I am leaving Facebook
It has been more than 2 weeks since I have requested my account deletion from the Dark Side, which means the detox period is over and my decision irreversibly came into force. I have quit Facebook.
I’ve received various responses and questions from friends I’ve talked to about it, so let’s go through the details and look at the whys and hows.
Before we dive in, let me sum up the reasons and answer for the WHY in short:
I would like to improve on the quality of my relationships by lowering the quantity and eliminating noise.
Is leaving Facebook the only way to achieve that? Probably not, and frankly this was not my original intention either. It is rather the outcome I expect to happen - which I think sounds reasonable at first sight - the source of the decision however comes from a multilayered frustration.
Brace yourself, long post coming.
The two sides of the coin
As I introduced my move to my friends, a familiar set of questions and responses kept coming up. Turned out the benefits of being on Facebook are all clear to everyone, meanwhile the concerns vary over a very wide range or do not exist at all.
Certainly Facebook reformed modern communication in many ways; we cannot deny how revolutionary it is to send a picture of my freshly made scrambled eggs with a cat sticker on it to one of my former classmates whom I haven’t met in 5 years.
However the outcome of this modern age behavior seems to be a bit vague; apparently all the benefits and comfort we got used to overweight the impacts they have on our real social lives.
Also it is worth to note; Facebook’s power does not come from its technology but its culture. I could send my eggs anyone on Skype as well, but apparently Facebook is the place to do that (quite telling). Facebook is where the mass is; Facebook is the platform which made me feel anxious whenever I got disconnected, not Twitter, not Skype and not my e-mail. Therefore I find it important to compare the cultural aspects of the big brother rather than the technology itself.
So I collected my concerns and the most popular reasons to be on Facebook into a list, where I tried to compare the things we sacrifice with the things we gain in exchange.
The green toothed distraction monster - The feed
No secret that feed - the heart of social media - is designed to be as addictive as possible. Firstly, it is injected with all the stuff we love (or supposed to be at least), and secondly it’s literally in yo’ face - the feed is almost always the first thing we see anywhere we go online.
As a result, whenever I needed some distraction (*cough* writing essays *cough*), the help was just a click away from me.
Interestingly, everyone I have talked to, without any exception admitted that actually there is nothing exciting going on they would care about - yet, people tend to start and keep scrolling whenever they get bored for 2 minutes; during class or at work.
This behaviour is nothing more than an unconsciously developed bad habit, which not only wasted a lot of my time, but also made me really unfocused - some say it even makes us lonely.
“The place to connect”
What is the feed meant to be after all? I think the proper answer follows:
A curated set of news customized personally for me, decorated with occasional iPhone and washing powder ads.
Besides the fact the feed is designed to distract and that the purpose of it is to make us consume more (just like tortuous paths of the grocery), it’s social aspect is more than troublesome.
The institution of the social media feed states that this is the easiest to stay connected with people you care about. Well, this is definitely not the way I want to stay connected.
A typical but completely valid argument against the feed can be: I don’t want to be 1 post out of 100 you see in just a few minutes, and I also don’t want to be 1 guy who likes your photo out of 100 other guys.
I want to ask and be asked.
The idea of using a social feed to care about our friends (either by posting or by consuming) is obviously a lie and falls at its theory. Stating that it is a caring way of communicating with multiple people we care about at the same time is pure hypocrisy. Certainly, if you are not willing to contribute in our relationship with more than a like or a photo - which you share with 200 other “friends” - you don’t care. Which is still fine! But don’t fool either me or yourself.
Posting anything personal on the somewhat public feed is never about the relationships, but the communicator. And I hope when it comes to the question whether it’s about the communicator’s soul or the communicator’s ego the answer is obvious.
Besides not posting personal stuff, eliminating social media feed from my life also involved breaking the never ending consumption. I had to realize that following Facebook and Instagram feeds was an ingrained and unhealthy reflex which generated a humongous amount of noise and trash I didn’t need.
I don’t need gossips and ego booster photos. I am not interested in other people’s lives if they are not willing to share personally with me, otherwise I will ask.
Therefore I came to the conclusion that the Facebook and Instagram feed is rather harmful than useful.
