If it’s not mostly quarters, is change just unnecessary weight and an unsatisfying jangle?

We’re used to doing the things we do the way we always do them. We’re efficient—and complacent—that way. Most of us don’t even rearrange our furniture or get an entirely new hairstyle, despite all the evidence that change does our brains and our bodies good. Something as simple as driving a different way every so often can keep our minds from lapsing into forgetfulness, and the muscle confusion that comes from changing workout routines is encouraged by fitness gurus. We can even suffer from a phenomenon known as taste fatigue when we eat the same things all the time. (I rotate my ales regularly.)

But this uproar over the latest round of Facebook changes?

In all these years, all that Facebook stuff—all the networking and friendship and rekindling of old flames and sharing of videos and photos, all the love and support, all the drunken midnight status updating and the PopCap games—is still free. So if you quit in a mostly unnoticed protest over what you may mistakenly believe is yet another invasion of your privacy, understand that you miss more than LOLCATS and vomiting pumpkins and bad grammar.

Here’s the real problem, the real reason you are aggravated. You’ve been on Facebook for more than a year, and you still don’t know how to use it. You have a useful tool in your hands, but it might as well be a weapon. You post but don’t assume responsibility for the things you say, to whom.1 You can’t tell the difference between spam and porn, and your desire for the latter by clicking the former leads to an embarrassing tell. We’ve all made the mistake, but so many of you don’t know what to do about it immediately to make it go away.

Like VCRs, Facebook is not intuitive. You need to read the directions or “take the tour.” But most people don’t want to stop for a few minutes to peek at privacy settings, organize contacts, disable applications. You actually do have a right to complain about the president if you don’t vote. But how can you complain that the posts you make available to all your friends suddenly show up on a feed where all your friends can see it? Especially since the first time you complained about Facebook’s changes, it was because you didn’t see enough of your friends’ updates?!

One of the first privacy-related things I did when I joined Facebook was put my friends into categories. From day one, from the first friend I got, I started lists of people—NOGLI for people in my neighborhood; Homies for people who live in town; School of Rock kids and School of Rock parents. I have a category called “Anything Goes” populated by folks I know won’t mind my politics, my bawdy sense of humor, my cussing, my issues. When I post things that aren’t appropriate for kids, I exclude them for only those posts. I turn off my wall for people in the category called “People I Don’t Really Know.”

A few weeks ago, a social media expert was talking about the new “lists” feature developed to compete with Google+’s circles. I said, “New? Facebook has always had lists!” He was incredulous. Even the experts don’t know how to use the medium!

Some remarkable things have happened to me through Facebook. I sold scarves when I had back surgery, so I could afford an expensive red leather electric recliner. I got a lot of freelance work. I sold photographs. I got people to come out to Serena’s gigs and my poetry readings. I found old friends and made a hundred new ones. I fraternized with rock stars (one of them even made my photo his profile picture today!) and shared sunsets and songs and knowledge and jokes, good and bad, with everyone I know or almost know.

And yes: I share. You could call me an over-sharer, but don’t. I am a nonfiction writer and a poet, with all the eccentricities those titles bring. Plunk me down in a land called Facebook, and I am at home. Responding to me with a “TMI” or an un-friending is like bitching about drunk people in a bar. Some people have a drink or two. Some are the designated drivers. Some get tipsy. And some just need to kill the pain of the shit of their lives. Most of us have been all those people at some time.

Deal with them—with us—compassionately. Even on Facebook.

And quit yer whining about it.

1A few months ago during a political scandal, my husband, a teacher of social studies (which includes politics and current events), stuffed his bike shorts with about twenty pairs of socks, poking fun at Anthony Weiner. It was an effort to make me laugh, something I was doing with less frequency after the lymphoma diagnoses (my dad’s and mine). I posted this photo on my Facebook page—invisible to kids, despite it being harmless—because it was the funniest thing I’d seen in weeks

Though I have but a handful of school affiliates as friends on Facebook, someone reported me to the boss. My guess is it’s someone who doesn’t know how to use Facebook, someone who didn’t realize that I’d had the good sense to restrict the photo’s visibility. I sent them all an email explaining why I had to remove them from my page.

While I do take responsibility for the things I post, I ask my Facebook friends to take responsibility for friendship. If you come across a questionable post, an email or a phone call works much better than being a tattletale.

