Facebook, Goodbye: Why Robert Goolrick Quit

Quitting the site may be a professional mistake, but Robert Goolrick says he no longer feels embraced by Facebook, but invaded. Friends no longer post anything of substance—and what’s with the ads for Jewish summer camp?

I am leaving Facebook this evening. My friends have told me I’m foolish; my friends have written that they’d do the same, but that they’d miss the connection to the world too much. Mostly they have asked me why.

I don’t like cocktail parties. While they may be proof that matter can, in fact, be created out of nothing, they are an enormous amount of trouble to give, and almost invariably a chore to attend. They are rarely given for a reason; they just happen to come along once in a while. Nothing of substance is ever said, it is all about a façade of charm and gaiety, about showing off new clothes, trying out new anecdotes, presenting a falsely socialized version of yourself. People give them and, I suppose go to them, in a state of generosity and hopefulness and, once they end, they are hardly a memory to put in the scrapbook.

Facebook to me is the cocktail party of the new millennium. When I joined years ago, it was like a community bulletin board where people you knew would post items of interest or urgency or charm. Now it’s turned into Grand Central Station at rush hour, with everybody bumping into everybody else, and a track announcer droning on and on the list of trains and platforms, echoing in the cavernous halls so that one can’t hear anything or tell what platform the 6:10 to Greenwich will be leaving from. Facebook is a cocktail party thrown in Grand Central at rush hour.

And true, many, many people have said truly witty things. My favorite, from the brilliant and beautiful Kristina Weise, “The Dalai Lama said, 'Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’ That being said, the Dalai Lama never worked in midtown.” Bravo.

And my favorite group I never joined on Facebook, because after I admitted to admiring Walt Whitman and immediately began getting solicitations for donations from the Walt Whitman Society, is called “There is no i in team, but there are three u’s in shut the fuck up.”

And things have been accomplished. Arguably, it helped to elect a president—an ubermensch whom we decided almost instantaneously and without cause was more of a mensch than he was uber—and made a difference in health-care reform. Certainly, it has produced the spectacle of an 88-year-old woman hosting Saturday Night Live. And it has, like the biggest cocktail party in the history of man, produced a massive amount of matter out of a massive amount of nothing.

I traveled a great deal last winter, and it bothered me that Facebook knew within seconds that I was in Chicago or Philadelphia or Portland, offering me dates and discounts. It bothers me that Facebook knows that I graduated from high school in 1966, went to Johns Hopkins and graduated in 1970. It bothers me that, on the day the iPad came out, I was suddenly inundated with promos that offered me a chance to get an iPad free, if I just happened to be 61 years old.

Facebook doesn’t get everything right. The hotties I am offered a chance to date in Charleston or Boston are inappropriate. Facebook thinks I’m Jewish, which I often wish I were, because I’m constantly being urged to attend Hebrew school, or go to a Jewish camp for the summer.

I do not feel less alone because people I don’t know now and never will take the time to wish me a happy birthday, as charming and kind as they may be.

I have a minute number of friends, compared to some of my fellow networkers. A few years ago, the things they posted were from the heart, and the videos and artwork and articles they posted seemed to be ones they found genuinely interesting or moving; now the governing principle seems to be to post things that are extraordinary only because of their obscurity or their campiness.

Will I miss it? Yes. Will I return? Time will tell. At the moment, I hope not. I no longer feel embraced. I feel invaded. I feel manipulated. And I do not feel less alone because people I don’t know now and never will take the time to wish me a happy birthday, as charming and kind as they may be.

Is it a professional mistake? Almost certainly. I write books. Do the friends of my friends’ friends ever buy one of my books? I’m sure they do, and I’m grateful. Did the guy who created ShitMyDadSays get a book and movie deal out of Facebook? Indubitably. Good for him. Will that 13-year-old boy who covers “Paparazzi” better than Gaga get a record deal? I hope he does.

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But too much appalls me, I’m sorry to say. The single fact of the existence of a page created by a mediocre art critic so that 5,000 men and women, whose talents are more remarkable and valuable than his will ever be, are required to participate in what is presumably an ongoing salon in which the state of the contemporary art world is discussed, but which is in reality a self-aggrandizing exercise in ring-kissing by honorable people who just want him or his wife to come to their exhibition, is enough to make me want to put down my drink, bid goodnight to my generous hosts, and head for home.

When I was a teenager, I had a friend named Winifred Tyree, and she was a great old alcoholic Southern battle ax of a woman, one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. She was fond of giving out money, of playing Handel’s Largo on her enormous grand piano, at the end of which, three times, when she reached across drunkenly to hit the bass note with her right hand, she fell off the piano stool and broke her wrist. But she said a lot of great things to me when I was 17, the kind of things that never leave you.

Once, drunk as ever, she held my hand and said to me, in her basso profundo Southern drawl, “Dawlin’, never forget. Always leave a party before it gets maudlin.”

Well, either Facebook has gotten maudlin, or I have, so I’m just going to step out now. I realize that posting this in the morning and deactivating at night gives me the ghoulish thrill of attending my own funeral, but allow me this one final wallow.

The party will go on. I hope everybody has a swell time. I’ll miss you. There are some shrimp and canapés left, so help yourselves. The cavemen probably had cocktail parties. I’m sure the Martians do. So enjoy this one. But, remember, while you're here downing the Facebook cocktail, try not to say anything of genuine substance or revelation, because there is somebody listening. Somebody you don’t know. Somebody who doesn’t like you.


Editor’s Note: Robert Goolrick wrote these words May 28, and quit Facebook that evening. Two weeks later, he reports, “My finger twitches on the place on the bookmark bar where FB used to be, but somehow my heart isn’t pining for it all that much.”

Robert Goolrick is the author of the 2007 memoir, The End of the World as We Know It, and the novel A Reliable Wife, which recently won the NAIBA award for Novel of the Year for 2009.