Living behind the times: Why I quit Facebook (and why you should, too)

 

“Facebook me.” It’s a sentence that wouldn’t have made sense 10 years ago. Back then, Facebook wasn’t a verb. In fact, it wasn’t even a website—not until 2004, back in the dimly-remembered beginnings of the digital age. And now, a mere seven years later, Facebook has utterly consumed our generation.

And I’ll confess: I’ve posted my fair share of status updates. I know how annoying those Mafia Wars and Farmville requests are, and I know what it means to check if a friend has gone “Facebook official” with his relationship. But a few months ago, I did a strange thing.

I deleted my Facebook account.

Launched in 2004, Facebook has grown to become the most popular social networking site in the world. (Photo by Kaitie Fox)

To me, the strange thing about it isn’t really that I deleted it—it’s the fact that people find it strange not to have a Facebook. When I tell people I deleted my profile, they often give me a sideways glance, as if I told them I have another head growing out of my shoulder. Even if they don’t, I always feel somewhat self-conscious about it. For college students—and, as it increasingly seems, everyone—having a Facebook is like having a driver’s license. It’s the first destination any time you log onto the Web, and it’s the site you come back to most throughout the day.

And when I say deleted my account, I mean it literally—I actually deleted the account, as opposed to simply deactivating it. (Check out this link to find out how.) Contrary to popular belief, there is a way to get rid of the thing without undergoing a serious surgical procedure. And yes, you’ll live—if you can bear the withdrawals, that is.

Why would anyone ever do such a terrible thing, though? Here are a few of the reasons I decided to pull the plug, and why you should consider it as well.

Time

To put it simply, Facebook is a huge waste of time. You can spend hours a day staring at your computer screen as the status updates pour into your News Feed. You can look through albums of low-quality pictures your best friend took with her cell phone. You can comment on someone’s Wall Post, then “like” your own comment.

[pullquote]To put it simply, Facebook is a huge waste of time.[/pullquote]

I spent hours on Facebook each week. The sad thing is, I can’t remember what exactly I spent all that time doing. What’s incredible about Facebook is that you can spend hours on the site without really doing much of anything. There are worse things, I suppose—you could spend hours drooling in front of the TV—but for the millennial generation, traditional time-wasters like TV have been supplanted by Facebook.

It’s incredible how much more productive you can be without dragging the ball-and-chain of social networking around with you. And the people who use Facebook the most—college students—are the ones who could use all the time they can get.

Social life

This one might sound counter-intuitive. “After all,” you might say, “Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is a great way to connect with the people in your life. It says so right on the site.”

I’ll admit that not having a Facebook does have a bit of an alienating effect—which is sad, because in order to truly have a social life, you have to look beyond Facebook. Having a list of people who are officially your “friends” doesn’t mean you have meaningful relationships with any of them. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that for most people on your friends list, the opposite is true.

Instead of spending your time chatting with friends through Facebook, why not actually call them up? Or, if you want to get really crazy, try hanging out with them in person. The same could be said for texting…but let’s not go there.

The fact is, in spite of the fact that technology enables us to be connected to each other 24/7, we are becoming more and more isolated from one another. We increasingly conduct our relationships through screens rather than face-to-face.

And if you think technology is merely a neutral tool we can use however we want, think again. Technology always has an unexpressed idea behind it, and it always has unintended effects. With Facebook, the idea is that we can arrange our lives and our friends into neatly-organized, self-centered boxes.

[pullquote]Technology always has an unexpressed idea behind it, and it always has unintended effects. With Facebook, the idea is that we can arrange our lives and our friends into neatly-organized, self-centered boxes.[/pullquote]

The unintended effects? Many of those are yet to be seen, but they may have already begun to manifest themselves in the fact that we judge a romantic relationship only to be “official” once it’s posted on Facebook. It’s reduced the way we view relationships into a brief tag that takes up a few lines on a profile.

Dependency

Ironically enough, perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Facebook is the same thing that makes it so popular. Simply put, Facebook is addictive. On a list of drugs, it would be somewhere between cocaine and heroin. When you first make your profile, it’s impossible to not get sucked into searching for friends you know and checking out their profiles. When people accept your friend requests, there’s an emotional pay-off you want to continue to experience. And whenever someone sends you a message or writes on your Wall, you feel giddy like a schoolchild.

Where Facebook becomes destructive is when it ceases to be merely an extension of your life—something you like to check once every few days—and becomes a place where you actually live. Because of its addictive quality, Facebook tends to become a world of its own, a site you have to visit multiple times per day in order to feel connected and get your fix.

Some people are able to avoid the pitfalls of Facebook—they can log on for five minutes, look through their notifications and be done for the day. Most people I know, however, can’t resist checking back every hour or so. Many of them also have a Facebook app on their phone, meaning they are truly connected to Facebook everywhere they go.

With more than 750 million users, Facebook has simply become part of life for many. But what are the costs? (Photo by Jesse Peek)

The fact is, all the information you post—all the pages you “like” and the comments you make—become part of your online identity. That identity has a way of sticking around for a long time, too. Even if you set your profile to “friends only,” your information is still out there on a server somewhere, and your likes and interests are used to sell personalized advertisements. Basically, true privacy—in the traditional sense of the word—is pretty much impossible on Facebook.

Maybe you don’t mind all that. Maybe the idea of uploading your social life to a website doesn’t scare you. Quite frankly, it seems more normal every day in a world of iPhones and Blackberrys. Facebook has become part of our lives. It’s one of the main ways we talk to friends, meet new people and maintain the illusion we’re at the center of a dehumanizing postmodern world.

Technology has its greatest effect on us when it becomes invisible, however. As Facebook continues to embed itself within the fabric of our society, popping up on websites we visit and in friendships we cultivate, it will gradually fade into the background of our lives.

Soon—if it hasn’t already happened—we’ll no longer think about Facebook as a technology interposing itself in the middle of our relationships, just as we no longer think of a TV screen as interposing itself into our living rooms and families. We’ll no longer think it strange to store our social lives online, because we won’t think about it at all. And at that moment, when Facebook becomes invisible, it will have a profound amount of control over our lives—an unseen, unspoken control that has the power to change how we relate to our fellow human beings.

When you think about it, it’s kind of…strange.

Jesse Peek is editor-in-chief of Aviso AVW.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Alaine Kay says:

    Great article, Jesse! It was rather convincing, and I found myself almost agreeing with you at some points. Almost.

    It is possible to have a Facebook page without being addicted. I wouldn’t consider myself addicted; I use it as I would email, and I post statuses and pictures to let people know what’s happening, especially since I’m in England and I’m not quite sure how international snail mail works yet. I’d reckon I’m spending half an hour TOPS on here a day, and there have been days and weeks I don’t use it at all.

    In other words, your arguments don’t really apply to everybody, and your suggested actions seem a bit extreme.

    However, as I said at the beginning of this ridiculously long comment, you did write a good article and you make good arguments. I just happen to disagree with said arguments. 🙂

    Like

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