I have been thinking about leaving Facebook for a while now. It’s the kind of thing that pops up for many of us from time to time, I’m sure. But, it’s really taken root with me lately due to several factors. Some of the factors are personal, some are ‘big picture’.
Exiting Facebook is also difficult. It is difficult because Facebook is psychologically ‘sticky’ and practically sticky. That is, we form relationships unique to the site with individuals and groups and we fear losing our ‘social capital’ by leaving. And, Facebook does NOT make it easy to figure out how to kill an account (in fact, I’ve got work to do figuring that out).
My personal reasons involve feeling upset while using it, spending too much time, and weak in dealing with the system of Facebook.
I often feel upset while on Facebook nowadays, and really for many years. Facebook ‘knows’ that I will share a lot of political posts, and I’ve liked and followed dozens of sites, too many to remember. So, it feeds me more angst. Psychology moment: When we have negative feelings we want to act to reduce those negative feelings. By sharing something we feel like we’ve ‘done something’ and the negative feeling is reduced, a little, we get a little dopamine hit by doing something. Then we have buddies who comment, sometimes constructively, sometimes in despair, sometimes jokingly, sometimes aggressively… and it reminds you of the pain you were trying to alleviate…. angst again. Repeat cycle. Sharing jokes, puns, etc. is nice, but not enough. Learning about the good things in friends’ lives is AWESOME and helps a lot. But, friends also post their hurts, heartaches and frustrations and I’m sad. And, some friends engage in constant ‘look how awesome I am’ posting and social comparison kicks in (automatically, we can’t control this) and sadness. Even when the friend posts sad things and we can think how much better off we are, it’s still sad if you actually care about the friend.
I spend way too much time on Facebook. Anyone who cares to look at my timeline and posting behavior would easily see that. The reason for it being a horrid time sink is tied to the system of Facebook. It is expressly designed, as noted by several of the creators and higher-ups of Facebook, to capitalize on hijacking our learning processes in nearly precisely the same way that psychoactive drugs hijack our learning processes.* By accentuating our rate of receiving dopamine hits, we become ‘addicted’ to the site and seek more. It is classical conditioning at it’s most basic. Pavlov would be salivating over how stunningly effective his methods are put into play here. I don’t think Facebook started out intentionally designing with this in mind. They put out varying versions of their systems and sees which ones generate the most hits, the most shares, the most time spent viewing. Their goal is to make money by knowing a lot about you and feeding you targeted advertising, anything that fills that bucket of knowledge about you leads to profits.
I feel weak, I think we all are weak, in the face of the systems Facebook employs to keep you sharing, viewing, seeing ads, clicking ads, commenting, clicking, sharing, commenting… pushing the response lever. If we are on Facebook a lot, we live in a Skinner box. Facebook has admitted that it is designed this way. Maybe not overtly intentionally, but their method of determining what ‘works’ to keep people on the site, clicking, and sharing is guaranteed to be hard to break (referring to that addictive dopamine pumping system it leverages).
I’ve tried several ways to upset this process, to get control and ownership of my behavior. I’ve used Social Fixer which can hide posts with key words, but can’t do anything about images with key words embedded. And Facebook changes its code moment to moment so that Social Fixer is continually needing revision to keep up.
I’ve tried blocking people and blocking sites. But, Facebook has very clever software. It’s impossible to block literally every source of something. Most messages have several sources you can block. And, if several friends post it, and you like it, suddenly the blocks you’ve instituted are bypassed. Eventually, all those blocks go away. I ‘unfollowed’ a friend who posts dozens of messages a day that I politically agree with. Within a few weeks, all of his postings were coming through as if I’d done nothing. IMO, Facebook puts in these tools because people want to feel they have control, and they work, but are also made so that they ‘wear away’ and are bypassed. So, they give an illusion of control (psychology: Often, if we merely feel like we have control, it makes us feel better about something, even if the control is not used or actually does nothing).
I even created an alternative persona on Facebook. Blech. Devoid of life. If I were to fill it with any of Me, I would suddenly be plunged back into the Facebook Amalgamated System of Angsting and Manipulative Software.
So, I now feel powerless against the software systems of Facebook.
I don’t like feeling powerless…
Key Insight Moment: I’m tired of Facebook knowing more about how to manipulate my behavior than I know how to stop Facebook from doing it.
That’s an abusive relationship and the only way to stop it is to leave the relationship.
So, I’m leaving… but there’s more, there’s the Big Picture.
Reasons, Big Picture:
Facebook has been shown to have been a substantial reason for the increase in political polarization in this country and in dividing our nation socially. It keeps us all even more in our homes, away from actual human interactions in which we learn about the inherent humanity of people with whom we may differ on important matters. By participating in that system through my reading of posts, sharing of posts, and writing of posts, I’m making this worse.
Facebook has sown and nurtured the seeds of discontent. I feel Facebook has done evil. I don’t think it intended to.
It’s just the natural consequence of capitalism that all efforts are for the bottom line and social consequences are NOT ever to be taken into account, except those required by law. The natural side effect of capitalism is that corporations necessarily act as a psychopath. We should never expect the unchecked corporation to act differently.
I can choose to not be part of that system.
Those are my reasons.
Now the consequences, and difficulties.
I have made new friends on Facebook, people I would never have met if not for Facebook. It is sad to leave them behind. I have reconnected with friends of my childhood and college years. It will be sad to leave them behind. I have discovered groups and opportunities for fun on Facebook. It is sad to leave them behind. I play games with friends on Facebook and I don’t want to stop those social games. But, if I can’t find another way to be involved in those games with them, I’ll leave it behind.
So, I’m actively looking at using stand alone apps, alternative social communication that I hear are much less prone to these issues and with which I have near zero history of usage. Twitter is a danger, but I’m going to be very careful to have only game and soccer buddies there.
Students in my Cyborg Future class have told me that Instagram is much less likely to involve the kind of social fighting that Facebook has. So, I’ll try it out (yeah, I know it’s owned by Facebook). Discord is where role-playing gamers meet. I’ve never abandoned Big Soccer for soccer discussion. Many groups that have Facebook presence also have Twitter, Google +, Youtube, and other presences. So, I think I’ll know what I need to know.
That’s it, I’m leaving… but you may want to know how this happened…
How this happened
I’m teaching a class this semester named “Our Cyborg Future”. It’s intriguing to watch my students talk about their current lives so embedded with social technologies and sometimes even cynical about any thoughts of the problems with it, yet vigorously argue that they would never have such social technology directly embedded in their bodies or brain. In our discussions we are doing a lot of self-examination of our use of technology and it can’t help but affect me. I didn’t expect this, but I should have. It has made me quite aware of how I’m mistreating myself in my use of technology. We’ve discussed the relative merits of many of these. Nearly all the students describe Facebook as a wasteland that is kinda awful and intrusive. They are into Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter (to a much lesser extent) and simply text chatting. If we are not learning from our students, then we are not being good models of being intellectually honest.
So, I’ve done some listening, to my students, and to myself.
*Many addictive drug processes also hijack our dopamine production system. I’m loath to call all habitual behavior that do not involve ingestion of chemicals an ‘addiction’. But, there are physiological similarities that are unavoidable such that calling out those similarities is fair.