Without The Facebook


As I write, 26 of my 343 friends are on Facebook chat. It is the middle of a business day and those people, like millions of others, are checking in to see what's happening in the world.

Facebook was launched in 2004 as www.thefacebook.com and was only open to select students in the Ivy League. Seven years later, Facebook has lost the "the" and gained 500 million members.

It seems as if everyone, and now their mothers, has a profile. With a current world population of nearly 7 billion, approximately 93 percent of the population is Facebook-free. But how many people do you know who have dodged the digital bullet?

I have only two close friends without Facebook accounts: Patrick Reilly and Victoria Hargreaves. Both are young professionals, medical device and advertising sales, respectively. Both have chosen to remain blissfully uninvolved in the social network.

Reilly, 29, of Sacramento, Calif., said Facebook has never appealed to him.

"There was just no draw for me whatsoever," he said. When he first heard of Facebook, none of his friends was using it.

Privacy and anonymity are also concerns for Reilly. "I enjoy my peace," he said. "I don't want everybody to know everything about me. With Facebook no one has anything to themselves. Everyone wants to know where you are and what you're doing."

Hargreaves, 31, of Lakeview, said timing played a large role in why she didn't join.

"Had you caught me in 2002, when I was in my early 20's, I would have been on it in a second," she said. "I feel like I just kind of missed the bubble on it."

Finding other non-Facebookers proved challenging. One of my classmates responded to a Tweet I sent, informing me that her sister is also abstaining.

Amanda Collins, 31, of University Village, said her primary reason for not creating an account is not wanting to waste time.

"I see how people get sucked into creeping around on Facebook, reading about what's going on in peoples lives and looking at pictures," Collins, a working mom, said. "I honestly don't have that kind of time."

Collins is on point with her concern. According to Facebook, users spend 700 billion minutes per month on the site.

Both Reilly and Hargreaves noted saving time as an advantage of not having an account.

"It seems addictive to people," Reilly said. "It's something that takes up part of their day."

"I think you probably save a little bit of time," Hargreaves said, adding avoiding gossip to the list of pros. "I often hear things about other people that I feel I shouldn't be privy to."

Collins occasionally uses her husband's account, and it confirms her concern. "Before I know it an hour has gone by," she said. "I would say it is pretty fun, but I know if I had my account I'd be checking it at least ten times a day."

Being part of the un-networked community can have some disadvantages.

"I definitely missed some things," Hargreaves said. "Dinner reservations will change, or a bunch of people will be doing something, and I won't know about it because plans are being made on Facebook and I'm not a part of it."

For Collins, the drawback is losing touch with old friends. "We moved from Indianapolis about a year and a half ago and our friends there don't know what's going on in our lives," she said. "If I had Facebook, people would enjoy seeing how our life is going up here in Chicago."

Reilly disagreed, saying he much prefers calling, or even texting, to keep in touch.

"I think it would be better if people didn't communicate on Facebook," he said. "It's really lazy. There's nothing personal about anything anymore."

You might think people who don't use Facebook would know a fair amount of other people who don't. You would be wrong. Very wrong. It turns out these non-Facebookers are even rare among their respective circles. Reilly said nearly all of his family members have accounts, and he could only think of three close friends who are also holding out. Hargreaves only knows one person - her husband. She said it's very odd for an entire couple to be out of the Facebook loop, and it seems to confuse people.

"People always think it's weird to hear that I'm not on it," she said.

Collins said she faces similar questions, as everyone she knows is on Facebook.

As a child, parents often ask "if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it?" to dissuade their kids from using other people as justifications for their actions. But, in the case where most people you know are doing something, is there really a reason to avoid the lemming mentality?

My interviewees were split on if they would ever give in and follow the crowd.

"At this point, probably not," Reilly said. "It's just so accessible, and I feel like it's getting worse."

Hargreaves seemed open to the possibility, but only if it benefitted her professionally.

"Never say never," she said. "Certainly there's a chance. If I had something to promote I would definitely be on it in a second. I think it's a great networking tool."

For Collins, it's all about finding the time.

"Maybe someday," she said. "If I had more time to myself, I might find it fun to create an account and stay in touch with my friends."

While doing interviews, I started to think about my own Facebook activities. Honestly, if I didn't know it was going to be an asset in my career, I would probably deactivate my account. Reilly said something that struck a chord. "In general, I'm so turned off by how obsessed everyone is with everything everyone else is doing," he said, citing reality television as an example in addition to Facebook.

I completely agree. With the rare exception, I find reality TV ridiculous, and I don't care what is going on in the lives of people I haven't spoken with since high school. More importantly, I don't want people who I'm not close to having that kind of access into my personal life.

As Facebook accounts go, mine has the privacy equivalent of Fort Knox. I started thinking, if I'm going to hide most of my activity from most of my Facebook friends, what's the point?

In my opinion, there is no point. So, shortly after my interview with Reilly on Sunday, I de-friended about two-thirds of my online acquaintances. Maybe someday, I'll follow the rebels I envy and join the 6.5 billion without Facebook. Probably not, but a girl can dream.

- blog by Ashley Cullins, graduate student reporter, Medill School of Journalism

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