My Anglican friends will say, “No, we should stay – and reform Facebook from the inside!” [/satire]. But in a week or so, I’ll be leaving Facebook. The account will remain (for now), but I’m going to try and stay off the site itself completely.
Here are my reasons, for what they’re worth, and several of them have already been articulated in this excellent piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books.
1. I have a growing sense that I’m being spread too thinly as a human being. I am not designed to be omnipresent. It’s already tiring dealing with Whatsapp AND Messages AND email AND Twitter AND Instagram AND Slack AND Twist, without also being nagged to open Facebook notifications, only to be told that it’s the birthday of someone I barely know. In everyday life, and I’m sure this is related in part to social media use, I often feel distracted and unpresent.
2. Facebook feels increasingly intrusive, sneaky and boorish, both on the site itself, and on the internet in general. We care about you and your memories, Barry. Here’s a painful one from 7 years ago, Barry. Here’s a meme / article you’ve seen a thousand times already, Barry. Want to log in to this unrelated website? Sure, Barry, either remember a 15 character password featuring both upper and lower case letters, some symbols, and a word that’s possibly in a foreign language, OR SIMPLY CLICK THIS BLUE BUTTON BARRY.
3. As the truism goes, if you’re not paying for a particular product online, then you’re the product. I don’t like the fact that scads of information about me are being sold to advertisers so they can constantly disturb me with targeted ads. I don’t think it’s necessarily unethical – after all, when you sign up for a free service like Facebook, they ask (in return) for permission to use your personal details in this way. It’s just that, for me, the trade-off is no longer worth it.
4. I don’t like the idea that this large repository of personal information is out there at all. The info is all about me, and yet it feels out of my control. Just try deleting posts from your activity feed. Unless you nuke your whole account, Facebook make it impossible for you to delete more than one post/comment/like at a time. If you have 10 years of accumulated posts/comments/likes (as I do), it’ll probably take you 10 years to delete them all. And even then, of course, it never really disappears.
5. Having a podcast page on Facebook has been an eye-opener. Increasingly, Facebook is telling us that unless we pay to boost posts, we’ll essentially become invisible on the platform – even to people who like what we do. It seems that the vast quantities of money they’re making from harvesting our personal information isn’t enough.
6. Facebook (and other social media) is apparently being used by governments to surveil people in order to better manipulate them. I don’t care whether it’s Putin, Obama or Trump. If they really want to get to know me, they’re going to have to work harder.
7. Facebook turns otherwise sane and likable people into the opposite. The concept itself (reach hundreds of people and receive instant affirmation from them) is calculated to puff people up, inflate our sense of our own importance, and turn us into narcissistic blowhards.
8. There are, very occasionally, some things that are edifying on Facebook. Some of those cat videos are GREAT. But generally, it feels as if the platform itself is goading us all into poking holes in that big ol’ rusty bucket marked “Sum Total Of Human Kindness”.
9. The constant “static” of trivial, badly-informed and poorly-reasoned posts has the effect of devaluing words and argumentation generally, in much the same way as pumping a load of counterfeit currency into an economy makes real money lose its value. And when words in general start to become weightless, we start to miss (or overlook, through sheer fatigue) words which are eternally significant.
10. RSS feeds are superior to social media as a one-stop source for most info-based web content, anyway. That’s why both this site and the Cooper and Cary site have RSS feeds at the foot of the page, even though Facebook is effectively helping to kill them off. With RSS feeds (accessed via apps or free web-based services like the excellent Feedly), you the reader – rather than a hidden and capricious algorithm – curate exactly what you want to read, and when. This is a much saner, much calmer way of doing things. I’m happy to go to the store for things I know I need, or have them delivered, when I need them (RSS); not so happy when the uninvited salesman keeps knocking on my front door with useless stuff I don’t want (Facebook). With RSS feeds, you get content from trusted authors you’ve chosen to read, when you want to read them, without that content being filtered by anyone else, buried in a blizzard of ads, drowned by unrelated notifications, or accompanied by invitations to clear up pig dung in a virtual farming community.
11. I’m providing free labour for an organisation I don’t want to work for. Simon Lanchester: “Anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company. In 2014, the New York Times did the arithmetic and found that humanity was spending 39,757 collective years on the site, every single day. Jonathan Taplin points out that this is ‘almost fifteen million years of free labour per year’. That was back when it had a mere 1.23 billion users.” (Now it’s around 2 billion.)
12. In case the preceding hasn’t made it obvious, I don’t enjoy Facebook that much any more. What used to be a novel and delightful “hit” now feels dead-eyed, compulsive and unwelcome, as if pure muscle memory – or dopamine addiction – has taken over.
13. I’m happier – surprise surprise – when I’m not on a website that positively encourages me to covet and/or look down on others, and encourages others to do the same to me. (As ever, my wife Lee is ahead of the game. She deleted her account over a year ago, and insists that life after Facebook is considerably more pleasant.)
14. I figure I spend 30-60 mins per day on Facebook. That’s more than two weeks every year. It’s just a colossal waste of time and energy. And despite my best efforts, I don’t seem consistently able to use it in moderation. I’d love to reallocate that time to reading one of the many books I haven’t got around to reading, or interacting in the real world with real human beings who I find are less inclined to liken me to a genocidal dictator when we’re making real eye contact with each other.
15. It’s clearly the mark of the beast.
I do understand that Facebook can be handy for sharing photos and info about the “big moments” of our lives. It’s convenient, widely-used, and even my 80 year old Dad finds it pretty straightforward. That ease of use, and those little red hits of feedback, are the very coils of flypaper that Facebook are hoping will keep us there.
I will also concede that it is a huge rush to post that you’ve just got engaged / married / some exciting tropical disease, and for a day or two feel as if you’re the centre of the entire cosmos, as hundreds of people you’ve barely spoken to in real life mash virtual buttons in response. But, again, is that good for the soul?
It’s not as if I’m falling off the grid entirely. You’ll still be able to reach me here. You can even ask for my phone number if you like. For the time being, I’ll remain on Twitter. Plus you can also subscribe to that podcast I do.
But what do you think about it? Are there good things I’ve overlooked? Or yet more bad things?
Leave me a comment below, and let’s party like it’s 2003.