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Posted at 05:07 PM ET, 07/06/2011

Why Facebook’s ‘awesome’ Skype announcement is terrible


I think he’s talking? Honestly, I could not tell you, because talking is foreign to me. (Justin Sullivan - GETTY IMAGES)
Facebook’s Awesome announcement is terrible news!

Video chat? Group chat? Skype integrated with Facebook with a simple download?

This is a betrayal of the worst kind!

Because of Facebook, I have spent years weeding out my ability to decipher the rich array of non-verbal cues that comprise human conversation. A raised eyebrow? A shrug? A perplexed blink? It’s Ancient Sumerian to me! “This information is no longer useful,” I say. “And it took up room in the part of my brain where ‘Whip My Hair’ now plays on loop.”

This is what we are all becoming.

And it is not because we were limited by technology. This is an act of choice. Before cellphones were for texting, they were for calling. Now they’re for everything but.

Actual face-to-face conversation is quaint and feels somehow wrong. “I don’t think I know you well enough to talk to you in public with my pants on,” we murmur. “Let’s stay Gchat friends.”

We keep in touch with people through lines of neatly spaced, generally serif-free text.

“Good to hear your voice” has given way to “Good to see ‘Alexandra Petri is typing’ flash in the corner of my screen.”

So these new Facebook features – and their counterparts on Google+, the “Hangout” feature where you can sit on the digital equivalent of a porch and do the digital equivalent of shooting the breeze, which generally results in watching YouTube videos — are hardly enhancements.

If anything, they’re a breach of contract. This is the rare case where we want less.

We no longer know how to talk to people.

On Facebook, we talk to everyone and no one, in an endless string of sound bites. It’s like those abominable Christmas letters, but daily, hourly, minutely, chipping away at our ability to sort the private from the public, the mundane from the revelatory.

So this video chat thing sounds like a nightmare. Talk to people? Just one person at a time? Just one group of people at a time? That sounds frighteningly monogamous.

This isn’t gaining features. This is losing features, features like the ability to wander off and fix yourself a sandwich while Carla typed lugubrious paragraphs to you about her life difficulties. Just try that in Skype. At least on the phone you can use the restroom undetected. Just try to do that as Sean cries about his inability to move on from your love.

Facebook, you can’t do this to us. I have been loyal to you for years because you held out a tantalizing future where my only interaction would be with one-inch-square boxes that vaguely resembled my memory of what people once looked like. You promised me that I would never have to talk to anyone ever again.

If one thing is true of most “social” networkers, it is that we hate talking to people. That can be awkward! Where do you look? Ben Franklin said that when talking to someone you should look at his eyes or mouth. This was easy for Ben Franklin to say. He didn’t have to check Twitter every six seconds.

Now they’re forcing us back into it with all this video chat nonsense.

No shirt, no shoes? You’re probably using Facebook.

Now, at any time, without warning, we can be called upon to converse with people face-to-face who are dressed and want to talk.

A great boon? It’s about as much a boon as instituting a dress code.

Facebook wants us to interact in real-time with real people, like normal human beings? Doesn’t it get it? In case it doesn’t, here is a handy chart.


Apologies to Venn.

Facebook is not a social network. It is an antisocial network.

The indelible final image of the “Social Network” movie is Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg — alone, in a glass-walled room, remote from any actual human contact, reloading the page.

It’s a bit overemphasized, but it does the job.

Facebook is what you do instead of interacting with people. Facebook Friends, as I’ve noted, are not friends. Facebook Likes are not real likes – both are strange antiseptic statistics.

So to turn on us like this now is cruel.

Facebook adding a function that makes it easier to talk to people? Making a social network really social?

Where’s the dislike button when I need it?

By  |  05:07 PM ET, 07/06/2011

 
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