Breaking free from the Facebook Prison Experiment

Nadja Bester
Jun 23, 2018 · 5 min read
Image courtesy of Electronic Frontier Foundation

I remember a time when being on Facebook made me feel like the Shizh. That’s a World of Warcraft reference for “A master of the wild who can tame a wide variety of beasts to assist her in combat”. Which is precisely what an earlier Facebook was like.

From the day I first signed up for an account in 2005 (probably the only time my fledgeling inner geek managed to latch onto a trend before it hatched), I’ve been navigating the intricacies of digital social life ever since. A posthumous audit (‘cos I’m not all that sure I’d be able to handle the cringe factor in real-time) of Facebook Me will reveal 101 faces my early adult tried on to “find herself”. Facebook was the perfect petri dish for a steady stream of identity crises. Because no matter who I was at the time, or what “Down with formal education” or “Do you know how much microplastic is in that water you’re drinking?” stuff I was into, there was always a tribe that had my back.

For a gal who grew up in a city so conservative it seemed fixation on upending the Age of Reason, this was about as intellectually orgasmic as I could hope to get without having to dress up for a date first. Facebook was like a utopic hive mind. The enlightened piece of brilliance I was becoming with every mind-blowing book added to my ‘Read’ shelf on GoodReads, every 2,000-word article clicked ‘Like’ on, and every brain-bending movie watched was not only documented but appreciated by my fellow Seekers of [Whatever We Were Seeking at the Time]. And before long (since we were all so gung-ho about sharing our newfound wisdom with our beloved Facebook gang), Our Mother Who Art in Silicon Valley became our news source, shaping what we thought and how we thought about it.

But somewhere along the way, this budding sociological religion we were co-creating with our favourite social media network started going awry. Not in an overt ‘There goes Eddard Stark’s head a’rolling’ kinda way. Perhaps politics are to blame. Facebook is as Game of Thrones as any website can get, after all, echo chambering its power to swayed elections or (unintentionally) bringing shadowy giants like Cambridge Analytica to its knees.

In my own little existential journey spinning ‘round the Milky Way, there are many origin stories as to when the cracks started setting in. Too many amateur food photographers capturing the essence of every cheese sandwich they’d garnished with Italian flat leaf parsley. Too many duck-faced beauty queens whose tear-stained faces on the way out of our shared 3-Sessions-and-You’ll-Be-Healed therapist’s room belied those sparkling engagement rings that matched the sparkling lives their Facebook updates made us all green with envy. The fact that I started living instead of being my own best status stalker. The 21st-century definition of madness is sure to include writing “And now I’m going for a walk…” followed by “Hey guys, I’m back!” and getting dozens of esteem-raising blue thumbs in thanks for such logic-defying overshare.

I was off Facebook for a good few years, until a partner who didn’t get the (ancient) memo that Facebook is a mood killer started tagging me in every random thought and checking in with me when we did as much as jog around the block. I resisted for as long as I could but … the Force is strong with Zuckerberg. Before long, every one of my thousands of Facebook friends (and yeah, what’s that about?) knew which airport I was at, what my Starbucks cup said, and how I just loved the smell of flowers in the meadow. (Metaphorically speaking, I’m too busy for the meadow, plus there’s no wifi.)

Facebook has been a gigantic social experiment that our grandkids will reference in Psych 101. But it’s no longer the Elysium we once bought into, starry-eyed as we were. Social media addiction is rivalling drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. And instead of Kurt Cobain, it’s given us Kim Kardashian. Somewhere, something went way off course. Way.

We’re not alone in our discontent. Researcher Tavis McGinn once held a unique job description. As Mark Zuckerberg’s and Sheryl Sandberg’s personal public opinion tracker, he was tasked with keeping tabs on what the world thinks of these two movers and shakers. It wasn’t long before he took a walk down to HR and left to start research firm Honest Data.

“I think research can be very powerful, if people are willing to listen. But I decided after six months that it was a waste of my time to be there. I didn’t feel great about the product. I didn’t feel proud to tell people I worked at Facebook. I didn’t feel I was helping the world.”

Move over, MacDonald’s: Facebook’s the Big Evil now

Cracked posits that the internet is stealing our souls by making us:

  1. only smart enough for apathy

While my glass is best served half-full (though I’m sure to keep reserves well below the techno-utopianism level), my worn-out grey matter is starting to match the shrivel factor of my starved soul: It’s time for tech to start serving me again. I’ve bowed down to its overlordship for far too long.

While I probably could’ve fooled my nearest and dearest, with 500 active apps on my seemingly bionic smartphone, 3,000 open tabs on my ever-open laptop, and a proclivity for everything blockchain that threatens so much as meal times, I gotta start somewhere. And for me, baby steps means exchanging mindless scrolling down a yawn-inducing newsfeed (‘cos Facebook’s unfriendly algorithm henchmen works tirelessly to prevent me from seeing what and who I want to see) with mindful decisions to make my mind that flowery meadow I’m too busy to take a trip to.

Nadja Bester

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Writer — Journalist — Comms specialist | Lover of all things environmental, blockchain, and crypto. Equal parts digital nomad & worldschool mom.