I wanted out not by reducing the time I spend on these news feeds, but by leaving them entirely. I wanted to disconnect. I thought spending only a few minutes a week to run through the feed to see if there is something interesting would have still kept me in the loop. Just like with any other addiction; it takes serious commitment to quit.
I think the lack of online presence and activity from a social perspective results in the desire and need of more frequent and stronger real life social connections.
I believe the news feed holds half of the responsibilities of the bad impacts of online social networking. By removing the news feed from our lives either with self-discipline, deleting the Facebook app from our phones, or by using browser extensions to hide the feeds, we can take a huge step towards building stronger and healthier relationships.
But what is up with who? - Profiles
As I got rid of my feed, I realized that I started - or just kept - doing something somewhat miserable; checking profiles manually, frequently.
Even though I have managed to disarm the alluring power of the feed, I had to face the fact that I couldn’t resist to my curiosity.
“Oh hello, it’s been a while since I looked at you. Let’s see if you have a boyfriend this time.”
I could see the little angel on my right shoulder doing a slow face palm, shaking his head. How disappointing…
Unfortunately my desire remained in place to know about things people might have shared. The fact that there might be something which I don’t know about made me curious; even though I knew that no matter what I will find there, it will have nothing to do with me or our relationship with that given person.
It felt wrong. Very wrong. First, because I felt like stalking on people instead of inquiring of them, and second: apparently I found this activity valuable enough to spend time on it. It was interesting enough to prioritize it over other activities, even if I made this decision unconsciously.
I knew this was a habit I had to drop. Investing energy in following uninteresting personal lives of people I either barely care about or not willing to communicate with, is tiring, useless and silly.
This was the point when I started considering leaving Facebook. Something was not right; if I am not willing to share anything personal and I am not willing to follow the feed either, or consume anything personal content, why am I here after all?
Facebook strikes - Groups
I have to acknowledge that Facebook Groups is a great invention indeed, and this is a feature I might miss. Having a system where people can easily form groups for basically anything where they can actually share important information with each other (whether it’s the cleaning order of the common kitchen or a second hand sofa giveaway) is a part of Facebook which remained somewhat helpful and democratic.
I don’t really have anything against Groups, it is indeed a small sacrifice I feel to take. I can imagine a scenario in the future where I will have to either convince the people around me to use something else instead, or continuously ask someone to help me following up.
Even though these groups seem to play an important role in our modern lives, I am uncertain about the serious drawbacks. Certainly I will be missed out from groups where there is no real social connection between the members (large groups with a high number of members), but I don’t think not being groups where many or some of my close friends are present would be an unsolvable problem.
Many say groups are the only reason they are on Facebook, yet I have never met anyone who would have used the official Facebook Groups app instead of the original one. No one heard about it - I got it. But now you have; it could be an ideal solution for disconnecting from the feed and stop checking profiles.
One feature to rule them all - Messenger
Finally the big black wrecking ball of the blue giant, the Messenger; the biggest innovation in communication since the alcohol.
Messenger is the number one reason I heard from most of the people for being on Facebook.
At the beginning I was really glad for Messenger. I was happy to see a global platform where everyone is available and anyone can contact anyone. No more headache for managing contact information; no more headache for not knowing someone’s phone number; no more headache for calling people and actually talking to them.
Finally being on Facebook makes sense, right?
For me, Messenger arose with the smartphones, and put online chatting to whole new level. Before Messenger or Facebook Chat, in the dawn of online chatting we had MSN Messenger. As I recall being on MSN as a kid was an activity; sitting in front of the monitor talking to multiple people simultaneously.
Nowadays with our phones in our pocket we don’t have put ourselves in such inconvenience. We are and desired to be online all the time, available for anyone. Chatting became one of the most popular forms of communication and shifted from being an activity to being a fundament, that we depend on everyday, heavily.
Messenger has been always the number one reason for checking my Facebook, Messenger itself, or my phone. Not being updated for even a day made me super anxious.
The fact that there is place where might be something delivered specifically for me, made me want to know about that place all the time. I even wanted to know if there was nothing. I needed that nothing. Multiple times a day.
Sure thing it was just a look at the screen of my phone. Or just a new tab in Chrome then “F” then Enter. But my mind get addicted to it. The real payoff lay not in the time it took; but in the clarity and independence of my mind.
