Sadly, the first thing I have to confess in this essay is that I’m not really quitting Facebook. Because of professional reasons I can’t actually quit it (more on those boring details later).
But personally? I’m gone.
In short, because I find Facebook a useless, worthless, intentionally addictive brain drain that’s also a manipulation zone and a potentially harmful and dangerous cesspool of human interaction and societal decline.
Okay, maybe it’s not that extreme. But close.
Over the years one of the most annoying things I’ve experienced on Facebook is that person who makes the grand announcement about leaving the flagship social media site or taking a break from it only to be back on it like two weeks later. I always thought, “Just leave already and be done with it, no one cares that you’re going.”
So it’s painfully ironic to be making my own grand announcement, although I’ve rationalized that since I feel I’ve got a perspective beyond my personal experience that it’s essay-worthy stuff.
Maybe. You decide.
My Life on the Interwebs
I’ve effectively worked in a form of social media on and off for 18 years and played in its sandbox before that.
Way back in the 90s I spent several years on issue-oriented and fan-oriented Listservs and message boards getting my feet wet on the kinds of discussions, trolling, stalking, harassment — and even the love, death, kind sharing and admiration that can also occur, albeit much less often, in online fora.
Then, from 2000-2006 I was the moderator of online discussion for washingtonpost.com’s Live Online Message Boards, wading deep into political, economic, international, and social territory on issues like Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzales, hanging chads, 911, the Mideast conflict, the Iraq War and Afghanistan, bull(y) markets, climate, trash, and culture, along with a daily churning of other high-octane and divisive issues.
And now I own and run a digital marketing agency that necessarily utilizes blogs and social media to ply its trade.
But wheeling back to the heady early years of public interactivity and a BIG part of my post.com job was constantly trying to cultivate civil online discourse among reader-participants. It was a thankless task at best. At worst, bringing civility to an online political discussion was impossible. The online world simply doesn’t bring out the best in people, especially when they’re ill matched (for a bevy of reasons) and essentially shouldn’t really be in a debate at all.
It wasn’t any easier then than it is now to navigate the world of everyone having both an opinion and an asshole. Nor any more edifying.
Fast forward past all that and enter Facebook, or what is essentially a democratized “press” for self-publication. It doesn’t even need the Post or any other news outlet to start the discussion. It’s the world’s biggest message board, self-promotion outlet, news aggregator, content generator, and business listing.
But don’t call it a “community,” cause it ain’t.
I mean sure, there’s some self-selected groups that unite and help people, and yeah, that’s a good thing for what it is — it can sorta connect people and sorta give support and sorta lend ideas. The baby can stay in this bathwater.
Or the baby can drown in it.
The Costco of the Mind
In the brilliant, utterly prescient, 2006 film Idiocracy, (curiously absent from the recent New York Times’s “The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far,” ) a gigantic, miles-wide, stories-high, sprawling, crumbling Costco offers everything that a bar-code tattooed consumer can buy, do, or see.
Alongside Costco University there’s groceries, pharmaceuticals, prostitutes and peep shows, churches, gyms, amusements, retail offerings, drug deals, phones, adoption agencies, libraries, hospitals, dental care, historic sites — all we can covet, want, or need.
That this hyperbolic mall is essentially a slum doesn’t register with or matter to the dumbed-down future denizens of this 2500s dystopia.
And to me, at long last, that’s how Facebook feels. And it’s jumped the shark.
Sure I can get my God on with a post from a Bible page I follow, or feel my Zen when a Buddhist meme skitters across my feed. I can join others in rightly lambasting leaf blowers or get Permaculture tips from locals and bigger sites alike.
I can see that a friend’s daughter got a scholarship, another’s kid is getting married, and that my own daughter has a gig next week, and I can learn all that while also seeing new pours from my favorites breweries and great new airbnb offerings.
In between ads for things I’ve casually glanced at or, suspiciously, from stores I’ve merely walked through or near even though I haven’t recently made purchases, I can click for new digital marketing trends, sign up for a Bitcoin seminar, check out houses for sale even though I’m not moving, read astrology reports from several different purveyors, find out that a friend is in Cancun, that a stranger needs GoFundMe support, and that I can make money on Facebook Marketplace, all while getting tempted by 5 weird tricks for changing bad stuff into good.
But I don’t even like regular shopping, going to malls, or rampant consumerism so I’d certainly prefer that the marketplace of ideas was, well, a little better — more meaningfully — curated.
One thing’s beyond debate: Facebook’s algorithm sucks bigly. I like one cat, my feed gets flooded with all cats. I like one baby, all babies all the time. I rarely see what I’m truly interested in and constantly get updates from “friends” I barely know whose updates seem, well, hardly feed-worthy.