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  1. Cybergabi September 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    I think I know the Facebook interface fairly well. I also knew (and made use of) lists for a long time. I still believe it's legitimate to criticize Facebook.

    For one, it's not a free service. Facebook makes money with you – with your status updates, with your friends, your photos, and your gaming record. You are selling all of these to Facebook in return for an account. Their business model is based on ads. They get paid for showing you and your friends the ads they think will make you click through to the company or person who has placed the ad – because that's when Facebook gets paid. So if you disclose a lot about yourself, and if you post a lot of interesting stuff, which will make many others look at what you post, Facebook will make a lot of money with you. That's not free, that's barter in the form of a more or less silent contract (or did you ever read the ToS?).

    Also – to stick with your example -, just because Facebook has lists doesn't mean they have implemented this feature well. Before they changed it recently, it was completely clumsy and illogical. And even now it's way more difficult to understand and use than the circles concept on Google+.

    I also can't understand why quite simple, logical features still don't exist on Facebook. Try to block the system from sending you game notifications (soandso has sent you a cow on Farmville) – practically impossible. A while ago they introduced the Game Requests section on the left, and I thought they'd take care of the game requests there, and not in your regular notifications. Far from it: Even if you untick the Game entry in the Updates section under the new Subscribed button for an individual user (which is, as far as I see it, what they intended this feature to be), Facebook still keeps sending you these notifications. In Google+ you can turn them off with just one click, for all games and for all friends.

    I suspect there is a reason for the absence of this feature in Facebook (and many other stuff which is either hidden or missing or ambiguous in its meaning): Games (and some other apps) are the cash cows for Facebook. They want you to play all the time, so that they can get paid by Zynga, Popcap & Co. Therefore they constantly remind you of every sheep, fortune cookie, or mystery treasure someone has sent you. Google+ isn't yet there – they don't make any money with G+ yet. I am sure that will follow soon, and I might have reason to complain then as well, because they might mess it up. Right now, however, the only reason for me to be on Facebook are my friends. If a substantial portion of them would follow me to Google+, I would see no reason to stick around here.

  2. Leslie F. Miller September 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    @CybergabiJust because you are familiar with it doesn't mean other people are. And I've never found that list feature to be clumsy or illogical. It's always been easy.

    In addition, by free, I don't pay money out of my pocket. Advertisers might get access to me, but I don't pay anyone, and I don't click through on ads (I even have an ad blocker and don't see them).

    Nearly everyone I've seen complaining about the changes never got the hang of it in the first place. If you don't learn how to use the technology before you use it, you run a lot of big risks.

    As for game notifications, I ignore them. It's not a big deal to me. If someone shares coins with you, you get a notification. I rarely shared, and I don't at all, so you shouldn't be getting any notifications from me, though I do get them from you.

    I really don't have a problem with Facebook. I don't use Google+ and likely won't.

  3. Leslie F. Miller September 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    By free *I mean*. I need a beer.

  4. rvrich September 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm #


    I just enjoyed your -uproar- with my first cup of coffee today. Now on #2.
    I found it quite entertaining and informational in the sense that you confirm many of my suspicions about facebook. I've yet to take time & learn the ins & outs & lists & setups well enough to put it to much good use. It's not their fault I haven't invested more time to understand the controls so I can confidently make use of the power compiled at my fingertips. It's on my to-do list somewhere beyond learning new systems & procedures in my new job landed last June… Not yet on a timing chart.

    Your final point it a true key to relational responsibility. One should always seek to understand, then to be understood. Reach out to someone directly to resolve an issue perceived before blasting in a broad-stroke public manner or even worse… backstabbing semi-privately where the accused has no possibility of defense. Simple, basic principles of human behavior me thinks. Much overlooked or not understood these days.

  5. Cybergabi September 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    I didn't imply that other people don't know the Facebook interface. I just said that even though I know it and make use of its features, I still feel I have the right to criticize Facebook.

    And yes, there are ways around letting yourself be used for commercial purposes. I choose to go these ways, too. But that's not the original idea of FB – in fact, it's more like free-riding: If everybody would do it, FB would have to close down or charge a fee to sustain their service.

