Facebook, Get Outta My Pants

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]For the past few months, I’ve been seriously re-thinking this whole social network thing. Through the Web, I’ve met a lot of great people I otherwise wouldn’t know, and I’m grateful. And I’m still planning to use the Internet to keep in touch, to post blogs, to e-mail, to learn about books, to chat with readers, to find stuff. But today, after reading about Facebook’s Crusade of Colonization and being forced to opt out of yet another shady invasion of privacy thinly disguised as a service, I’ve finally decided to dump the world’s biggest social imperialist.

Because you know what Facebook is?

Facebook is that really cute guy at the party who’s sooo charming… because he wants to get into your pants. If you don’t give him some outright, he acts all sweet, like he’s super into you, promising you the world. If you still don’t let him in, he steps up his game — first feeding you beer, then kissing you and telling you how beautiful you are, how soft you are, how he can’t live without you (tonight). Then, as a last desperate resort, he reminds you that all of your other friends and the most popular people already let him into their pants, so if you want to be popular (or even liked), you’d better do the same.

Well, I’m done with that.

Facebook, you need to get your grubby corporate paws up outta my virtual pants, okay? And if a straight “NO” isn’t good enough for you, here’s a really long bunch of reasons to which you may refer later if you find yourself thinking wistfully about our former relationship, wondering why I’m long gone.

Why I’m Dumping Facebook

I deactivated my Facebook account! Indefinitely! I really did it. So if you’re looking for me there or wondering if I’m shunning you or something, I’m not. I’m shunning the software. I’m shunning Personal Relationships.com Inc. a Limited Liability Company.

–Sara Zarr, in her recent post on deleting her Facebook, Calvin Report + Facebook saga reaches a final (?) end.

It’s going to take me about 1500 words to say what Sara captures so perfectly in one paragraph, both because I’m an over-explainer by nature and because I’m hoping maybe some of this might encourage those of you who are considering your own FB breakup.

Here goes…

  1. Facebook Kills Relationships: By automating interaction, Facebook takes the “relate” out of “relationship.” More than any other online service I use, it has become the great homogenizer. FB is so eager to categorize and box everyone in, track everyone’s relationships and personal tastes, follow your actions, tell you who to invite or reconnect with… it’s downright unnatural! All of my FB interactions feel exactly the same now — a gray blur of likes, dislikes, newsfeeds, and a never-ending campaign of blocking invites to spam sites that call themselves games.

    “But Sarah, Facebook makes it easier to connect and communicate!” Um, no it doesn’t. Facebook simply makes it so you don’t have to connect and communicate. Why make the effort to call someone to invite her to your birthday party when you can just make a Facebook invite? Why share a photo album of the kids with their grandparents when you can just post it for everyone to see on Facebook? Why spend the afternoon with a friend talking about what’s going on in your lives when you can just read about it in your Facebook status updates? When relationships can be managed online, when everyone becomes a blue and white screen dotted with icons and brief little witty bits, why even leave the house at all? “Connecting” seems effortless on Facebook because it is effortless, and that’s not a good thing when it comes to relationships — even virtual ones.

  2. Public Life & Private Life Don’t Always Mix: I initially used FB primarily to share news and info about my books and to connect with teen readers, librarians, and other authors online. In that way it was kind of a marketing tool, but because I write and I love what I do, “marketing” really just means “talking honestly about the stuff I love.” So online, am I marketing, or am I relating? Am I selling, or am I connecting? I don’t know anymore. And then, I also used FB with my family, my friends in real life, and people from high school. I don’t want friends and family to be bombarded and overwhelmed with all my book stuff (especially if they already heard all about it in person), and I also don’t want teen readers or librarians watching my family members argue or overshare on my FB wall. See? It’s all getting so multiple personality disorder-ish! It’s like trying to seat people at a wedding where the bride and groom’s parents are all divorced and remarried. I’m like, why didn’t we just elope?!
  3. Drama & Negativity Are Rampant on FB: And boy, are they toxic. I’m so tired of learning about divorces, fights, bad news, and even positive big events that used to be shared in person (new relationships, new babies, moves) in the lives of family and friends via Facebook (and getting in trouble when I don’t hear about these things because the little blip just didn’t turn up in my newsfeed among the thousands of other blips posted that day). I’m tried of reading about everyone joining “I hate this and that” groups or “I bet we can beat that group” groups or “Raise your hand if you thinks so-and-so looks like a cow” groups. I’m tired of cyberbullying. I’m tired of having to police my wall to make sure no one posts anything inappropriate or personal. These days, logging into Facebook just makes me feel… bad.
  4. Data Aggregation is Creepy: Facebook is a corporation. That means their primary business is not to entertain or serve us, but to make money. They don’t charge users for the site, and there aren’t many ads. So how do you think they turn a profit? By selling our information — information that we freely give, often without even realizing it (like those little “get to know your friends” questionnaires or “tell everyone how we met” status updates — yes, it’s all mined for info).