Besides the fact that I became terrifyingly addicted, I had another concern which does not leak from Messenger but takes shape in it, and that was online chatting itself.
I find the institution of online chatting questionable.
Having online chatting becoming one of the primary ways of communicating resulted in a very redundant way of communication thanks to the reducing responsibility of the participants.
In the recent years it really started to disturb me that many people answer in the last minute. My experience was that people do not like to make commitments, not even small ones like “Should we meet up for a beer tonight or not”. This frustration was followed by group chats, where a given person throw a question in the air and everyone was waiting for the other’s response. Again, no commitment.
Getting comfortable by throwing the ball to the other side of the field by writing something and then waiting for answer is easy. Easy, because it does not take much effort; but that effort will be saved from the relationship as well. Easy does not build trust.
Online chatting replaced a significant portion of real world communication (including phone talks in this manner) for the sake of comfort and saving time. I feel that whenever we chat online “we save time” by not willing to try to build personal connection.
Redistributing the pizza of my attention
The idea behind leaving Messenger is to break this deal and build boundaries to build meaningful connections, which may sound like a contradiction.
I don’t want to be connected with everyone all the time; and I don’t want to worry about it. What I want is relationships which were built by design not by default.
By leaving Messenger besides getting rid of anxiety and noise, I also force myself and others to invest more in our connection. All the small talks we had online will now have to shift to real world talks or Skype talks or die. All the sudden meetup invitations will now have to happen on phone calls. All the photo sharing will now have to happen on one phone, but with two people - and hopefully with a more personal background story.
Okay Derp, how is Skype or WhatsApp or Viber different?
Well , I have never used WhatsApp or Viber but I believe they work the same as Skype; the difference between them and Messenger is not the technology; but as I mentioned before, it’s about the culture.
If we use WhatsApp the same way as Messenger (with hundreds of contacts, being online all the time) then nothing. It all comes down to the addiction. The culture of Skype is just simply different.
- Unlike Messenger, it does not make me check my phone a hundred times a day to see if there is something new
- It does not make me feel anxious if I am not updated
- I don’t keep a significant portion of my communication there.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to sell Skype (it’s quite a shitty product sofware-wise), I just tried to highlight the cultural differences. Anything else can do the same job.
I am not expecting important messages on Skype because I don’t have a lot of contacts there, and if something is so urgent, I get called anyway. Anything else can wait.
So here I am now, sitting in my room with my e-mail address, Skype, Hungarian phone number and Danish phone number, without any game invitations or birthday notifications.
One thing I would like to emphasize is that the desired effect is a two-way street. As I expect others to invest more energy in our relationships, I expect the same thing from myself as well.
So how did it go so far?
The first few days were indeed interesting. I realized that in many case of my friends the only contact information I had … was their names. No e-mail, no phone numbers, nothing. So I had to call up a common friend to ask for this given person’s phone number. I think it was something I haven’t done in years.
I certainly communicate with less people; I don’t know what is up with who besides that few people I talk to regularly. I receive less music and cat videos, and I don’t know who is watching which movie and who’s having what for breakfast.
However, on the other hand I receive way more sms messages and phone calls. I am no longer participated in any group conversations, so I don’t feel the urge of staying updated. Instead, I get informed directly by someone.
If someone is hosting a party let’s say, everyone gets invited on Messenger and of course not one by one, but in one group message. Except me, because I get called on the phone directly.
The chitchat about exams, meetup arrangements, or the how-are-you-talks shifted from online chatting to phone calls. I am writing e-mails, long ones. Plus, whenever I get one, it feels like a package from eBay, which always feels a little bit like Christmas. Furthermore, I just simply check and maintain one less thing day-by-day.
Vincent, we happy?
Quitting Facebook does feel good, and I can only recommend to give it a shot. However I don’t want to be aggressive or too smart about it; it was a decision of mine which I am happy for, and which I wanted to write about.
I know it sounds cheesy but truth is I actually do feel less lonely since I left. Because when I am alone, it is only me, nobody else. I am not hooked on being connected all the time; I don’t get continuously reminded that others are living their lives right now; I don’t know what others are doing or what they have done recently; which helps me to stay in the moment and disconnect from the happiness-race.