Circles, Pokes and Profile Holes: How Google+ Queers Facebook

Back when only elite universities (i.e. schools with sufficiently steep tuition) were invited, I was a Facebook apostle. In its social Stone Age, Facebook was a very young, very weird ecosystem that probably had more in common with OKCupid’ s system of drive-by virtual encounters than it does with the Facebook we know now. That network of morning-after-pokes and tentative friend requests sustained itself for a little while. Then that crazy Zuckerberg nerd got the big idea to start letting all the riff-raff in, which I guess is Justin Timberlake’s fault — I saw the movie, after all.

Fast forward to 2011. Facebook is a universal phenomenon with 750 million users worldwide, 15 million of which are your prying relatives, 35 million of which are your potential employers skimming through your Topless Kegstand Championship photo series. The company is still helmed by the same Harvard dropout turned millionaire who still doesn’t know the right way to rock a hoodie. Everyone, absolutely everyone,  is on Facebook — and while that could be a blessing, it’s a curse.

Don’t want someone to see the pics from that one party where you only wore electrical tape over your boobs? Don’t worry, just make a limited profile, the single most conspicuous way to suggest to your semifriends and estranged family members that you are a) gay b) a boozehound or speedfreak, as the case may be, or c) a proprietor of a BDSM dungeon. Not that any of these things are problematic on their own (they are perhaps best in combination!) but there’s nothing like a gaping hole where your wall should be to get Aunt Whatever’s imagination running wild or your ex totally pissed at your new secret life that obviously you’ve cut her out of, like the cancer that she is.

I haven’t been a regular Facebook user since late 2007 or so. After Zuck so democratically loosed the floodgates on the lowborn masses and added status updates — the ultimate text-based indiscretion this side of sexting — I started feeling skittish about doing much of anything on Facebook. I systematically ignored friend requests as they piled up in my inbox. People accosted me to ‘friend them’ and that seemed like a hollow empty shell of the already hollow, empty shell that we’d only just formed that night over Irish carbombs.

When the tipping point, well, tipped, I began self-editing at first, untagging photos and essentially erasing my memories off the face of the planet…because really who remembers anything these days without pathologically cataloguing their regrettably offline living experience on the web? Once I grew tired of concealing my own digital footprint, I became a Facebook recluse — only hopping on the world’s most convoluted social network to RSVP to events and untag assorted indiscretions captured by (happily) low-resolution cameraphones.

Eventually Twitter happened. I threw my weight the other way, made an account, and started consolidating my thoughts into 140-character-or-less parcels. I didn’t associate it with my given name, and collected my web friends as the microblogging attention-span-havoc-wreaking phenom began in earnest.

Now I neglect two Facebook accounts: the original one from 2004 and one with my new taken name that feels much more “me” now. It drives me crazy that I can’t just merge them or customize my original profile’s privacy settings in a nuanced way. (It probably drives all 42 of my Facebook friends crazy too — sorry, guys.) I essentially ignore both of them.

The thing is, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Friendster circa 2002, having a unified personal identity is a particular kind of bullshit that has no real correlate in reality. When profile pages are the cornerstone of a social network, we’re encouraged to prune our weedy online identities, lest they grow over into an unruly, inappropriate, or otherwise incoherent tangle.

This is the heart of my beef with Facebook, and the reason that I’m so excited about Google+. Yes, there are the intentionally obfuscated privacy settings to fumble through, but at the end of the day, you are your Facebook profile — whether your buttoned-up Auntie Someone can see it or not. And the absence of key personal details speaks just as loudly as their presence, if not more so.

Things may have settled out a bit (or I’m just older and boringer)…I don’t know if the omission of your sexual predelictions is still failproof evidence of eminent homo-osity, but the fact of the matter is you’ve got all your carefully-curated social interminglings there in one place for anyone to see — or conspicuously not see. Walls become the focus; the social part fades into the background as we find ourselves scanning eachother’s personal data like maniacs instead of actually, you know, interacting.

I think Facebook is a particularly poor reflection of real life. Then again, I’ve always been compelled by contextual identities and how seldom we acknowledge the untruth of a coherent, unified self. I’m not saying you should be ashamed of who you are or that you should make every effort to hide your “true self” from prying, professional, or parental eyes — but rather that the idea of a true self is a fiction to begin with.

