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While reading another article on the evils of Facebook this morning, founder Mark Zuckerberg was castigated for seeking to monetize his wildly popular website through targeted advertisements. Because we’re going to be bombarded with advertisements anyway, I liked the idea that I would be getting fewer ads for erectile dysfunction and Zynga. (Shows you how out of touch I am, obviously!)

The article was written for Social Media Week, which I almost missed until I stumbled across its Facebook page. “Social Media Week (SMW) is a worldwide event exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media next taking place February 18-22, 2013, powered by Nokia.” How kind of Nokia to sponsor it — like Arbor Day being sponsored by lumberjacks.

Alas, I am a creature of social media. I can’t whip up the necessary venom with which to rail against this absurdity, not even as the site markets yet another SMW in September. (We only get one Independence Day versus 14 for SMW, so SMW must be a big deal.)

The fact is that every week is a social media week. Outside of a few knuckle draggers, most of us have already fallen into the technological quicksand. That first Google search is like the pusher on the playground saying, “The first hit is free.” We start by looking for deals on Groupon or sharing a restaurant review on Yelp, but eventually we get hooked.

And for those who get hooked, it’s serious. According to Craig Smith of Digital Media Ramblings, as of last month 74 million of us post blogs on WordPress, 100 million of us use eBay, 90 million use Instagram, 75 million use Flickr, 72 million use MyHeritage, 43 million use Reddit, 250 million use Shazam, 343 million actively use Google+, 500 million use Twitter, and 1.06 billion of us use Facebook every month.

To put that last number in perspective, Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport revealed this week that 40% of the U.S. population describes themselves as “very religious” (only 31% in Connecticut). That means at most 125 million attend religious services each month, or roughly 900 million fewer than those who visit Facebook each month. It’s clear that what we worship is changing.

I’m a Facebook fan. These days, that’s like rooting for Darth Vader. I value the ability Facebook offers to stay in touch with family and friends that I’d otherwise fail to do. On the social scale, I’m a bit of a hermit. I prefer to think of myself as a Tibetan monk on a snowy mountaintop, focusing on discovering my place and purpose in the universe. However, in those moments I don’t want to leave the house, my darling wife likens me more to Howard Hughes. Either way, Facebook is a useful way to keep in touch when I don’t really want to touch anything, or anyone … like Howard Hughes. (hmmm. Well played, my darling. Well played.)

To me, Facebook offers social interaction without the level of investment required of a dinner with friends. Facebook is to social visits what texting is to phone calls: controlled communication in bite-sized portions. That might seem shallow and lazy to some, but it’s a lifeline for those of us who struggle with anxiety in social situations. We agoraphobics use Facebook like diabetics use insulin. It reminds me about birthdays, anniversaries, and quarterly tax deadlines. I see my nieces and nephews growing up through posts on their Walls. Facebook makes class reunions irrelevant; that picture on your Wall (at the weight I knew you) keeps me from admitting I don’t remember you.

People complain about their user information being compiled and shared with other sites, a service for which companies used to have to pay large sums of money. And yes, Mark Zuckerberg has made plenty of questionable decisions regarding user privacy and the transparency (or lack thereof) of how his site’s user information is parsed. However, it’s an indictment on end users if they conduct themselves online as if in their own homes.

I tweak my privacy settings on a regular basis, and even then I’m careful what I post on my Wall. Threatening to leave Facebook because I’m upset they share my information is like refusing to plant sunflowers in my yard because the neighbors will get to enjoy them for free. Phone companies have compiled and sold data on us for decades — why wouldn’t Facebook?

The fact is I need you on Facebook. I wish there were other sites with as many users, but there aren’t. To co-op the words of Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessup in the 1992 movie A Few Good Men, “I want you on that Wall. I need you on that Wall.” If you stop posting, I lose my connection with you. While I could do without the political rants, the various pictures of Grumpy Cat, and the endless invitations to join Farmville or Bubble Safari, Facebook has become a social hub for the unsociable.

Unlike the folks over at SMW, I don’t “leverage” my social media presence. Facebook is for people I know, Twitter for people I don’t, and YouTube for wasting countless hours on Albanian accordion music. That about covers it, so please don’t try to explain how Facebook signals the decline of civilization as we know it. For me, Facebook is my only tenuous tie to civilization.

For those of you who keep trying to show me the “truth” behind Zuckerberg’s master plan, I’ll once again channel Col. Jessup: “I can’t handle the truth!”

 

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him a [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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