The new Facebook home page goes live on Wednesday, which means time is short for anyone with piled-up grievances against the site in its present form.
From what we’re being told, after the redesign Facebook will be less about connecting with people by following random details of their lives, more about connecting with them through sharing information that you find useful or interesting. A little less Facebook, a little more Twitter.
So the Weekly Standard’s Matt Labash came in just under the wire with a full-throated rant against the site and all it stands for. “No matter how long I live,” Labash wrote, “no matter how much pressure is exerted, no matter how socially isolated I become, I will never, ever join Facebook, the omnipresent online social-networking site that like so many things that have menaced our country (the Unabomber, Love Story, David Gergen) came to us from Harvard but has now worked its insidious hooks into every crevice of society.”
His complaints are mostly familiar (as Gawker put it, hating Facebook is so 2007). Facebook creates opportunities for embarrassment, and Facebook-friending is a pathetic substitute for real-world relationships. Also, his wife went on Facebook and really got into it, which meant less attention for him.
What apparently set Labash off was a January piece by Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, “You Have No Friends,” which called out Facebook holdouts.
Manjoo announced that Facebook is at this point merely a “social lubricant” that it makes little sense to resist, and he systematically knocked down the arguments against it. That piece was much emailed around — especially to the un-Facebooked likes of Labash. “I’ve not met Manjoo, who strikes me as a perfectly pleasant fellow,” Labash writes, “even if his ilk is destroying America.”
I emailed Manjoo to see what he made of Labash’s argument.
Manjoo said his immediate response is skepticism: “He won’t use Facebook, he insists — but then why hate it so much?” As for the idea that Facebook keeps people from having friendships “in real life,” Manjoo continued, “only people who haven’t used it say that.”
Will the upcoming changes make the site less hateful to the Labashes among us?
“Yeah, I suppose Facebook’s changes could make it more palatable for him,” Manjoo wrote. “But I think his problem is more in his head than with Facebook itself. It’s like people who insist they don’t like sushi because they could never eat raw fish and they can’t understand the poseurs who would do something like that. But they won’t even try.”
He added, for good measure, “I don’t think Labash and his Facebook-holdout ilk are destroying America.”
Then there’s Paul La Monica at CNNMoney.com, who came in a little ahead of Labash with his anti-Facebook piece of Feb. 20. La Monica won’t join Facebook either, and some of his complaints were familiar: status updates boring, some forgotten friends left behind for a reason, blah blah blah.
He made a lot of sense, though: “After sitting at a computer typing all day,” he wrote, “the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit in front of another computer so I can upload photos to my Wall and read 25 random things about a high school classmate I haven’t spoken to in 18 years.” (I emailed him, but he was on a deadline and couldn’t answer my questions.)
In the end, what really turns off La Monica is the elusiveness of Facebook’s plan to become profitable. “I may be in the minority. The Facebook universe is now 175 million users strong,” La Monica writes. Then comes the devastating transition: “But how is this company ever going to generate meaningful revenue and post profits from this massive user base?”
In the Manjoo-Labash contretemps, there is no winner possible — some version of it will likely go on as long as Facebook exists. It’s La Monica who’s raising the stakes in the Facebook debates.
He makes it hard not to ask yourself an altogether new question about whether and how much to hang out on Facebook: What if it’s all just some next-generation corporate crash waiting to happen?