Identity is a moving target, a pesky, amorphous thing defined by both our conception of who were are, others’ perception of who we are, and the interplay of those expectations and projections in any given moment.

Here’s a real life example that I’m sure we can all relate to: In bed, you bring a Legendary A Game. On the Fourth of July, you were seen shamelessly eating pasta salad with your hands while sitting cross-legged on a linoleum floor. How do you reconcile these two versions of yourself —  the one, a confident sex panther; the other a drunk, ravenous weirdo? Maybe you are a sex panther and maybe you did that thing with the pasta salad — but that doesn’t mean you’d combine those activities. If you did, you’d probably see a wasteland of profile holes where so many Facebook walls once were.

That or you’d get unfriended — the ultimate slap in the face doled out via wi-fi. On Google+ you’d never run into this dilemma: just make a custom Circle for People You Sleep With and one for People Who Also Have Strong Feelings About Pasta Salad.

Sure, we can pretend social media isn’t a big deal, and that the boundaries between the internet and real life aren’t permeable — but they totally are. From “tweetups” to Facebook pokes blossoming into nervous, wine-guzzling first dates, social media undeniably sculpts our interactions in the realm beyond the hyper-social web. And I for one would rather keep my online world as dynamic, fluid, and complex as the other one I sometimes have to put pants on to go into.

If we’re being at all honest, life is queer: The borders of our compartmentalized selves bleed together, but don’t necessarily overlap. Imagine an infinitely interlocking Venn Diagram, Escher-esque circles upon circles — it’s just like that. Good thing Google just made a solution to this social impasse that’s as literal as can be.

What do you think about Google+? Have you taken to it like a fish to social water or do you remain a true-blue Facebook devotee? Tell us in the comments, because sharing is caring!

Taylor has written 137 articles for us.

60 Comments

  1. “The thing is, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Friendster circa 2002, having a unified personal identity is a particular kind of bullshit that has no real correlate in reality. When profile pages are the cornerstone of a social network, we’re encouraged to prune our weed-ridden online identities, lest they grow over into an unruly, inappropriate, or otherwise incoherent tangle.”

    THIS IS BRILLIANT AND SO TRUE. I’ve been grappling with how to have a single facebook for my friends in real life, my family, my friends and family friends and neighbors teachers etc that “reconnect” with me and the loads of trans men who want some form of social connection to me after reading my blog. Facebook just doesn’t offer a space for you to do that, because each of those groups knows a different Sebastian!

  2. im still waiting on my invite from yall so i can join google+, but as soon as i get it ima be all up ons. i really hope this catches on because we all need this in our lives. every single one of our multiple lives.

  3. Google + is still pretty slow. I have lots of techy friends, but the buzz just isn’t there yet. I like the features, and I think Taylor’s right about it being more functional.

    I’m happy to send invites tweet me at hungrydyke.

  4. I’m hesitant to start a Google+ account. Has anyone read the terms and conditions? Its a bit scary. Google has made it so they have rights to everything you put on Google +. Anyone else a little weired out by this?

  5. don’t know why everyone is so excited about the circle system..it’s not any different from facebook lists? apart from the fact, that i think everyone can add me to one of their circles without my approval?! i don’t really want my full name to show up at the google+ profile of some random dude from some random class i took years ago….and right now almost everyone seems to have all their connections up on their profile cause they didn’t unclick that button…mneh…not a fan

    • Yeah, I don’t get it either. I don’t plan on getting an account, FB serves it’s purpose just fine for me. I’m smart enough (or old enough) that I don’t have pics of me doing silly/stupid/illegal things posted, or posted by friends. If I don’t want anyone to know about it, I don’t take pictures of it or post about it.

      I don’t need to break my friends into “work” groups or “family groups” etc. I’m not going to censor myself for fear of offending, if someone doesn’t like what I have to say, hide my posts or unfriend me. I’ve done it to others who are ultra conservative/religous.

    • Facebook does have that functionality, but it’s a pain in the ass to use. Google+ is much simpler in that respect (and accessible from the Android app, too – bonus).

      Also, you don’t have to use your full name on Google+. I don’t. (I don’t use it on Facebook, either. But Google+ let me use my last initial as a last name, whereas on Facebook I have to pretend that my middle name is my last name.)

