Thursday, September 15, 2011

Unfriending Facebook

I started off this post researching, trying to find articles I have read in the past which substantiate my reasons for wanting to quit Facebook. In the end, I really don't need to. Since posting yesterday afternoon that Zach, a friend of mine in Yecheon, and I were tandem-quitting Facebook in three weeks (approximately Oct. 12) and that I was collecting emails and phone numbers of contacts, many folks offered up their contact info as well as sharing that they wished they could do the same. I know for a fact that many people feel the same way I do about Big Blue (neologism for Facebook, sorry IBM). Below are my reasons for wanting to quit and taking the plunge.
First, let me offer that I am in no way trying to recruit fellow dissenters. This is a solo journey and am only quitting with Zach for mutual support during the withdrawal phase. He actually brought it up yesterday. Neither am I trying to serve as an example. My reasons are mine and mine alone though I know most of my readers, if not all, will resonate with many of my reasons.
First of all, Facebook friendships are disingenuous. There is a a theoretical limit, known as Dunbar's Number, wherein a person can only maintain approximately 150 meaningful relationships at any given time in their life. I currently have 426 Facebook friendships at the time of this writing; it is ludicrous to think that Facebook is, in and of itself, maintaining friendships or relationships for me by simply connecting the dots in a consistent way. I have fallen into a fallacious mindset wherein the effort of maintaining relationships has been delegated to Facebook, as a service, and that when and if the mood strikes me I can contact anyone, from my grandma to my middle school classmates. Indeed, while I do have instant access to communicating with these people, the medium of communication, text-based, usually tops out at a couple hundred characters. Thinking about this led me to think of saccharine as an analogy for Facebook friendships. Saccharine is the main ingredient to most artificial sweeteners, providing a sweet taste without any caloric intake.
Living and travelling abroad for the better part of the last four years has made maintaining friendships from home and from travels more or less difficult, even with the use of the Internet. Facebook, in particular, has provided me a platform on which my emotional response to friendships are constantly stimulated while, in the meantime, my need to relate and attach myself in deep and meaningful ways has been left to chew on artificial sweetener. This kind of empty but constant stimulation has left me with feelings of loss, anxiety and ennui. Instead of the smiles one should come to expect out of a social networking site, seeing a flood of information from friends and family, pictures, status updates, events, I feel depressed, flat. I've been running on empty. Leaving Facebook will force me to return to more significant media of communication: phone calls, Skype, emails and (fingers crossed) contemplative and frequent blog posts.
The flat feeling reading Facebook causes me leads me to my second reason: I hate living in a constant state of mind that "the grass is always greener on the other side." This mentality inspires feelings that, no matter what I'm doing or where I am, I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without getting into too much personal history, this mindset played a large part in a long and arduous clinical depression with which I dealt for a number of years. Personal issues aside, no one likes feeling left out. Readers should know how many of the foreign teachers use Facebook while in Korea. We have ubiquitous and constant access to Facebook, among other time sink-holes on the Internet.
When I arrive at work at 9:00, the news feed is already cycling at a furious pace and only slows to a steady stream by 17:00 when most of us go home and log right back in. In order to feel "in the loop" I feel like I must be glued to the screen. And let's face it, everyone has had the experience where one is meeting with friends and every attempt at conversation ends with, "oh yeah, saw that on Facebook." That sucks.
Zach and I were also talking about how almost every status update is positively spun. Sitting indoors for hours at a time, staring at a screen leaves many people susceptible to feeling like their own lives could never measure up to the constant positivity experienced in the lives of others meanwhile feeling isolated at a desk. This reminds me of my friend Alex's reason for quitting Big Blue, "I realized there is a bigger world than Facebook out there." It's easy to read this and respond cynically but it's absolutely true. I could be reading, hiking, studying Korean, working on a blog post, a short story, practicing guitar or catching up on my sleep during the roughly four hours I personally spend on Facebook every day. I don't want to look back on my life in terms of how much content I consumed, but at how much content I produced.
This leads to my next point, Facebook is a distraction. Enough said? I thought so too.
As with any free service, the consumer gets what they pay for, buyer beware. Facebook has done a marvelous job at manipulating its users into thinking that Facebook is the gold standard and only means of communication on the Internet. This is especially true in light of the fact that Facebook has incorporated Skype's brand of video chat into their instant messenger service. And best of all, it's a free service! So what's in it for Facebook? Ads. I'm guilty, I've clicked on them too. So what's wrong with that? Every click is recorded and archived in ways most people don't realize. I once visited a site (I tried finding it again and couldn't) that had me click a link which essentially gave the site permission to read the cookies on my computer and it spat out a pretty realistic profile of me. It said that I'm a Caucasian male between the ages of 22 and 30, that I enjoy travel, reading and have left-leaning politics. I'm not going to claim this site has any connection with Facebook but if this random website could glean this information based on my browsing history, there is no end to the profile Facebook could create about me based on my history and how they target me with ads. Does this concern me in terms of privacy and security? No. Is it freaking weird? Yes.
But there are real privacy and security concerns that this issue brings to light. Every status update, comment, tag and picture ever posted to Facebook is archived...forever. Even if a user untags themselves, removes comments or pictures, their profile and associated content is never actually deleted and is stored on the servers maintained by Facebook, along with the profile created by Facebook based on their cookies and clicks until the Chinese send a electromagnetic pulse bomb somewhere over Palo Alto.
We've all had pictures of us posted that, in the spirit of Internet curation, we have asked others to take down. I have had a number of pictures posted of me drinking and behaving in a socially acceptable way which may not necessarily be acceptable to a future employer. Yes, there are means to edit privacy settings but while these settings are constantly improving, I can never be sure who has access, at present or in the future, to my complete, archived and annotated profile created and maintained by Facebook in spite of the hard work I have put into curating my public and semi-private profile myself. Call me paranoid but I'd hate to lose a job opportunity over a picture from a party.
It is in the spirit of cutting the past loose and moving on that I am leaving Facebook; at least for the foreseeable future. I intend to continue to use Google+ because I am able to bring the knowledge of profile curation with me and I can start over, fresh. I have roughly 40 friends on G+ and they are actually people I consider close and important friends. I like G+ because it does not push the same volume of meaningless content as does Facebook. And I enjoy Twitter because it seems to be the only platform available to Peace Corps volunteers in any given country of service. My hope is that, by refraining from posting little tidbits about my life two to three times a day to Facebook, I will have more meaningful, thoughtful blog posts.
To reiterate, I'm not trying to recruit dissenters but merely wanting a record of my reasons to show people who ask and to refer to for personal uses in the future. I know only one person who has quit Facebook at the time of this writing, but he said, after a month, it was one of the best decisions he has ever made.
That said, I still have three weeks and I have notifications to check ;-)

above image taken from http://static.onlinesocialmedia.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Facebook-killer.jpg