It’s a real freakin conundrum.
And to round it out, the rest is Trump, Trump, and Trump or related bad news bits and clever memes about how we’re all citizen chumps being had again and again but if we just email our e-signature to a petition then we’re part of the “resistance.” Never mind that it’s the least effective thing that we can do and that it too often keeps us from doing anything else.
Anything else except be angry. All. The. Time. Because apparently that’s what “resistance” bonafides look like. Hyper awareness and all outrage, all the time.
This arm pit of a social media site is not all Trump’s fault, though he is a menace who loves to bait everyone with his puke-Tweets. (I ditched that pithy mental Hellhole about a year ago. Let them eat Trump’s Tweets!)
And for a while I thought Facebook was different, more tolerable, having something redeeming.
Then America went mad. Mad in this context being a Super-Sized Combo of Crazy + Angry. Not that it wasn’t understandable given that the electoral college produced what it was designed to prevent, but at some point everyone went wholly off the rails and there’s yet to be a course correction.
The resulting indiscriminate and pervasive outrage reaches in all directions. Venting is one thing, and it’s understandable. But by its nature venting is “every so often I have to let off steam.” Venting six times a day every day is a lifestyle.
And then there’s the political correctness and social justice police.
The “mood,” or what feels like all outrage all the time means that in addition to Trump driving all present inquiry that America’s also effectively living in a moment of hating our country’s history and rendering it all worthless, decontextualized, and evil.
This especially affects the complexities in discussions of race, gender, and the Civil War but it also reaches back to the founding generation of Jefferson and Washington and Madison and Franklin, the latter of which is under renewed hyper-scrutiny because, while these guys planted the hard fought and won seeds of unprecedented freedom, most of them also owned slaves, making it near impossible for any reasonable conversations to happen online because — slavery. And patriarchy. And every conversation shut down.
Because I’m passionate about history, and in favor of informed discussion, I’ve found the timbre grating.
Too often I find responses to complex issues are all knee-jerk reaction, you’re either with us or you’re against us — pull the typing trigger first, ask questions later.
Nor is there much space for nuance, just for noise. And there’s a fuck ton of righteousness.
I find all this in daily Facebook debates while I find few of today’s same faults getting equally examined, especially all the unfree labor that still powers our economy. I’m thinking of the out-of-sight out-of-mind outsourced wage slaves who make our tech devices for pennies an hour so the privileged we can post a selfie about…getting a new iPhone.
None of this is part of the holier-than-thou conversation that holds the past to account. At all.
A focus on spanking the past also helps us ignore our own reckless consumption and environmental degradation perpetrated not only by BIG oil companies but by all us ordinary Americans, every day, fueled by delusional entitlement in our credit-driven frenzy. We ignore all these things though, as long as we all have Trump as our foil, and dead white men as our whipping boys.
So the days online unfold as a succession of unceasing and ultimately untruthful outrages among too many Facebookers, with little notice paid to the fact that their preferred apoplexy revolves more around symbols than substance, prurience rather than policy, slamming rather than solutions, and distraction rather than discernment. And then the same fixations reach into IRL.
“It is a tale told by idiot(s) full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Even some of Facebook’s own founders agree with this, wondering about the monster they helped create.
I’m not saying that nothing of worth and merit has ever happened on Facebook nor ever will. Digital human connections can and do bring us joyous news of births and weddings and milestones. We discover and share many cool and selfless or creative or innovative things that someone somewhere is doing to rightful applause. And don’t forget luscious food porn.
On the ideas front, some people appear capable of bringing reason and sense to discussions (and arguments) on Facebook and on occasion folks listen to each other and remain calm, objective, and open.
Sometimes minds are changed and people leave discussions feeling good.
But not so much. Not often enough for Facebook to qualify as a place known for MOSTLY worthy and uplifting stuff that’s grounded in sense and perspective and insight and growth.
More often it’s the opposite, and anyway, you have to wade shit-deep through that Costco of the mind where we shouldn’t expect to find high quality rare gems anyway, but rather should expect bargain basement big lots.
The Facebook “experience” increasingly leaves me feeling deflated, discouraged, depressed. I haven’t done a scientific analysis, but I’ve never heard anyone else speak of Facebook (or its social media cousins) as a place for the highest and noblest aspects of humanity to meet and raise our vision higher even if on occasion one has an edifying moment.
That’s just not what it is nor how it shook out.
