I wanted to title this entry as “Facebook: Your International Crack Dealer.” While I think the metaphor is profound, it deserves more explanation than a title could provide.
A week ago today, I quit facebook. Hi, my name is Pinkie Boadicea and I’m a Facebook Addict.
Quitting facebook is difficult. Have you ever tried? Most of you probably think that you have it under control, that you don’t have a problem, that you could quit any time. But could you? Quitting is difficult and facebook doesn’t like to lose a customer.
First, it gets you hooked. Facebook pages show up as top hits in google and Bing searches. It’s easy to make a facebook page for a company or an organization and so many smaller groups use Facebook as their primary online presence. Suppose you want to interact with one of these organizations. Google their name and up comes the facebook page along with a big fat log in box and a question: Want to connect with [this company]? Log in or create an account. It’s free and easy, and always will be. If it isn’t a webpage, it’s probably a friend of yours or a new acquaintance, “Hey, are you on facebook?”
Soon the feeds start to get tiresome. Is this yet another post about [insert current political scandal]? Oh, wow. Another witty e-card with old timey pencil sketches and inane quips about how much smarter we are than everyone else. And oh, look. A cat gif. And there are the advertisements. Facebook doesn’t call them ads, but when you like a post that is associated with a paying organization, facebook will insert multiple requests to like the pages of those other organizations. Finally, and perhaps most dangerously when you consider the impossibility of actually controlling the accessibility of your content, there are the friend suggestions. At first it’s nice because you see someone that maybe you haven’t connected with in years and it’s fun. But then the recommendations start to get further from fun and closer to, say, your job. All of a sudden facebook wants you to be friends with your boss, and now what? If you say yes, your boss has access to all that obnoxious stuff you never meant your boss to know about, but if you say no… what has he already seen? Will he know you’re hiding something?
The trouble with Facebook goes beyond it getting tiresome. Like any addiction, eventually you become adjusted to the hits and they cease to provide the satisfaction they once did. The problem is when you can’t stop. You log in only to get annoyed by all the politics, ads, and desperate pleas for attention. You leave minutes, or even hours later, with a bad taste in your mouth and then you log in again. Why? Because what if someone [liked] that post you made last night where you subtly suggested that you weren’t happy and really needed a hug, but were too timid to say it out loud to anyone in person and therefore tossed it out into the Interverse in the vague hope that someone, anyone, would pick up your hint? Or, you know, there could be a message for you. It doesn’t matter that you were just there an hour ago. You just have to check. Because, what if…?
They say that knowing is half the battle, but Facebook doesn’t like to be put down without a fight. First, they hide the deactivation links deep inside the account settings in a section that makes no sense (I’d tell you where it is, but since quitting I’ve installed programs to block Facebook from being accessed on my computer again). Then, when you try to leave, you have to answer a survey. Whatever answer you pick, Facebook tells you you are wrong. Leaving because you don’t trust the company to protect your privacy? They’ll send you a popup with instructions on how to access their blindingly complicated privacy settings. Leaving because the feed annoys you? Here’s a popup telling you that you can block people or organizations that you don’t like. Leaving because you waste too much time on Facebook? Here’s some hints on how you can change your notification settings. Not like any of these suggestions actually solve the problems, but the point is that Facebook does not respect your agency of decision. Facebook, like your local crack dealer, doesn’t want to lose a customer and they’re going to do their damnedest to convince you that they know better what’s good for you than you do.
Supposing you manage to get past their “survey.” Next comes the guilt. Facebook will show you images from the profiles of your friends and the message “[friend’s name] will miss you. Are you sure you want to leave? Why don’t you send them a message?” If you do get suckered into sending a goodbye message you have to start the whole process over.
And then, finally, the finishing blow: You can’t actually delete your own account. Facebook will temporarily deactivate it for you, but if you or any program you use to access any part of facebook tries to log in again, everything comes back as if it was never gone. So, even if you fail to regulate your usage to the point that you realize you need to quit entirely, you can’t ever actually leave. Does this not sound freaky? It’s like your crack dealer showing up at your neighborhood grocery store and brightly waving hello to you as he surreptitiously drops a few free samples into your bag of produce.
You’d think your friends would help you out at a time like this, but don’t be surprised if instead of support for overcoming your addiction they, like your old drinking buddies, act like you are personally rejecting them with your decision.
It’s hard to live without facebook in a world where everyone thinks facebook is innocuous. Like the alcoholic at a New Year’s party, suddenly you realize you don’t quite know how to socialize with people anymore, and they don’t really know how to talk to you back. And like any addiction, once you give it up, you are always tempted. The thought that, maybe just a little facebook won’t hurt, will never really leave you. But like any addiction, once you kick it, you realize how much it was dragging you down.
The moment I “canceled” my facebook account, I felt like I could breathe again. Literally the moment I clicked the button. Suddenly I realized how much I was using facebook as a substitute for real human interaction and how lonely it was making me. Instead of getting my work done, I’d dick around on facebook looking for that [like] hit. When I got tired of that, I’d return to reality depressed at how little time I had left in the day for the things that truly made me happy and at how much work I didn’t accomplish. Suddenly I felt the freedom to experience my moments rather than constantly scanning my brain for a witty way to phrase them into a post. Suddenly, I was really and truly alone in my house.
The loneliness that comes from being disconnected from facebook is interesting. At once it is more intense and also more peaceful. It’s like looking up at the night sky from a mountain top. You see so many more stars against the midnight blue of space than you could ever see from the city and you wonder, how did I ever think I saw the sky before?
They say fifty percent of alcoholics have a relapse in the first year. I’m sure I’ll relapse, too, but in the meantime I’m doing everything I can to protect this new sense of life that I’ve found by disconnecting. Between website blockers, erasing my facebook content, clearing out my contacts, deleting apps and blocking ads and social media content, I think I am technologically pretty prepared. What I’m not prepared for is how to live in a world where facebook is increasingly common practice. If I relapse, this will be the reason. In the meantime, though, I’m enjoying the excuse to connect with people in person.
“Hi, I canceled my facebook account so I thought I’d drop by and see how you’re doing.” Yes. This is the life I’d rather lead.