I joined Facebook on April 27, 2007. I left, over six years later, on September 22, 2013. Contrary to my friends’ expectations, I have survived the last two years almost unscathed. This is the story of my against-all-odds survival.
Why No Facebook?
I’m going to go with just three reasons why I quit Facebook. Only three, but they’re big ‘uns.
- Facebook is proven to make you miserable.
- Facebook brazenly steals everything you hold dear in life and uses it to sell shit to your friends. Your friends.
- Why do any of us use Facebook? I know it’s a bit Confucian to answer a question with a question, but still. Does anyone actually ask themselves why they’re on Facebook? When I eventually did, I had no good answer.
So let’s go through these in order.
Facebook makes you miserable
Have you heard of FOMO? It’s a highly contagious virus, that spreads rapidly through online social media. FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. I’m sure you know FOMO: it’s that feeling of mild dread that you could be having a much better time elsewhere.
- When you’re at a standard house party and see on Facebook that there’s another happening across town and it’s fancy dress: FOMO.
- When you’re at the BFI watching a François Truffaut double bill and see on Instagram that friends are having cocktails without you: FOMO.
- When you take a trip to Paris with your mum and everyone’s tweeting about Jeremy Corbyn at a demo for refugees back in London: FOMO.
None of these experiences of FOMO would be possible without Facebook and other social media, amplified by the mobile power of the smartphone.
What’s the problem, you may well ask. The multitudinous benefits of social connectivity surely outweigh that mild feeling of FOMO dread, don’t they?
Not sure how to break this to you, but no.
In a 2013 study published in Computers in Human Behaviour, researchers confirmed that FOMO was strongly linked to higher levels of social media engagement. The study also confirmed the obvious: that FOMO was associated with distracted driving and use of social media during lectures. Then the bombshell: FOMO was associated with “lower need satisfaction, mood and life satisfaction”.
FOMO, that modern virus of social media, makes you less motivated, more depressed and less content with your life.
Facebook brazenly steals everything you hold dear in life and uses it to sell shit to your friends. Your friends.
This is the one I guess everyone already knows about. You know that Facebook is a business and has a business model. You know, I’m sure, that this business model is predicated on your personal data and selling that personal data to companies who want to sell shit to people, and that the most likely victims are your friends.
This business model is pretty much common knowledge; it’s part of the contract that we enter into with Facebook when we sign up. We agree to give away our names, emails, date of birth, family and friends, photographs, likes and soon dislikes, the events we attend and the groups we join – in short, everything we hold dear. In exchange, we don’t have to pay actual money to actual Facebook for access to their social network.
The problem is that not many people have thought through the full consequences of this business model. I certainly hadn’t until I heard Shoshana Zuboff, of Harvard Business School, speak at the Elevate Festival.
Shoshana directs her analysis at Google, but the same applies to Facebook. She sees a new form of capitalism emerging, which she calls “surveillance capitalism”. This new form of economics is distinguished from the old forms in two ways:
- Surveillance capitalism does not need the people as employees. Facebook has nearly 1.5 billion users (as of August 2015), but employs less than 11,000 people (as of June 2015). That’s one employee for every 136,000 users.
- Surveillance capitalism does not need the people as customers. Facebook makes its money from selling data to other businesses: advertising makes up around 90% of its annual revenue, which was $12.4 billion in 2014.
If surveillance capitalism doesn’t need the people as either employees or customers, then what do these companies need us for? As we all know: product.
But the problem goes deeper. If surveillance capitalism doesn’t need us as either employees or customers, then the people have no control over what these companies do. We can’t withdraw our labour or withdraw our custom. As Facebook pursues its ambition of becoming more and more tightly integrated with the running of our societies, this has serious consequences for democracy.
Why do any of us use Facebook?
However, I’m going to turn a blind eye to that doomsday scenario, partially because it makes me feel sick to think we’re sleepwalking into a future where Mark Zuckerberg can, on a whim, command an army of billions, and partially because it’s not why I quit Facebook.
Facebook is distracting. We pay a high price for social media. We don’t just hand over our personal data, we hand over a large dollop of our daily attention and focus. I used to scroll around Facebook, liking all the things my friends had done and getting little bursts of dopamine in return whenever anyone liked something I’d posted. Then I’d realise that a hour had passed and I still hadn’t written anything or done anything meaningful.
That attention and focus is limited. Every minute we spend attending to something on Facebook is a minute we can’t use to focus on our work, our garden or a good meal.
First of all, I used a technique I called Facebook Zen to clear my News Feed. For a few months, it was bliss: total silence. Then I started to wonder why I was on Facebook at all. Couldn’t I get everything I needed from the world? So I quit.
The most shocking thing was that I didn’t miss Facebook for a moment. I had been expecting some cold turkey horrific withdrawal symptoms. But all I felt was a little part of my brain that I hadn’t realised had been constantly thinking about Facebook was no longer thinking about Facebook. I had freed up roughly 1% of my brain’s bandwidth to work on a knotty problem, dream up a new book idea or notice the passing smell of jasmine.
I was liberated.
Two Years Later…
I still don’t miss Facebook.
I have, however, noticed that Facebook is increasingly becoming the main driver of content on the web. Facebook have the advantage over Google in that people will always prefer a friend’s recommendation over an anonymous search result. While at the moment Google is slightly better at precise searches for information, Facebook will triumph in the long term because of its social element.
Furthermore, as the whole world, every person and every business becomes embedded in their social graph, the internet could effectively cease to exist outside the four walls of Facebook. This is a bit frightening, isn’t it?
Thanks for reading. Now… Follow me on Twitter! That’s a joke (it’s not). Twitter is, in some ways, the social media of positive constraints: only 140 characters. I’d love to hear your stories of Facebook disconnection.