Leaving Facebook

A month ago I deactivated my Facebook account and I haven't used it since.

In the larger scheme of things this is a relatively inconsequential decision, and one that I may even eventually reverse. But for the benefit of my future self, and for anyone else who's interested, I thought I'd inventory my thinking behind this change:

1. My time spent on Facebook was minimal, especially since I deleted the app from my phone a few years ago. But it was almost entirely time I was not spending on things that actually matter to me. Any effort I put in to keeping up with my feed felt like it was actively distorting my understanding of how the real world works, how people are actually doing and what they're actually thinking and feeling. Even as distractions from the real world go, it was often more unsatisfactory and harmful than helpful.

2. I continue to be uncomfortable with Facebook's "walled garden" model of connecting people, content and conversations. I've nothing against the company or the people who work there, and actually admire their technical innovation, scale and impact on the world. But as someone who genuinely wants to see people truly own and control their online presence, I can't in good faith spend time contributing to something that undermines the open web. When I tried being just a casual observer without engaging, it didn't work. Which brings me to:

3. If my Facebook account is active at all, then people assume I am a full-time Facebook user, receiving and reading all of their messages, event invitations, mentions and more. There's no way to turn on a Facebook auto-responder that says "I am not going to see this thing you just sent me, please contact me another way." I noticed that people I care about assumed that I follow their lives on Facebook and decreased what they bothered to share with me in other ways. People wondered why I didn't show up to events that I never saw the invitation for. It's easier to say "I'm not on Facebook" than to say "I have a Facebook account but I only use it for X, Y, Z."

4. I don't see any real progress happening on Facebook. I don't really see any meaningful connections being formed or improved, advances in the human condition being made, critical issues being addressed or differences being resolved. Everyone is there for different reasons, but most of it seems like screaming into the abyss and hoping something good comes back to you in the form of affirming likes and comments. I hear of occasional exceptions - a friend tells me of a great private discussion group he's a part of with a few other people, coworkers use it to connect about personal adventures outside of our company Slack, etc. - and so I'm open to the idea that I'm just Doing It Wrong. But for some reason I don't feel excited about immersing myself in Facebook's way of doing things for those benefits.

5. The most rewarding thing about using Facebook in recent years was that if I did have something truly interesting, exciting, meaningful or just fun going on in my life and I wanted to tell a lot of my friends/family about it all at the same time, Facebook has been a handy tool for that. That's not necessarily because the tool itself was the best one to use, but because that's where the people were. I've replaced that for the most part with a private website for sharing things with family and friends, but anything not as seamlessly accessible and ever-present as Facebook makes it much less likely to be seen or used, and I have to accept that trade-off.

So far I haven't experienced any real down-sides to leaving Facebook.

As a person working with web technologies, I suspect I will eventually have to find a way to create a new Facebook account for testing things on their platform. Even some of Facebook's basic developer tools whose usage have no reason to be associated with an individual identity are walled off behind a login screen, and yet they seem to actively discourage creating temporary/testing accounts. (Advice welcome here.)

There is a minor, residual sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) that I expect will go away over time. I will have to trust that if people want me to be a part of an event or conversation, or to see their photos and thoughts, we can find another way. Some of the best connections I have in my life are with people who either aren't on Facebook or who I've never interacted with there, so I know this is possible. I've even heard about a time long ago when humans did this on a daily basis.

(If you're someone who has primarily used Facebook links in the past to keep up with my writing here, I encourage you to sign up for email updates or an RSS feed instead.)

What's your current relationship with Facebook?

Published by

Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is an Internet tech geek, problem solver, community-builder and amicable cynic.

3 thoughts on “Leaving Facebook”

  1. 100% agree with you Chris. I've also been away from FB for a while and deleted the app from my phone. But as much as I want to just delete my account and walk away I can't.

    1) Too many people I know use Facebook Messenger for communication, including my eldest daughter.

    2) I'm part of some Facebook groups for the theatre groups I'm involved with. FB did have a seperate app for groups but they've now got rid of that . This has ended up driving me back to their site, so has been a bit of a backwards step for me.

  2. Always appreciate your perspective Chris. On my job (RP&L) we post quite a bit of information that may be of interest to customers because as you stated, "that's where the people were." For that reason, it's a good platform to post outage, and other information. It can be a double edged sword though.

    1. Thanks, Randy. I don't think there's anything wrong with posting customer info on Facebook, as long as the same information is posted somewhere that doesn't require a Facebook account to track (e.g. the RP&L website). It would be great if that site had an RSS feed for news and outage updates.

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