is becoming a third wheel in our relationships–and that we’re starting to miss out on the “real stuff in life,” as Durante sings so beautifully. I’ve fallen victim to this from time to time–we all do–we’re human. I thought the pros outweighed the cons. People were finding me on Facebook and reading my poems about this theme, wasn’t that enough? In the end, for me, it wasn’t.

In about five years, if Facebook is still around, my daughter will come to me, asking to join. The first thing I’ll do is tell her how much good it did me for a number of years; how it helped me reconnect with Queen’s pals and network with authors, poets, screenwriters, producers, and directors. Then I’ll tell her about how I felt it made me more vain and voyeuristic than ever, and that fake celebrity accounts and Farmville nearly drove me over the edge.

I have a hunch Facebook will be so-last-year by the time my daughter is interested in signing up, anyway. Will I become a member of whatever new online trend replaces it? Perhaps. I like to be in tune with what’s going on in society. I just think I reserve the right to change the channel when I’ve heard enough.

Heather Grace Stewart is an author and member of the League of Canadian Poets. Visit her blog at heathergracestewart.com (She still has a Canadian Poet Group on Facebook, but only because Facebook’s administration hasn’t helped her delete it.)

Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #1
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