Him: “For real? Gonna go for it huh?”
Me: “Yup. I’d been thinking about it for a while and I finally committed myself to following through. It was time.”
Him: *pause* “Nah…you won’t be able to, you’ll miss it too much. I bet you’ll come back.”
Me: “Uhhh…No. I won’t. I really, REALLY won’t.”
And I haven’t. Soon after I did away with my Foursquare account, I went ahead and closed my Facebook one and haven’t looked back.
For starters, it was the privacy concerns. It never ceased to irk me that their entire business model rests on collecting and selling users’ information. They’ve got tons of algorithms to predict what ads would be the most effective to show you. They look at your age, gender, Likes, friends, where you check-in, and the worst, what tabs or windows you may have open in the same browser where you have Facebook running. Just by the very fact of knowing that their business runs this way made me feel slimy for being one of their users.
Then there are the news stories, which in themselves show the pathetic negligence and lack of regard the company shows for the data they collect from people’s profiles.
I read this short Op-Ed piece in USA Today a while ago, aptly describing the relationship between Facebook and its users through the analogy of a party, where a focus group has been secretly watching everyone for hours and hours, scribbling away their findings about who you all are to figure out how to better sell you things. That bumped up my creep-out level a few notches.
Then there was their plan to get their next billion users: make deals with local mobile networks in emerging markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and make it seem as if Facebook and the Internet are one and the same. Or how they take down pages for “copyright infringement” in the least classy way possible. Or their latest partnership with marketing company Datalogix, which, according to the EFF blog, will mean that they will “assess whether users go to stores in the physical world and buy the products they saw in Facebook advertisements.” I can’t even name all the creepy Facebook has gotten away with this year (although ProPublica has done a fine job).
Last but not least, the fact that Facebook wants people to believe that their service is as functional and inane as chairs…or doorbells, airplanes, bridges, and “things people use to get together, so they can open up and connect about ideas, and music, and other things people share.” Yeh yeh I know it’s old news by now but it’s just off-putting as a few weeks ago. I feel like it says so much about how they view themselves. It’s disgusting that their PR campaign is meant to mislead people into thinking that they’re not giving any of their personal data away, for the company to harvest into their massive database and sell to whomever, however, they please. Further, that people need them, rely on them, as much as chairs.
Ugh. Fuck all of that.
All of those stories, plus how shoddy and un-user-friendly the platform is (way…too…many…to mention), gave my decision all the logical weight it needed to sway me.
But, more than anything, I hated how lonely it made me feel despite being exactly as social in the real world as I’d like to be. There’s something about the structure of it, the function of it, that dissolves the meaningfulness of moments and makes even my most important relationships feel shallow. Sure when I’d post something and it got Liked or Commented, it always made me feel every-so-slightly tingly…just enough for me to keep wanting more.
But seriously, why? What does a Like even mean?
Isn’t it just social approval, meant to be disguised as some other kind of higher social value, all the while helping Facebook feed their voracious appetite for data?
When I’d get a Like from a close friend who I don’t see enough, it felt sad, as if it were a reminder that we’re apart and unable to talk about that link or photo together, in person. Or even when I saw life updates no matter how mundane, it made me feel like I had my face pressed up against the glass of a window, peering into their life. It was disappointing that I didn’t have a conversation with them to learn about whatever thing that happened to them.
I also resented how much time I’d waste on it. There were hours…HOURS where I’d spent clicking through an Ex’s profile, reading Wall posts of someone I had a crush on, or even worse, look through photo albums of a random high school classmate. And by the end of these sessions, which were usually abruptly ended by a sudden realization over how much time had passed, I reliably felt shittier. Beside the few times in college when I found out the person I had had a crush on listed themselves as Single (when people were still ever honest about that), I can’t think of any other moment where I felt happy or satisfied after spending time on that site.
Of course I recognize the disadvantages of closing the account. I’m probably missing out on random get-togethers, some funny inside jokes, or adorable photos of a friend’s new baby or puppy. I won’t deny that it sucks that almost everyone I know uses it and I’ll miss out on things for quitting. But all the other factors had finally outweighed these reasons for staying. I refuse to feel trapped into continuing to use their service despite all of my criticisms. Aren’t I better than that, simply as a consumer?
Sherman Alexie wrote a poem a while back titled The Facebook Sonnet, published in the New Yorker. The line that got me was: “Let’s undervalue and unmend / The present. Why can’t we pretend / Every stage of life is the same?”
I feel that way about Facebook and Foursquare, and well less so, but even Twitter. There’s a suspended reality to our digital social environments that requires us to remove our attention from the current physical reality that presently surrounds us. As long as it gives me enough value, as Twitter does, I don’t mind stepping out as long as I can maintain a good balance with it. I stopped using Foursquare because it made me feel like I was always missing out on something. It sucked seeing someone check-in somewhere, and not be able to be there with them since I was busy, or more pathetically, since I wasn’t explicitly invited. In the case of Foursquare, those lame moments were fleeting, but they always sucked me away from my physical Present.
The Internet and it’s many, many overlapping asynchronous worlds are a huge part of my life. But for me, some of them come with too much static noise to handle. And is it worth those minor questionable social benefits, to spend my time in those lonely digital limbos? Do I want to let those minutes and hours add up…?