It’s complicated

Facebook, the enormously popular social networking site, hit a milestone moment recently: 500 million users.

That is, in case numbers aren’t your thing, half a billion people.

Or, think of it this way: Millions and millions of men and women frantically and obsessively posting status updates, uploading photos, browsing for high-school buddies and sweethearts, commenting on wall posts and otherwise shouting into the void.

This weekend, I used Facebook to finally reconnect, in person, with one of my best friends from high school. A few simple clicks helped to close the gap on nearly two decades of a lost friendship, and the result was something that felt at once overwhelmingly nostalgic and unreal and yet also very satisfying.

As I also used the site to post news about a garage sale, browse photos from a recent camping trip and keep up with my friends’ lives, I contemplated how a once-simple social networking tool has morphed into a cultural zeitgeist—a digital map of human emotion, an anthropological lesson on the nature of human nature and impulse.

Still, as I clicked and browsed, I couldn’t help but also think that if Facebook is going to exist as a communication hub—a nexus of relationships, virtual or otherwise—then there are a few things I wish the site could do to make my life better, more fulfilled and less, well, complicated. I took to Facebook—naturally—to ask a few of my friends for suggestions:

Add a “Dislike” button: OK, so it’s the most obvious and hardly an original idea but, overwhelmingly, this was my friends’ top suggestion, which begs the question: If it’s so obvious, why haven’t Mark Zuckerberg and company added it yet?

Just as the “Like” option makes it easy and convenient to take part in an online conversation without actually saying anything, a “dislike” button would be useful for signaling sympathy for a bad situation or, in more extreme cases, a digital rebuke. I couldn’t help but wish for that option a few weeks back as I watched acquaintance brag about his various hookups. Hitting “Dislike” would have made for the most appropriate reaction, allowing me to hover somewhere between defriending him (as did his ex-fiancée, long ago) and posting “you jerk” repeatedly on his wall.

Don’t let me—or my friends—post drunken updates: Really, if they can figure out how to let me play games, upload music and chat, shouldn’t this thing also come with a Breathalyzer—or at the least the option to narrowly select exactly who gets to see those photos and status updates you posted after three beers at the state fair? Just sayin’.

Censor my posts: The actual suggestion was more along the lines of “Facebook should limit people to five or less adorable kitten photos a month and three or less food updates”—but you get the idea.

Kick me off after 30 minutes: Sometimes when I catch myself late at night, iPhone in hand and the Facebook app open yet once again, I force myself to shut the damn thing down. It’s sad, but the social networking site seems to have become something of a blind habit in my life—a mindless activity, a knee-jerk reaction to empty minutes. I don’t even want to try to calculate how much time I’ve wasted scrolling through the newsfeed and browsing through photos. Sometimes it serves as a way to feel closer to people, but too often it’s just a reminder that they’re over there and I’m over here, and no amount of digital trickery could ever replace logging off and opting for a real-life, tangible connection.