The Pain of Leaving Facebook (And Why I’m Doing It Anyway)

Leaving any social media platform comes with its own set of baggage. As much of an idealist as I am about privacy and relationships and the ability of humans to participate in civil discourse and thoughtful conversation together, I can’t help but feel the pain of fully deleting an account on a platform like Facebook (which I’ll be doing shortly). And Facebook – along with the rest of its smaller counterparts and competition – knows this. My history on the service stretches back to 2007, almost exactly 11 years ago to the day. There are photos there of my last year of high school, all of college, my wedding, the day our two daughters were born, and all the moments in between. There are conversations, moments in time that I thought were valuable to recount, history that I will necessarily lose when I delete my account, no matter how much I try to archive all the content I have housed there.

So why do such a thing? Many reasons come to mind, which I’ll get to shortly. The challenge with taking a step like this, however, runs the risk of my sounding awfully self-righteous, as if I know better than the masses how one ought to manage social relationships and personal memory. So before I embark on giving my reasons, let me say this: this decision is purely about myself. If my reasons for leaving Facebook (and, perhaps, other services that I’m having a slightly more difficult time letting go) sound good to you, great! Consider leaving. If you disagree with me, great! Perhaps the benefits outweigh the negatives for you; I hope it continues to do so. In any case, here are a few reasons I think Facebook is worth leaving:

  1. Our social lives have changed drastically since the introduction of social media, and I don’t think it’s for the better. Isn’t it strange that many of our conversations now start with “Hey, I saw your post on Facebook about your trip [or your new baby, or your new job, etc.]!” Worse yet, I think there are events that we don’t recount with one another because we assume people already know about them because we posted that information on social media. What have we lost here? Discovery, the “natural” flow of conversation when talking to close friends, wondering how people are doing and have a person-to-person interaction. On the other side of this, because we give and get updates about our lives on social media, when we physically interact with a friend or family member, we assume we know their current life-happenings. This stunts social interaction further, preventing depth and intimacy.
  2. I have proven to myself, time and time again, that I lack self-control when I have access to social media. I have a vision in my head of the kind of person that I want to be. A writer, a thinker, a caring, loving father and husband. I want to be a coffee roaster, I want to be an insatiable reader. I want to research deeply, become obsessed with a topic and delve as far into it as is possible. The reality is, I am barely any of those things, if at all. I cannot fully blame this on social media – this is largely a self-discipline issue. Nevertheless, my access to a service like Facebook, with its never-ending feed of things that are going on in my family and friends’ lives, is a black hole for my attention. I may be able to resist it for months at a time by deactivating my account or simply by virtue of losing interest in the service. But at some point, I always, always come back to the service, and slowly lose my ability to focus on that which I find most important. I don’t want to look back on my life in ten, or twenty, or thirty years, and regret that I spent time looking at a screen, hoping to catch glimpses of what others’ lives were like instead of doing my very best to live the life I want to live.
  3. Civil discourse, persuasive debate, and thoughtful dialogue simply cannot happen consistently on Facebook, and yet we continue to try to shoehorn Facebook into a service that provides a space for those things. A lot of people smarter than me have already made this point, many times over. Suffice it to say that I think Facebook and services like it lend themselves to the dehumanization of individuals too easily. We get angry or upset or worked up about something going on in the public sphere, and we write a post about it on Facebook. Soon enough, people are piling on with their own opinions, either in agreement or disagreement, and because Facebook’s algorithms are bent toward outrage, that’s the post everyone sees that day. This may not be so bad if our participation in these conversations were thoughtful and caring. But because of the nature of digital space, we have no social, physical context within which we can make judgments about the intent of dialogue. Further, we too easily write scathing, mean-spirited responses that we would never say in person. Why? Because a picture with a name attached to it does not register socially the same way that a physical human body in front of our eyes does. I believe in civil discourse and the necessity of thoughtful conversation, and in its necessity for the future of our local and global communities; Facebook stands in direct opposition to that ideal.
  4. (This is my nerdy point, so skip it if you want to.) I believe in an open internet, and Facebook and services like it are working directly against such an understanding of the internet. I was introduced to the idea of the “open internet” recently, although I experienced the internet as “open” in my earliest days of internet access. What do I mean when I say “open internet”? I mean I want an internet that isn’t wholly controlled and owned by any single service. I mean I want people to be able to speak from their own “digital turf,” while interacting with other people on theirs. As of right now, everything that I have uploaded to Facebook, including images, text posts, videos, and blog posts (through their “Notes” feature) is owned by Facebook. I have no way of knowing what they’ll do with my information once I delete my profile. What I do know is that there are parts of my life that I think should be mine but that, once the profile is deleted, I will lose access to those things, for good. As of right now, this website (cdbaca.org) won’t do what Facebook did, but I hope that it will continue to grow into a space I find personally meaningful, and I will own and control all of that content on my own. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram function like “walled gardens,” where users’ access is controlled and defined by the service they are using – that’s not the future internet I want to see.

Too often, people leave services like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram out of anger or cynicism or apathy. I don’t want to be that person. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and despite the losses I’ll face when deleting my profile for good, my bigger concern about the continued use of the service is how we can best become good, thoughtful, rational human beings. Facebook may offer a shadow version of those things, but I doubt whether it can ever reach that ideal. I’ll do my best to find it elsewhere.

The Tyranny of Social Media over the Digital Commons

Well, I fell down the rabbit hole today. I woke up with a cold, and was able to catch up on some pieces I missed whilst on vacation last week. Alan Jacobs’s blog post on the beauty of RSS feeds in the age of curated algorithmic streams led me to his essay at The Hedgehog Review on cultivating the digital commons well. Then later I found an old essay of his at The New Atlantic on attention and technology. Then, of course, randomly, Cal Newport’s posted a small piece on the difference between a social internet and social media on Study Hacks.

Lots of links. Anyway, these all have me thinking about the appropriate ways of tending to the digital commons in a way that is not only beneficial to me (refocusing my attention to meaningful work) but also to my broader social community. Is Facebook, with its optimization towards selling my information to the highest bidder, really the best way to do that? I don’t think so. So, on a whim, I downloaded all my info from the network, and completely deleted my account (which they make incredibly difficult to do — if you want to do this it some point, go here, and click the “let us know” link under “How do I permanently delete my account?”). We’ll see how long I keep Twitter. I still like it too much to give it up, but that’s also what smokers say who know they need to quit and just refuse to do so.

Further, I’m considering building my own website/platform that includes my blog, but is more than that. I’m not under any delusion that people will be interested in what’s there, or anxiously waiting for me to post blogs, etc. However, I think it’s a way to tend to the social, digital commons, and further attempt to (re)build towards an open, free internet. People are not commodities, and that includes in the digital realm.

Maybe I’m being idealistic, or “tech-Amish” as Jacobs says, or Chicken Little-ish. I don’t tend to think so. For too long, my attention has been taken away from building a meaningful, digital space of my own that isn’t controlled by some insanely humongous corporation, where my data is being mined and sold for money.