Three Things I Learned in My Four Months Off Facebook
It wasn’t a choice.
Facebook “disabled” my account back in February.
On my birthday.
I couldn’t tell if it was because I’d publicly declared Apple as a cult, had a ‘partially naked’ photo, how my name’s listed, or my close friendship with @Brittany Kaiser. (#ownyourdata, b*tches).
1. Surprisingly, we can own our FB data….
Or at least a copy of it. After months of trying to get an ‘in’ to reactivate my account, I gave up. It seems no one I know is silly enough to still work at Facebook. I made peace with being kicked off and trusted it was for a bigger reason.
To give you context, I’ve spent 90% of the past 14 years traveling the world. 100+ countries. You can imagine how many people I’ve met. More than a decade ago, we didn’t have the tools to inventory people like we do now. Facebook was the Rolodex. So, many of my old, dear friends — living high in the Andes or in rural India — I had only connection to on FB. Messenger served largely like my cell phone until What’sApp came around. Not to mention, I ran a business off of @ InstituteForAliveness. So, as you can imagine, the loss of my FB account was a big one.
Last week, when I tried to login, I got a message that it had been disabled — but that I was given a choice to download ALL of my data (countess photos, friend lists, posts, comments — all of it.) So, I did. You can only imagine my surprise when I got a message from a student the next day saying she saw my account active again. I was shocked. You know — when you have finally let go of years of denial that Michael Jackson is dead, and then he walks in your front door… (Oh, sorry, is that just me…?)
Even though I can own a copy of it, Facebook still sells my data to hundreds of thousands of companies without my knowledge. I’m sure they even still did when I was kicked off. Data privacy — when it comes to our psychology and physiology is a BIG issue. I encourage you to learn more from my friends Brittany and Gus.
2. Facebook was my primary news source.
You heard how much I travel. Full time. Many can’t understand not having a “base” or “things.” I pay for airplane tickets instead of car bills, and I stay in rentals or other people’s homes through friends or exchange.
Facebook was one anchor for me — not dissimilar to a location-based community board — that made me feel connected to my highly-global community. No matter if I was hiking high up on a mountain in rural Bahia or doing an extended water fast on an undeveloped island in Asia. (Satellite works wonders today.)
But when the Covid showers started pouring, I found myself making the choice to go see my parents and steward them through this global shift in Florida. Both my lifestyle and my community were stopped in their tracks. No more hopping on standby to explore remote areas of the world. No more quick trips to visit friends in LA or Shanghai. No more hosting conferences or speaking at festivals. Life as we all knew it: over.
As news broke in March brought understanding of the global nature of the situation, border closures started racking in. Life as normal became digital. The US began to experience the highest rates of unemployment since the Great Depression. It seemed there was an ‘edge’ that everyone had to have. Whether insider knowledge of the early closure of NYC or a tip off on a connection to ship PPE in from China.
I felt super detached from a source of info from smart, activated and informed friends worldwide… They were all stuck in my Facebook account, and I couldn’t get in. The plurality of exposure offered in your News Feed (thanks, @Ruchi) is simply unavailable on any other platform. Even though my WhatsApp usage skyrocketed, and I had more individual personal connection to many friends, it was still a lot more work, lessening the presence of one another in our lives. (If I see your post and like it, you know I’m there. I know you’re there. there’s an aspect of Presence to that.)
3. I strongly identify with my digital existence.
Friends, acquaintances, my experiences — the trail of smiles and lives changed in my wake — seemed to no longer exist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about bum-photos or social media influence. I’m talking about the network. The entanglements of people, places and ideas, that increasingly intermingle as time speeds up into the future. My Facebook account was not only the Rolodex, but my identity. Whereas this may sound extreme, as a person without a base and localized community, it truly served as a rock of definition in the ever-changing landscape of my existence. How could that be taken away from me? A bit of it felt that it was “all I had” in connection to friends that I see once a year or once a decade. I am a living experiment in glocal thinking.
Think about not going to the office everyday — not having that habitual interaction and happenstance encounter with your community, people you know and love. I am living the future — or at least what we thought was coming — shepherding in the age of the Sharing Economy, releasing attachment to possessions.
I’ve always rejected neoliberal land policy and conventional economics in my post-capitalist quest. I was living proof that life beyond “the normal” was possible and sustainable. Yet, as my life changed, as all our lives changed, I felt that I had been restricted access to our global town square.
After a few weeks of failing to get my account back, I gave in and tried to start a new account. But because of facial recognition scanning now required to do so, Facebook rejected me. This public thought space no longer let me in. I didn’t have a voice.
Now, a lot goes unsaid here — yes, I had more time, sure, and I was forced into rehab for the Facebook addiction that so many face.
That incessant tick — a swift move of the thumb to click on that icon, and then… Pow! It’s 20 minutes later, and you’re not quite sure where you went. What were you doing again? Yea, you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve gone off grid for months and spent 40 days in silence before, so I’d already learned that when you tap back in the game after being away for so long — not much has changed. Same stories, same drama, just now at a higher resolution and in 3D.
Overall, now that my account is back, I am of course, endlessly grateful. I can only hope that it won’t happen again. But what was clear to me beyond everything, is that if this is indeed our forum and digital town square — neither the government nor private corporations — should govern our public spaces.
The word “public” derives from Latin populous: people. This is a space by us, for us. It should also be owned by us. That’s not going to ever happen with Facebook. And unfortunately, it’s not entirely their fault. They are attempting to “govern” one billion people in a centralized manner. That’s just not possible. Private corporations are forced to have endless growth quarter after quarter in the hyper-Capitalist paradigm in which we live. It’s a losing situation. Data crimes or not. Freedom of speech or restricted voice. We need a new system. One that can integrate our memories and networks in a seamless manner. And one where the data is encrypted, our access is never restrained, and it is owned by us.
It’s time. In fact, in the covid era — where your data privacy is being snatched out from under your nose faster than you can see — it’s past time. Be aware. Stay alert. And await the release of a new platform soon…