  6. I’m a Facebook devotee. Yes, when that random kid from high school I haven’t seen in years defriended me, I sulked in a corner, and when my old RA blocked me from seeing his wall, I cried a little, but I love it. Why? Because it’s different than the mess that was(is?) MySpace, and all of my friends/acquaintances/coworkers/professors are there. There’s nothing really different about Google+. I was thrilled when I got an invite, but upon filling out my profile and adding people, I thought, “That’s it?” G+ is more aesthetically pleasing than Facebook, but there’s no real reason to abandon Facebook and no real difference to have both.

  7. Strange that you mention the a), b) and c) bit at the beginning of your article as (with a minor change to b) ..which was Mary Jane not speed or booze) my ex did get seriously pissed off when she discovered I was in the BDSM scene when she was approached by one of the Sundays for information about my past life, so to speak.

    How did you know …. please tell me you weren’t hacking back in 2006 … before it became fashionable in the Met.

    Excellent article … well written and so true. Thanks.

    Keep smiling, and regards from sunny Spain

  8. one one hand, i want more people to join g+ so it’s more interesting.

    on the other hand, i hate everybody and don’t want to talk to people.

    but i think the circles handle that issue, so i guess i’ll suck it up and be social.

  9. Google, in recent years, has started to freak me out. They want to know too much.

    In any case, I have to say I find it beyond irritating when people bitch about facebook because they’re so much cooler than the rest of us. The whole of Tumblr is like this and I just find it frustrating, just take it easy and enjoy the site for being a bit of fun.

  10. I was on FB circa 2005, when actually certain high schools also had an account through emails. I got a Myspace in 2007 and was laughed at….constantly because I wasn’t taking pictures of myself with my camera phone at weird angles in the bathroom…but i digress.

    i can’t keep up with all this new social networking, so i’m going to say no to google+ because i don’t know what i would, could, should do with it.

    this was also nice to read.

  11. I’m digging Google+! I’ve posted on Google+ three times in the past week, which is three times more than I’ve posted to my facebook wall in the past 4 years. The only fault I’ve found so far is that I can’t remove my surname from my G+ profile without also removing it from my gmail. Or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

  12. So far I have found Google+ is a very good way to keep up with Taylor Hatmaker’s whereabouts and interests

    I never really used or liked facebook, and was definitely a holdout, I remember me and Carly caved on the same day in the summer of 2007 and finally joined. I thought it was neat at first but because I’m SO TERRIBLY FAMOUS i don’t know more than half my “facebook” friends so there’s really not much I use facebook for besides looking at photos people took at places where i didn’t take photos. usually my entire facebook feed is alex and croce and all those girls who live in LA. they go out a lot and take a lot of photos and comment on things on facebook a lot. so facebook is the place where i find out what all the lesbians in LA are doing with their time and sometimes poke people when i’m nervous it’s been too long since we’ve communicated and i don’t know how else to tell them i miss them, i’m sorry, and i probably won’t have time to communicate any time soon, really

    google + seems good though so far, taylor you make me excitant about it. it really needs a toolbar bookmark though to auto-share stuff, like tumblr and instapaper and stuff has

  13. For the people sayings G+ is the same as Facebook or they don’t like that randoms can add them – I don’t think you understand G+. think of it as a melding of Facebook and twitter on steroids. Anyone can follow you, yes, but don’t make any public posts and they don’t see anything you wrote. Public posts are like twitter but more public… On the smart phone apps you can choose to read ‘nearby’ posts it’s like a new form of community people who don’t know each other are happily chatting away. Just choose who you post to. Either your circles as a whole, thd public as a whole, or individual circles or people. So for people saying it’s the same as facebook, pull your heads out of your arses… Nuff said.

    • yeah, but i DON’T want my name to show up on random people’s profile pages…do i have to block everyone i don’t necessarily want to be associated with (bully from highschool, asshole from work, annoying exes…) who adds me to their circles? there’s the option to hide your own circles on your own profile, but not to hide your name in theh circles on other people’s profiles.

