A few months ago, I began an experiment to see if I could abandon the social network that consumed so much of my precious free time online. I’ve since discovered that I rely on Facebook to help maintain friendships more than I want to admit. Abandoning Facebook meant abandoning those friends, which proved harder than I thought.
On February 3, I posted:
In honor of the 10th anniversary of Facebook, I am deactivating my account. There is too much to manage, and [to be honest] there is just too much noise. If you want to contact me, text is good, otherwise I’m on Twitter and Skype @selenalarson, or via email.
My resolve didn’t last.
After I said I was leaving Facebook, I received a handful of texts and Facebook messages saying, “No, don’t go!” But I wanted to stick with this experiment, so I just told my friends to text or tweet me if they wanted to stay in touch.
I didn’t fully deactivate my account, because as the social reporter for ReadWrite, it’s impossible to cover Facebook without actually having an account. I still received occasional notifications that I had been tagged in a photo or invited to an event. But no one commented on my old photos, started conversations with me, or reached out to say hello.
Give Up Friendships, Or Give Up Our Personal Data?
My frustration with Facebook wasn’t that my friends posted too many Upworthy links—although they do, and I plan to remove them from my friends list. The problem was that Facebook knows more about me than many of those friends do.
In order to use Facebook to stay in touch with people, I am giving it access to my own personal life on the Internet. Facebook knows what movies I like, where I live, who my best friends are, and what apps I use, because I have spent the last seven years giving it that information. Now that I’ve decided I prize my privacy more than my posts, it’s too late to back out.
See Also: How To Remove Yourself From The Internet
Facebook’s recent efforts to put more emphasis on personal privacy is a step in the right direction. But even the “anonymous login” feature Facebook introduced last week isn’t really anonymous. Third-party apps won’t know who you are, but Facebook will.
Facebook is no longer just a place for friends, but a pervasive and invasive identity manager. The social network wants to be privy to what we do online, and control who gets that information. Facebook may be where my friends hang out, but it isn’t my friend.
As real threats of invasive surveillance and data privacy violations continue to make citizens uncomfortable, tech companies are increasingly cognizant of maintaining the trust of their users. But it’s hard to take Facebook’s complaints about government surveillance seriously when it’s a far more efficient spy on our lives.
Facebook: A Post Office For Virtual Pen Pals
I moved to San Francisco just over a year ago after spending the previous two decades in Arizona. When I moved, I relied on social networks to keep me updated about what all my friends and family were doing. It made me a little sad that this was how we remained in touch, but I didn’t do much to change it.
In the year since I’ve left Arizona, relationships have deteriorated. The friends I used to see every weekend while we basked in the sunshine have been replaced with digital incarnations of themselves, and most of them live on Facebook. Instead of getting face-to-face updates about who they’re dating, how their kids are growing up, or how challenging work is, I see it on Facebook.
During the two months I spent away from the social network, I found myself missing those friends more than I had in the last year, and craved conversation and attention from them. I texted a few to say hello and that I missed them, and even called one (gasp!) and had an hour-long conversation. I’m embarrassed to admit that it was harder to remember to text my friends than Like their status on Facebook.
Fear Of Missing Out Is A Real Thing
Since I deleted Facebook, I’ve felt somewhat alone. I suppose that could mean that I’m a terrible friend who has trouble maintaining long distance-relationships because of my selfish nature, or it means that Facebook does indeed strengthen our friendships, whether we want to admit it or not. I’ll concede that a little bit of both are true, and both factors contributed to my loneliness.
Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, says, “I suspect that Facebook’s one great contribution has been to slow down that rate of relationship decay by allowing us to keep in touch with friends over long distances.”
So many of the relationships I valued in the past were reduced to Facebook friends after years of liking and commenting on statuses. And I really missed them. I made it my mission to strengthen those friendships by focusing more on the real interaction—calling someone or sending more personal photos in a text message instead of an Instagram post—and building up those relationships that had been reduced to a Like button.
In a way, leaving Facebook made me realize who my real friends are. So now, rather than quitting Facebook, I’m going to cull my friends list from 418 to around 100 or so.
It’s time to clean up Facebook. I’m no longer real friends with most of the people on my friends list, and I’m not getting pertinent news and information from the social network. By eliminating the noise and deleting some personal information, such as Likes and my location, I can go back to using Facebook for what it began as—a place for friends.
Until there’s another service that all the people I care about use, I’m stuck under Facebook’s big, blue thumb. I can’t click Like on this situation.
Lead image courtesy of Donna Larson; Dolores Park image by Selena Larson