    Just because the game notifications don't bother you, that doesn't mean that they don't bother others. I am mighty annoyed by them. And yes, I send out gifts and stuff as well, because it's social gaming and I know that most people are happy to receive some extra coins or mojo. I am not complaining about getting gifts – I just don't want them to clutter my notifications. Users should be able to choose what they are notified about.

    And that's my major issue with FB. Why do they instead of me choose what I get to see and what I don't get to see in my news feed? Why can't I configure the stuff myself? Why don't they teach you what pressing a button means before you press it? Did you see this article yesterday? I was shocked that in my news feed I suddenly got entries which said 'Friend X read article Y in The Guardian'. Of course, you don't have to click on any of the social reading buttons when asked for it. But a lot of people will, not knowing what the implications are – and then, rightfully, be p***ed off later when they realize it.

    I wish for more transparency, in the first place. People should be able to make their own choices, and they should be facilitated by the system in making them, not obstructed.

  6. Leslie F. Miller September 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    @Cybergabi In other words, I wasn't speaking to you. I was speaking to people who haven't taken the time to learn—which is most people.

    Go ahead and complain. It's like shouting into a well. But go ahead. I mean, what do you want me to say to that?

    I don't get games notifications with any kind of frequency. I have turned it off in all my subscriptions and unsubscribed from a good number of people.

    But the things you're complaining about don't seem to be changes as much as they are the original interface. We all have things we'd like to improve—about the grocery stores where we shop, the cars we drive or bikes we ride, the neighborhoods in which we live, and the tools we use, like Facebook.

    I know a lot of things I'd change on Facebook. I'm just saying that the changes themselves would not be that big a deal if people used the tool well to begin with. People are complaining, but are they looking up what they can do to improve the experience? Are they unsubscribing from all but their favorite people? Are they disabling applications? Are they turning off their own subscription button? Are they asking friends to untick boxes?

    Or are they just pissing and moaning?

  7. Leslie F. Miller September 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    @Cybergabi One last comment about this: I didn't tell people they didn't have a right to complain about Facebook. We all have the right to complain about anything. I just asked how people can complain about one specific thing—that other people can see their posts on a ticker. The first round of changes prompted everyone to post something about you only being able to see [shock! horror!] the posts of 200 of your closest friends. First they're worried about not seeing enough; now people are worried that the ticker is showing stuff that would be invisible. It wasn't invisible. Wasn't as in your face before, but it wasn't invisible.

    I merely suggest that people find a remedy that isn't whining and isn't quitting. Sometimes the fix is a quick Google search away.

  8. Aunt Teena September 26, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Hi. I just wanted to say I love you guys. Rvich…I just like you, because I've never really met you. I don't read about facebook. It's not my favorite thing. I look at it because it sort of took over for Flickr. Flickr used to be a lot more fun……especially Leslie's stream. But I don't complain about facebook because I don't really understand it and I don't really care. I just want to stay friends with my Flickr friends. I'm not usually too interested in what my regular friends have to say. If it's important, they'd tell me some other way. But I don't really care what facebook puts where.

    By the way, last night my BIL checked in at a restaurant we went to, on foursquare or something. We found out 4 other facebookers also checked in there. We tried to find one, but we couldn't.

    That's all for me.

  9. Cybergabi September 26, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    @rvrich: Have you every tried to 'reach out' to Facebook directly? Good luck with that. Other than, e.g., Google+ or Flickr they don't even have a contact or feedback button. And their Help section rather sucks: Due to the frequent changes, a lot of the instructions given there are outdated.

    Facebook leaves us no other choice than complaining in public if we're dissatisfied with their features.

    And Leslie: Not everyone is as cyber-literate as you or me. I stick to my point that, free or not, a system should inform its users about their options in a much more transparent and comprehensive way.

  10. Leslie F. Miller September 26, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    @Cybergabi Nah. I think my point was proven perfectly yesterday, when a dozen people I know posted, as their status, the all-cap hoax that Facebook is going to start charging $9.99 per month for the service—same ol' hoax going around for years.

    Most people are lazy. You and I? We've found a way to get Timeline early. People need to take responsibility for the things they do, even on the Internet.

    We're talking about Facebook. This isn't a public health crisis. It's a stupid social networking site. Really.

  11. Leslie F. Miller September 26, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    @Aunt Teena @rvrich Thank you both. I enjoy interacting with you on whichever forum. Teena, your sense of humor makes me cackle out loud a lot, and I need that. Thanks.

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