10 things I learned from leaving Facebook.
A couple of weeks back I deleted my Facebook account. Publishing ON/OFF: searching for balance in digital times was as good a reason as any.
A staple question for many a journalist interviewing me about my book (reviews here) has been: what’s that like?
It’s an understandable question. But the amount of amazement heard in the question made me feel like an apostate in Raqqa.
Not a coincidental simile. That typically 21st century blend of tech-utopianism, epochalism, hypercapitalism and solutionism I like to call digitalism, treating digital (media)technology as a religion, is quite prevalent. At least in my filter bubble. Let alone the rock hard belief that life without Facebook is impossible.
So, for all the journalists, the believers, the users, the friends and above all my previous, precious Facebook-connections: here’s ten things I learnt since deleting my account.
1. Weeks in, I still have an urge to check a site I don’t even have an account for anymore...
More times than I care to admit, I’ve seen myself alt-tabbing my browser window, typing f, seeing the autofill deliver me the url of Facebook to log in and– oh wait. There’s nothing there.
The habit has been printed in my muscle memory and it will take some time to unlearn.
2. …And feel relieved immediately after for not being able to check it.
No longer am I obliged to log-in, connect, respond and interact. No more, do I need to do things because the platform nudges me to do. No longer am I indexed, categorized and manipulated into doing something I didn’t really feel like doing in the first place.
It’s like I was in a relationship with a person that mistreated me and finally had the guts to leave.
3. Facebook is really childish when you leave.
Just as you try to escape, one last all-out effort is made to try and keep you in Polyphemus’ cave among the sheep. Here’s what they present you with as you leave:
Yes, Facebook uses your friends not only to sell you stuff without them knowing (and vice versa), but also uses them to coax you into staying.
It is as pathetic as it is cheap and childish. (What does it say about our world, that they managed to get such a broad grip on, allegedly, 2 billion people?)
4. I am using far more LinkedIn and Twitter than I ever used to…
I still feel that urge for social media connectedness — if there is such a thing. Hence, I am checking LinkedIn more than ever. More than is good for any human being, to be honest.
One drug at a time, right?
5. … But my media diet is still changing for the better.
I am broadening my horizon with new channels, new sources. I’m reading more publications on paper. I discovered the delightful Lapham’s Quarterly, for example, and read more on digital domains like Medium, Aeon, Quora, and, get this, the internet.
Yes, the hyper textual is regaining its lure. There is more time and mindspace for the more democratic, autonomous consumption of information that was lost in the linearity of my Facebook stream.
(As the often quoted Hossein Derakhshan wrote:
The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking. (source)
6. I have not once missed Facebook’s functions…
In four weeks, only once did I have to send an email to a friend asking for a mobile number. And I had to check something for work that I could do without actually having an account.
7. …but I have significantly decreased my audience.
There’s no point in denying it. My posts on Medium are being read far less than when I had a Facebook account to share them on.
So it makes sense for anyone that wants attention to keep an account (or fan page) and pour in huge amounts of time, effort and money into the platform. It makes less sense, that all of them seem okay with not having an independent reviewer of results presented.
In any case, I strongly suspect that in the foreseeable future we will collectively realize the side effects of that increased reach (and many other positive aspects of the platform) are too volatile and toxic to manage properly. An exodus of the product/users, a balkanization of the platform — or both will happen.
If you need substantiation for that prediction, check out this piece signaling the grasp of advanced data analytics on swaying elections outside of current judiciary frameworks. See this NY Times Interactive on which tech giant people most want to drop (it’s Facebook). Or read this exhaustive list of reasons of Facebook’s plethora of missteps over recent years. Slowly but surely, regulators start cracking down on the Silicon Empire.
That’s good, since any innovation needs to come with regulation, with checks and balances that are flexible enough to be future proof and keep the interest and safety of people in mind.
People enjoy cigarettes. But it causes 6 million deaths a year. Asbestos is a sturdy, useful, fire resistant, cheap building material. But it causes cancer. Alcohol is not sold to minors. Because it’s harmful.We all love fat and sugar. But…
You get where I’m going with this. Facebook is the cigarette of the 21st century and requires at the very least far more regulation if not outright bans.
I want an audience, sure. But not at the mental and societal cost Facebook taxes me, my friendships or society.
8. I am getting more work done…
Even though I have diminished the amount of channels I can use to distribute my content, I can produce more (and better) content because I have less distractions.
There is little doubt in my mind that it will take more time to get where I want my content to go.
But there is no doubt in my mind that this process will get me further in the long run.
9. … And it feels good to no longer be complicit in a company that I think is wrong footed and scary.
Kara Swisher said it best. Social media has been weaponized. By, amongst others, Facebook. It hasn’t all been their fault. They were naïve. And we are complicit. It will take a lot of time, enforcement by regulatory bodies, and placing of ethics at the core of their media company to change that.
Either way: I don’t want to be complicit in it anymore. Until they change.
10. Still not an outcast :-)
I left not to see if life without a Facebook account is possible but to see if life without an account is as enjoyable, comfortable and efficient as with it.
It may change in the future. But for now my answer is a resounding yes. The advantages vastly outweigh that one downside of decreased reach. There’s less tasks I ‘need’ to do. My days and nights are still filled with relevant (and more diverse!) information, activities and… friends.
They invite me. I invite them.
I will miss what I will miss, just as I will experience what I will experience.
That’s what life is about.
Autonomy and serendipity.
The waves seems scary in the big open sea.
I write for a living, produced this podcast on digital technology, published this novel and this diary. My third book, ON/OFF: searching for balance in digital times was published by Dutch publishers Nijgh & Van Ditmar.
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Read more: How to detox Facebook, an exploration in three parts.