Instead, it’s messy. Sadly it’s not the kind of messy undergirded by deeply held shared values or a shared sense of mission. With so many competing agendas sharing one realm it’s difficult to bring something overarchingly meaningful or worthy from the messiness. Facebook has instead largely become another path to our division as a country while it foments further civic breakdown.
In my Facebook feed, I have, like myself, mostly politically liberal friends. And every last one who is unrelentingly politics-obsessed (and too many of them are, never coming up for air) thinks they’ve finally nailed it when sharing some new meme (or essay or video) depicting Trump’s manifest buffoonery.
What do they think after the kabillionth anti-Trump meme shared? Do they think, “This! This will finally reveal the unassailable truth to all conservatives,” about what a nimrod Trump is, like anyone is still in the dark about this?
Every indiscriminate Trump share — his tweets or comments can range from berating pet ownership to bombing Pyongyang — and liberals give it the same strategic weight, baited into irrelevance just like Trump wants them to be.
These shares end up changing nobody’s mind. It’s just liberals talking to each other about Trump with smug self-satisfaction. Exhausting!
We get it — Trump’s a stupid jerk. Why talk about the man anymore? That isn’t “resistance,” it’s strategic failure, it’s playing defense, and it offers no alternative, no new articulated way forward.
And my liberal friends’ incessant obsession with “curing” (bullying on) surface social/sexual/racial/cultural ills rather than actually working in concrete procedure toward palpable ends (E.g., legislative or policy issues) shakes out as a perpetual and tiresome whine in favor of the cult of the individual, with actual actions, plans, and deeds, unapplied. A wasted moment on a free platform. A distraction. A place for everyone’s primal scream.
As for my conservative friends, their way-past-their-due-dates obsessions with Obama and Hillary, and their unthinking absorption of the manifestly disproven reports and memes from FOX and Breitbart (and their ilk) just makes them look like a cadre of intellectually stunted backwater inbreds. I know they can do better. There actually are some reasonable old school political conservative stances but, except digging deep and except rarely, you’d never know it from the crap their dino brains churn out.
I know that in their hearts and minds Americans — left and right — are not likely as stupid and retrograde as Facebook makes them appear to be. Giving them (us, me too) a form of democratized media to vent our spleens sounds great in theory but without the skill and insight to participate meaningfully it ends up looking like we’re a collection of rats in a big maze in a real-time experiment somewhere in an old X-File where the smoking man is laughing his cancerous ass off.
When I received a Facebook milestone of having been Facebook friends for five years with one of my actual real-world friends, all I could think was, “Yikes, I’ve been on this thing that long? In this rat’s maze that long?”
Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
Add to the fever pitch of 24/7 political outrage the hyper-narcissism that Facebook encourages and I feel like I’m trapped in a year-round end-of-year Christmas brag letter from everyone whose life I never really wanted to know that much about anyway.
I mean, I like these people, at least those whose “friendship” with me I can actually identify, and I DO want to see some aspects of their lives and personal news in the course of a year. But that doesn’t mean I have the same appetite that they do for daily pics of their baby’s every gurgle and their cats’ antics and their latest brunch of avocado toast and whether or not today is a “good day” or there were hassles at the auto repair shop.
A little bit, maybe, but there’s a reason I’m done with my high school yearbook — because my high school mind ended 30 some years ago. Not that this is directed at my high school friends, many of whom I’m “friends” with on FB but am not overwhelmingly getting their news. It’s more an immature modality that I’m talking about here, a Marshall McLuhan-y “medium is the message” type thing. And the medium is lame.
There’s such a thing as being too connected.
And as for the postmodern existential uncertainty, smashing of patriarchy, atomization of everything, and no center of gravity that could plausibly be claimed to exist in the multiplicity of Facebook’s Costco of the Mind, I’m not convinced of its inherent worth. The democratization of everything to the point of no distinctions, no cream rising to the top, hardly seems like a cause for celebration but rather just a cause for meh.
In the end, we still have to decide for ourselves which territory we’re going to put our hearts and minds into and why. Those are questions worth asking and practices worth deciding with awareness and care. Just because there’s ubiquitous multiplicity doesn’t mean I have to be mired in its digital brambles.
From Russia with Not-Love
To this already toxic stew of intellectual quicksand and superficial drivel we have to add the possible menace of Big Brother Bear hunting by night to manipulate us with dubious “media” sources that play into our obvious, demographable, and quantitatively predictive biases. That’s a multi-syllabic mouthful all to say no one’s got our interest at heart here, particularly not foreign players. If we thought the “general Welfare” on which our nation was founded was already in peril guess again — that puppy’s near moribund.
And I’d want to continue playing in a playground perfectly designed to rip up the “common good” even more?