    Think about how much personal information you share on FB. Photos, birthdays (even if you don’t post it, your friends might still wish you a happy day on your wall!), pets names, anniversary dates, school names and grad years, job info, travel plans, interests, hobbies, where you are, where you’re going, who you like, what you like, who you’re friends with, your relatives, what sites you visit… all the stuff passwords are made of. All the stuff your life is made of. All worth mega-money to advertisers and marketers who seek to define and label you so that they can sell you stuff you don’t need, convincing you that if you don’t buy it, you’ll be missing out (or worse — that you’re somehow less of a person). Sound like that aggressive boy at the party?

    Despite the marketing-speak all over their blog, Facebook is not there to help people “share what’s important to them,” to “put people at the center of the web,” to provide “more social and personalized experiences on other websites” as we “build the social web” together. No. We are a commodity — nothing more. Our information is a commodity. We are dollar signs. It’s that simple. And I went into our relationship knowing as much; I was willing to be that dollar sign as a trade-off for using the free service. But now, especially with their latest “social plugins” move that will enable them to essentially track our every move on the Web, it’s just too creepy for me.

  5. And This Stuff Just Makes Me Mad: You’re telling me that a company like Facebook comes along and in a matter of just a few years, integrates 500 million users from all over the globe, linking them up based on likes and dislikes and fan pages and status updates and mutual friends, partnering with other services like Twitter, WordPress, FourSquare, ShareThis, Goodreads, major news and entertainment sites, and consumer sites, generating targeted ads and “like” suggestions based on each individual profile, helping to build this so-called wonderful social web where I can instantaneously notify thousands of “friends” that I “like” Lady Gaga or Pringles Sour Cream Chips, but the health care system in this country can’t come together on standards for personal electronic health records that would reduce medical errors and deaths and save billions of dollars? You’re telling me that with all this miraculous technology, airlines are still overbooking flights and assigning two people the same seat? Do you think this is accidental? Give me a break.
  6. Time: This last reason isn’t Facebook. It’s me. I need more time to go outside. To exercise. To write. To have real actual conversations and relationships. Hey, I just want those hours (and the privacy) of my life back, okay?

So that’s it, Facebook. We are over.

For all of my friends on Facebook, over the next week or so, you’ll see me transitioning off my personal page. I’ll still post book updates on the book fan page if I can figure out a way to do it without using the personal page (otherwise, that one is going, too!).

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler”]Like Sara Zarr said, don’t take it personal. I’m not shunning you. I’m not even going offline — you’ll still find me here, on Twitter, YouTube, Goodreads, other random places — I’m just keeping myself (and my pants) away from Facebook.

Teen Marketing by Vogue: Drink Smoothies, Be Wooed

Marketing consumer products to teens isn’t an exact science, especially in a downward-spiraling economy. As a YA author who will soon depend on teens’ eagerness to trade their cash for a copy of TWENTY BOY SUMMER, I get the marketing challenge. I’m always on the lookout for creative, original, and even wacktastic ways to promote and share my book with young adults. Giving stuff away for free? Staging a stunt for local media? Embarrassing myself on YouTube? Yes, yes, and where do I find the bucket of red paint and bag of feathers?

Making an international mockery of myself on film to sell books is one thing. But I’m sooo not down with Teen Vogue’s new approach, reported in today’s New York Times.

Teen Vogue Haute Spot

Meet the Teen Vogue Haute Spot, a store that doesn’t sell — well — anything. Instead, it just kind of “presents” stuff, observes, and then “whisks” teen customers to conveniently-nearby retail locations to buy the goods.

