I finally managed to delete my Facebook account. This was a long time coming. Being disconnected feels good, it feels liberating.
On Saturday I turned 40, and this was the ultimate test — not being on Facebook meant that my acquaintances did not know about my birthday, which meant I only received Happy Birthday wishes from family and very close friends. I received very few birthday-wishes this year. And it felt … weird, but good.
On Facebook you “Like”, “Share”, or provide shallow comments, as a substitute for having meaningful face-to-face conversations. The comments are shallow because, when online, people no longer have the patience to listen, and start talking past each other, becoming adversarial, the goal being to be right, not to learn. Complex human interactions are replaced with mere bits of information (like / dislike), and those bits are enough to satisfy our inner urges. Yet society is more and more depressed, especially the teenagers.
Humans are social beings, we crave human connection, and Facebook is the junk food of social interaction. Facebook pushes people to wish you Happy Birthday, which is how you get (impersonal) birthday wishes from people you haven’t talked with in 20 years, or from complete strangers. Those birthday wishes don’t mean much, though. We like to think that long-lost acquaintances, from school, from former jobs, are still thinking of us, but that ain’t true. It’s just a Facebook-driven automation. If anything, given that people tend to look stupid on social media, Facebook can and does severe ties, instead of strengthening them. If you connect with your work colleagues on Facebook, you’re not wise.
I first thought of deleting Facebook on reading “Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now”. Actually, I thought about it, then tried to find a book that affirmed my decision. Well, it’s a poor book actually, as the arguments are almost religious. What the book argues is that social media companies invest in behavior modification, because they are betting on humans being just automatons, in order to get us to buy more stuff. I don’t doubt that social media companies try doing just that, except that I no longer believe humans are so easy to manipulate. It’s like with smoking. Tobacco companies may have engaged in despicable practices, but in the end, human nature is to blame, as we often like to engage in toxic vices for instant gratification. Nowadays, people smoke a lot less only due to increased costs (extremely high taxes, and having fewer smoker-friendly places). In other words, smokers exist, not because they’ve been manipulated, but because they like it and because cigarettes were made easily accessible.
Even if the environment plays a huge role in our behavior, the argument that we’re manipulated robs us of personal responsibility, of agency, an argument that I won’t buy. Red flags go off in my head whenever I hear of profit-driven puppeteers. When I quit smoking, more than a decade ago, I managed to do it solely due to economic reasons, as it has gotten simply too expensive to smoke. This argument also overestimates Facebook’s power, playing into their marketing. After all, nobody would pay for those ad-placements, if Facebook would fail to influence its users. Truth is, mentalities are really hard to change, and the only people buying the crap that FB sells are the people that would’ve bought that crap anyway.
Facebook isn’t any more guilty than your favorite messenger application (SMS included), or the smartphone that you keep near you 24/7. Technology, even when neutral, has unintended consequences. Internet-connected smartphone applications are behaving like slot machines, triggering dopamine releases, pushing us to check for notifications and refresh the page. Stories of profit-driven automatic algorithms may be good for your self-esteem, or for your motivation to quit, but such stories don’t tell the whole picture. And the full picture is that many apps are slot machines, especially those designed for portable devices, fueling our addiction for shallow social interaction. Which would be OK, except that by stealing so much time away from our lives, it detracts us from having meaningful social and learning experiences.
And so, I’ve decided to delete Facebook. Not because I believe Facebook is evil, or special. But because it provides no value, it’s a source of stress (due to all the politics), and the time I lose on social media is time that I’d rather spend elsewhere. Time isn’t unlimited and it needs budgeting. For me the question is less about what I’m doing on Facebook, and more about what I’m not doing in general. I’m not calling my friends, for example. Or, I’m not learning as much as I’d like, or engaging in meaningful projects. Or, I’m reading less and less fiction books, because my time and patience is in short supply. Admit it, it takes great effort to just sit down with a book without checking any status updates on your smartphone 😉
Deleting Facebook is easier said than done. These platforms make it hard to delete your account by merely “deactivating” your account for 30 days, giving you plenty of time to reconsider. You initiate the deletion process, and then a couple of days later guilt starts setting in, or fear that you’re going to miss out. You invested in your online identity, and there’s that lingering thought that you still have time to recover it, and maybe you can impose usage limits, etc. This dark pattern (the 30 days deactivation) is, of course, not accidental.
To finally delete it, after a couple of failed attempts, I had to make recovery impossible:
- I changed the email address to a “temporary” one (e.g., Fastmail’s masked emails);
- I removed the phone number from my account;
- I changed the username to something random;
- I changed the password to something random;
- I deleted the account (starting the 30 days process);
- I deleted all traces of the temporary email address, and of the new username, or the new password;
(Take that, Facebook puppeteers)
I managed to do it, as I realized that I’m not missing anything. If I want pictures from my family, I’ll ask for them. If I want to keep in touch with people, I’ll simply call them on the phone, and then maybe go out for coffee or beer, if possible; although just having phone conversations is nice, too. For telling my distant family how my life is going, if phone calls or visits aren’t practical, a plain-old newsletter might be better. I don’t need the events, or the politics, or the support groups. Everything I got from Facebook was either not productive, or had better options elsewhere.
And not just Facebook. I deleted multiple social media accounts, actually. For example Instagram, and TikTok. And almost 2 years ago I gave up on my Hacker News account. Giving up on HN, with my hard-earned karma, was actually more painful than Facebook. I’m still on Twitter, as it can be useful for learning, or for notifying others of my blog posts. But only if kept in check, the rules being: no social interactions on it whatsoever, absolutely all notifications off, and time limited. I’m pretty sure that, given my current mentality, I’m no longer the ideal Twitter user, having turned it into a glorified RSS feed. Ditto Reddit.
So here I am, a 40-year-old with no Facebook. Now, you kids get off my lawn!