Now, Russia is a nice bugaboo for all that which would do evil in the marketplace of ideas but old man Putin ain’t alone in data mining to nefarious ends our online selves and our online nation. Facebook is the wet dream of every corporate research department out there and they’re glad to thank us for smoking.
Two Thumbs and an iPhone
As a digital marketer I often wisecrack that it takes more than two thumbs and an iPhone to strategically and effectively market companies and their products, whether on a website or on social media. I say this as a defense when, to save money on proposed marketing costs, a would-be client suggests that what I do could just as easily be done by his niece/son/wife because “she has a phone and is on Facebook.”
Such claims insult my years of work in writing and editing for news, products, and services and the training I’ve undergone to understand audiences and communications. (Don’t worry, my methods and ethos don’t follow the sick forms listed above.)
But now I also have another use for this two-thumbs caricature. It reminds me of the classic image we have of extra terrestrials — the big-eyed big-headed being with a scrawny, gray, atrophied body and outsized fingers. If there is evolution — or in our case devolution — surely the next iteration of man is that hollow eyed, screen-addicted, machine-latched cold figure just waiting for the next moment to hunch his neck and bow his head and swipe and swipe and swipe.
“Just checking my Facebook feed.”
I feel like my phone posture has already begun to alter the spine piece of the human genome into a reverse hook. Facebooking hurts!
The decision to call it splitsville is a done deal. But it’s not you. It’s me. Leaving Facebook is the Marie Kondo approach to relationships. Facebook just doesn’t bring me joy and it may actually be robbing me of it.
I wrote some strong words above about Facebook behavior but again, it’s not like I never appreciated anything I saw on Facebook. My likes were sincere. I care about people’s lives. However I don’t like knowing now that more and more this “likes” phenomenon follows classic addiction theory and is designed to tie us to the platform.
I look back and wince.
By New Year’s Day I will have unfriended everyone on my list except my two daughters and husband, my best friend, and one other figure — someone whose writings I enjoy but who shall otherwise remain anonymous. But my unfriending is nothing if not equal opportunity, meaning it has nothing to do personally with anyone on my friends list. It just has to do with giving up the format. The format doesn’t work for me.
And why should it? To go to Facebook seeking meaningful connection is silly. One can find lots of stuff on Facebook that meet reasonable expectations — funny videos, breaking news, collective mourning of rock stars, sweet babies, etc., — but expecting deep, balanced, nuanced conversation that brings in a larger perspective is a fools’ errand. Would that we had a place for that at the mass level of societal engagement. Maybe there needs to be a “Facebook Talk” version of the platform, though it would be hard to imagine it being any different than those years I spent moderating at post.com, nor any less addictive than Facebook today.
Because I work professionally for many clients whose Facebook business pages I manage I have to, because of Facebook rules, either stay on Facebook with my existing identity, or go through an arduous process of creating a risky fake account, or create a new account in my real name and then have to transfer all of the Pages over to the new account and blah blah blah — too much work. Unfriending everyone is easier. Plus I can keep my saved article tabs full of food porn.
Those folks who really know me, really care about me, know that I really care about them, know how to get in touch with me. Facebook, though it appears to have become standard communication fare at an astonishing rate of adoption will go on without me and I without it.
Well, actually, I hope it will fail. Maybe I hope something better will take its place. Maybe.
While managing business pages I’ll keep following some especially creative Pages, like The Haunted Garden: Death and Transfiguration in the Folklore of Plants, and physical places (historic sites, etc.) that I regularly visit, and a select few businesses that I want to stay abreast of, and I’ll maintain a business page for this website — Lindsay Curren Art & Essays on Facebook — but otherwise, my new slimmed-down approach to Facebook, basically Facebook as a business tool/registry rather than a personal hub, is a long overdue life shift.
My Thoughts and Prayers are With Me
I’m hoping that, mostly Facebook-free, I’ll stand up straighter, look around more, find myself bored and thus find portals into possibility.
I’m hoping that I’ll listen in more in real-time conversations, and return from the addictively decorporealized and machine-like realm of the Web to a more corporal state, humble and rich in sensory input.
Sit in the sunshine. Feel the breeze. Talk to a tree.
Next step is ditching my so-called “smartphone,” a misnomer if ever there was one. Our society is getting stupider by the second and the cure doesn’t seem to be more access to the Web — Echo, smart house, Siri, whatever. The cure actually may be found in dumb phones. Or landlines?
Or maybe best of all in tin cans and string.
Yes, this whole exit rant drips with irony, as does sharing it on Facebook. But it’s not really news to anyone who’s paying attention. It’s not even fake news.
— Lindsay Curren, Ordinary American