Why I’m quitting Facebook

Anyone who studies technology knows about the tiered nature of its adoption. Whenever a new technology or application is invented, you get the early adopters, the trend-setters, the cool-hunters; these are people who are usually clued into new applications and have a knack of joining winning technologies at the very first stage. These are also usually the first to abandon the technology when it has become popular. The second tier of adopters consists of people who are clued into new happenings, but prefer to see its potential before jumping in. The third group is what could be described as the critical mass crowd. These are people who are never early adopters, but who exert influence among their social circle. Once these connectors join in, the technology tends to reach a phase transition, and then it is widely adopted by the masses. After that you get a steady stream of late adopters who sign-up because everyone else seems to be doing it as well.

I generally class myself in the second and third tier. I am never an early adopter, but generally take-up technologies well before the mainstream. While Facebook is now 5 years old, I became aware of it in 2006 when I noticed some students using it. I thought that it looked like a useful little application, so I joined in December 2006. Even from the start I felt rather troubled by it, particularly because of the heavy student presence at the time, and the almost complete absence of other academics. What would students think of a member of staff invading their space? When I first joined there were not many friends and family on Facebook, so I felt that I would have to tread carefully.

Because this was mostly an experiment, I set out very clear rules to myself about how I would use it, and these would shape the way in which I utilised the social application in the following two years. These rules were:

  1. I would not upload pictures of anyone else.
  2. I would not remove picture tags of me from other people’s albums unless completely necessary.
  3. I would accept all friend invitations.
  4. I would initiate few invitations myself.
  5. I would try to keep my profile as open as possible.
  6. I would assume that anything I posted could be viewed by anyone else in the world.
  7. I would try to keep the space impersonal.

These rules made sense at the time I joined. As I said, there were practically no friends and family connected before the great Facebook explosion of 2008, so my Facebook use remained particularly detached. Because in 2007 it was still mostly a student space, the first months were rather awkward. I remember having a conversation with someone who scoffed at the idea of any 30-something joining Facebook, commenting that college kids had competitions going on how to “spot the 35 year-old”. Needless to say, that same person later joined Facebook.

facebook1The rise and rise of Facebook

Everything changed later in 2007 when larger numbers of users came online. By March 2007 the site boasted one million UK users alone, and the number of subscribers kept rising at an astounding rate. The explosion translated in more people adding me to their friends list, and because I had made the foolish vow to accept all invitations, I ended up with “friends” that I would probably not recognise in the street if they crossed my path. Unsurprisingly, by the time close friends and family had joined, my list was a bloated and unwieldy collection of former friends, former acquaintances, former work colleagues, former students, and former girlfriends. My user interface was filled with invitations to become a vampire/werewolf/ninja/pirate. I was drowning in invitations to take part in anodyne personality quizzes, install a large array of invasive applications to my profile, or play games designed to get my personal details. I was even being invited to events on the other side of the world that I would never have a chance to attend. My inbox had hundreds of unread messages.

Sometime last year I started to take a closer look at the reasons why I was on Facebook in the first place. I had joined as a social experiment, yet I became aware that I was using the technology for all the wrong reasons. The detachment that I had cultivated meant that few people actually used it to contact me in a social context. My status updates were purposefully cryptic as to maintain the aura of impersonality. My picture collections gave the impression of someone who was utterly self-absorbed because of the complete absence of any other people in them. Because I wanted to keep my profile open, my interaction with other walls ranged from rare to non-existent.

I know that some of these problems are largely self-inflicted, and that there are several possible solutions to overcome some of them. It is possible to hide oneself from user searches, hence minimising the number of incoming invitations. It is also possible to create tiered groups, where different people get to see only what you want them to see, so you could give full access to an inner circle of friends, little access to acquaintances, and no access to ex-girlfriends. While this would definitely solve some of my own personal issues with it, it does not begin to tackle the very important question of why do we have Facebook in the the first place. What is it good for? Why are we using it? Can we do without in this day and age?