A store that doesn’t sell stuff? Check it out:

Instead, the store will be a place for girls to relax, try on clothes and drink smoothies — all while marketers woo them.

The stores will offer free snacks, informal modeling, a perfume bar, a makeup station, charging stations for cellphones and iPods, a gift-wrapping counter and racks of clothes.

Stylists and attendants at the store will advise visitors on lipstick, shoes and outfits.

And, to the delight of retailers, they will whisk visitors to stores in the mall where they can buy the products.

Something about it feels, well, oogie to me1. In my mind, some hip-looking woman clad in black leather lures unsuspecting girls into the store with free samples and cool music. The store is bright pink with silver accents (you can’t see the pink part in the drawing because the store shown here is still under construction), techno beats bumpin’ softly in the background, and clear, futuristic-looking counters holding trays of frosted glass bottles that say “eat me” and “drink me” à la Alice in Wonderland. While girls innocently sample high-end clothing and makeup and smoothies, shopping and texting and modeling, chatting and laughing and relaxing, a panel of corporate researchers in white lab coats and thick safety goggles watches from behind a two-way mirror, taking careful notes against their clipboards and muttering the occasional “verrrry interesting” and “mmm-hmmmm.”

Unless Teen Vogue is verrrry transparent with its customers about the purpose of Teen Vogue Haute Spot — explicitly stating what the magazine and participating retailers hope to accomplish and how they’re tracking and reporting on the teens’ behaviors, purchases, and data — this is not a good marketing tactic for consumers. It might be great for Teen Vogue and its retail advertisers. But for teens? Smarmy.

Here are a few other points I’m uncomfortable with:

Zain Raj, the chief executive of the marketing firm Euro RSCG Discovery, part of Havas, said many other companies sell merchandise not connected to their brands. Teen Vogue’s decision not to sell anything would help raise its profile among its audience.

The fact that Teen Vogue Haute Spot isn’t selling anything doesn’t raise its profile if employees are just marching girls down the hall to the Clinique counter at Nordstrom. On the other hand, if the store offered free products for teens to sample without additional expectations, wooing, or whisking, that would be more of a profile-raise for me. Or — better yet — donate the clothes and cosmetics to girls who could otherwise not afford them, or to girls and moms shelters or in hospitals. But this approach: “That shade of $38 lipstick looks smashing on you. Shall I escort you to Bloomie’s to complete your purchase? Have another smoothie. Can I have your email address? Thanks for being wooed!” Nope. Not cool.

Next point. What do you make of this?

Mr. Raj, who is not involved in the Haute Spot, suggested that publications should “basically get people wedded to the brand proposition for the long term.”

Basically get people wedded to the brand proposition for the long term? Is anyone else creeped out by that statement? Especially when it applies to teens? I mean, I want teens to love my book, and to buy it, and maybe even to tell their friends about it and hopefully buy future books. I’d be elated if they were entertained, touched, excited, saddened, angered, uplifted, or otherwise moved by my books. But do I want them to be wedded to my brand proposition for the long term? No.

If we as a culture spent less time “marrying brands” and more time developing personal relationships and learning about ourselves and the world around us (and, ahem, reading), maybe we wouldn’t have to think up smarmy marketing strategies in the face of a downward economic spiral.

Okay, we live in a consumptive society. It’s part of our problem, but none of us is immune, and it certainly doesn’t have to be all bad. If we like certain brands or products, being wooed by marketers is okay, as long as we know who’s doin’ the woo-in’ and the what and the how and and the why the woo-in’ is bein’ won. I mean, done.

The Teen Vogue Haute Spot plan, conversely, reads like a bunch of smoke-and-mirrors for teens who would probably support the brands enthusiastically without all of the underhanded marketing tactics.

Teens, what do you think about this? Other readers, marketers, writers, and parents — any thoughts?

1. Confession: As much as I find this oogie, I secretly wonder if a similar approach would work with TWENTY BOY SUMMER sales. I could invite a bunch of teens to my house. I could make smoothies. I could offer perfume samples and snacks and outlets to charge iPods and phones. And girls, if you like the book, I could “whisk” you right over to my computer where you could sign in to your amazon.com account and place your order! I wouldn’t even take any notes or where a creepy white lab coat… hmmm… verrrrry interesting… that book looks just smashing on you! Would you like another smoothie?

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