  14. I’m tentatively liking Google+. It’s all about the circles. Mostly I’m sharing everything publicly or to all my circles as I’m mainly using G+ as a tumblr-type place to post interesting links and maybe start discussions. I’m also a roller derby referee so have a circle of roller derby people and a circle of refs so I can post roller derby stuff to them without boring the rest of my friends(? followers?). I now also have a very small circle called ‘personal’ to whom I share personal details of my life in a twitter and also blog type way. The alternative name for this group is ‘people I would tell this shit to irl’. I have avoided friending anyone from work on facebook and am hard to search for on there but would be fine with people finding me on G+ (gplus.to/lauragrace) as I am more secure about what they will/won’t be able to see. Also, as Taylor points out, it’s not just about what they can/can’t see but what they can tell they can/can’t see. On FB it’s obvious when people have you on limited access to their profile but on G+ you have no idea if they are sharing more with others than you get to see.
    I also like the +1 section of your profile where you can +1 (or ‘like’) pages on the internet and they show as links. Although for some reason it won’t let me +1 AS 🙁

    • I just +1 AS after doing this by searching for autostraddle in Google search and then clicking the +1 icon that appears after the search result for AS url.
      I have enabled +1 on non-Google sites in the Google+ Settings, not sure if this is necessary to actually +1 any site you like though.

  15. I feel like without Facebook, past acquaintances and co-workers would be out of my life forever, and I want an excuse or way to still interact with them. Honestly, all I’m thinking about is getting jobs and moving my career along. Every so often, I go through and purge old wall posts and shit because Facebook has because a vehicle for simple conversation and I don’t like the idea of a conversation that is on record forever. It’s weird!

  16. The circles really aren’t any different than facebook groups. I guess a lot of people never realized how much control facebook gives you? Because seriously I can’t figure out how circles operate any differently in the end. On facebook I regularly share different things with different individual people or groups of people or whatever. That feature has been around for a long time.

  17. ever since I found Tumblr I’ve been pretty much weaning myself off of Facebook. It’s really no fun anymore and is fairly limited in privacy, variety, and personality. Google+ is a more organized, private, fun, more effective version of facebook. Cannot wait to get in on that1

  18. i use facebook for family and everything else for friends. facebook tries to streamline all aspects of my life, and while thats great in theory, it just. doesn’t. work. until i get the hang of google plus, i will tumble for now.

  19. I prefer google+ to facebook too, I still check facebook since most people are on it but I hardly post there. I like the Circles way of arranging things and just need to start actually using it more. And this way I don’t have to avoid friend requests from people who knew me a decade ago but I don’t give a shit about and don’t feel the need to share any part of my life with them.

  20. I had a facebook for about two days. I deleted it because I didn’t like it and now I blow people’s minds when they’re like “oh lol I’ll friend you on facebook” and I say “I don’t have facebook.” I’m a teenager, and I’ve only ever met one other person my age who can say that.
    Google+ seems like it could, in theory, be nicer than facebook, but I don’t think I’ll make one.

    Also, Taylor, you’re smokin’ in that pic with the two beer cans.

  21. I remember going to school at the University of Akron and being so bitter that Kent State had Facebook and we didn’t yet. I almost crapped my pants when they finally let my school in.

    For now I’m still mostly using fb because it works on my old, decrepit Blackberry where Google+ isn’t quite as compatible. Once I give in and upgrade to a Droid or whatever, Google+ will probably edge its way into my life and heart.

  22. “Identity is a moving target, a pesky, amorphous thing defined by both our conception of who were are, others’ perception of who we are, and the interplay of those expectations and projections in any given moment”

    brill, tay

  23. “And I for one would rather keep my online world as dynamic, fluid, and complex as the other one I sometimes have to put pants on to go into.”

    I am not a big fan of Facebook and only use it to keep in touch with friends (as if our Skype chats and email exchanges weren’t enough—I know right?) and most of the time I’m just lazy to update or put content into it. I’ve grown to add all the privacy layers I can on “friends” on Facebook and I’m pretty sure 90% of them only see 5% of what’s really in my profile. Sometimes I ask myself, What’s the point of keeping an FB profile again?

  24. I quit Facebook about three years ago for the reasons outlined in this post.

    I’m really liking Google+, so much so I’ve been neglecting Twitter of late.

  25. totally agree with the facebook stuff… I keep thinking I’ll just delete the whole thing but then my friends who are still into it freak out and I feel bad… maybe that’s the part I need to work on…. hmmmmmmm

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