The more I have been thinking about it, the more troubled I am about this particular implementation of social networking. It is not only the privacy and legal implications, of which there are many. I have come to believe that Facebook is changing the way in which we interact with one another, and not always in a good way. Scott Brown commented in Wired last November that Facebook was outdating the age-old practice of losing touch, and I found myself nodding in agreement.  Maybe there are good reasons why we lose touch with old acquaintances, yet Facebook offers a space where the past and the present blur in ways that we are just starting to navigate. Everyone knows someone who has a horror story about Facebook, from cheating spouses to lost jobs. The increasingly complicated arena of Facebook social etiquette has added an extra level of complexity to social interactions that does not always work for the best.

But the main reason why I have decided to quit Facebook is because of what we really use it for: to flaunt and to compare profiles. Face it, large part of people’s profile pages are nothing more than an exercise in gloating, showing-off the best version of themselves they can find. More power to them really, but am I really interested by it? Probably not. On the other hand, there is the perverse and almost voyeuristic action of going through people’s profiles and finding out more about a person than you really wanted to know, or in some people’s cases, to gleefully go through someone’s profile to laugh and ridicule them in private.

So I have decided that I’ve had enough with Facebook. I could engage in massive de friending exercise, but how could I even begin choosing how to do that? To defriend someone on Facebook has become the last social taboo. It sends all the wrong social signals as the ultimate act of rejection. Besides, I do not really use FB that much any more, so why continue being attached to it? Reading through some stories of people who have decided to take the same action, I came across this phrase attributed to Aristotle:

“We are what we repeatedly do”

It made me think a lot. So I will set my house in order, notify who I need to notify, and I will be off. If you happen to be in my friend’s list, apologies in advance. I did not mean you personally of course. I was not that good of a friend anyway, so you won’t be sorry to see me go. You can always follow me in less intrusive and unnerving social media, such as this blog, Twitter, and Flickr.

Au revoir.

24 thoughts on “Why I’m quitting Facebook

  1. Did you ever consider using LinkedIn?

    (No, I'm not paid by LinkedIn for spamming blog comments; it is just a serious question. Would really be interested in your opinion.)

  2. I already use LinkedIn… hmmm, I just realised that I had not linked to it. I like LinkedIn, but it is a different kettle of fish.

  3. It's always nice to be provoked.

    "to flaunt and to compare profiles. Face it, large part of people’s profile pages are nothing more than an exercise in gloating, showing-off the best version of themselves they can find."

    Isn't that what my online CV is for? I disagree that this is what facebook is used for. All online presence from flickr, twitter, blogs, facebook etc are a way of showing off a better version of me. Naturally we divulge many aspects of our lives online but no one should ever believe what is online! It's like looking at someones game avatar and thinking that is what they really look like.

    This is best summed up by Wolowitz in Big Bang Theory "Raj, there's no place for truth on the Internet."

    But this makes your Aristotle quote “We are what we repeatedly do” problematic. If we regularly lie on the internet – do we become liars?

    See you in a real space!

  4. Thanks Mathias, it's always nice to hear from you, even if it's a a virtual space like this one :) I loved the Wolowitz reference, I'm also a huge BBT fan.

    I've been seriously worried about FB for a time, and the more I thought about it the more I felt that I got off to a wrong start. Many people are clearly enjoying it, which is why it is so popular, it's taking off at such a rate that I can see it becoming practically pervasive. However, I lost all enjoyment of the environment, and I thought that cleaning the slate and giving it a rest would be the best way to go.

    I have not ruled out coming back, but if that happens I will definitely try to be smarter about how to use it.

    BTW, I'll be in Sweden next week, Uppsala from Tuesday to Friday, and then Stockholm.

  5. I came across this post during my online searches for IP material and I found it quite interesting. I don't criticise whoever wants to leave facebook or whatever reasons they do it for. I have some reservations of my own, although I do keep a profile there. Still, I can't help but leave some thoughts: it is said that "Face it, large part of people’s profile pages are nothing more than an exercise in gloating, showing-off the best version of themselves they can find". True. But that is what we (and when I say "we" I mean this generation and the previous ones) had been doing before facebook came into being. Women have been using make up for ages. Why? So as to "show off the best version of themselves". Most women and men alike carefully choose an outfit to go to a party, meeting etc. Again, intending to "show off the best version of themselves". Facebook just shows off that best version more efficiently. The problem from start is human nature; not facebook.

  6. AB, point well taken. However, I find that what is happening on Facebook goes beyond our natural human desire to improve our image, I think that it enhances this desire and distorts it in a manner that I personally dislike.

    I should perhaps temper my criticism, it is not towards the many millions that use it, it is against the technology itself. It IS changing social interaction, and my concern is that it is not always positive. I guess I wanted not only to leave, but to express this opinion in a public manner.

    Having removed my profile, I am now going through FB withdrawal syndrome…

  7. So… if you want to share your fb-withdrawal syndrom; just let me know and I'll share it with the rest of the FB community ;)

    Liked your article, but I fully agree with "AB"; showing up is just a part of our nature… could u maybe specify how social interactions have changed?

    Take care!

  8. Pingback: Vivek Shanmugam
  9. This post seems quite reminiscent of a similar article by Carment Joy King on Adbusters. Her piece is called "Quit Facebook" (http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/80/quit_facebook.html) and highlights the same Aristotle quote. Interesting connection between the two….

    Indeed, some of the language seems quite familiar. Look at this chunk from the King article:

    Ironically, the decision to destroy my carefully built-up virtual image came as a result of wanting to enhance my profile. All that particular week I’d been hungry for new quotes on my page, something to reflect the week I’d been having: something introspective. I perused a quotes website and found this one attributed to Aristotle:

    “We are what we repeatedly do.”

    I became despondent. What, then, was I? If my time was spent changing my profile picture on Facebook, thinking of a clever status update for Facebook, checking my profile again to see if anyone had commented on my page, Is this what I am? A person who re-visits her own thoughts and images for hours each day? And so what do I amount to? An egotist? A voyeur?

  10. Waterbug09, perhaps you missed the link to the Adbusters article. I wrote:

    Reading through some stories of people who have decided to take the same action, I came across this phrase attributed to Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do”

    I clearly attributed where I got the quote from by using the link. I read a lot of blog posts from other people who had quit Facebook, and that helped inform my own decision to quit. I don't see other similarities, other than we seem to share the same dislike for showing off, which is one of the main reasons why I quit.

  11. ooh, haha, mea culpa. I missed that you linked to the actual article I pointed to. I give you permission to delete my lame comment.

  12. I disagree with your opinion, though I do respect your opinion to leave FB. I am what you would call a "young person" in university. Some of the people I see using FB are quite addicted and constantly on their profiles, and whilst I myself may have FB, I do not use it regularly (being in a law course with a cumbersome work load to cater to). Nevertheless, I disagree with your suggestuion thaty FB is used to flaunt oneself. For me, it is used to keep in contact with highschoolm friends that I do not frequently see, and to hold a connection with those that aren't in my everyday life. I further use FB to talk to friends of mine that I regularly see. My profile isn't used to show-off myself. I am not a superficial person, and I think no matter what website you look at (whether it be Twitter, a blog, or even non-technological sources such as the person themselves!), there will be people always trying to flaunt themself. I just wanted to present this view to you, as it presents an alternative view picture of FB.

    On the privacy note, everybody should be careful with the information they put on it (and thats for any website. If people choose to put a fully-fledged profile of themselves up, they will suffer the consequences of potential stalker issues (that is just an example).

    I found your article very interesting, and hope to hear your insights as to my opinion :-P

  13. Thanks for sharing this link. It's very interesting. But you did miss one important point I think. From an economics perspective, technology changes to create new commodities. The previous technology in turn is used to create the marketing environment to launch the new marketing campaigns.

    Facebook may be for glauting. I certainly believe that many people use it for that very reason. It shows how insecure human beings are, no matter who they may be. However the reason why its promoted and designed the way it has been is to create a marketing platform where you attend voluntarily and accept many campaigns.

  14. I think your facebook problem is partly your own making.

    You can't get more out of it than you put in. You say that you kept it impersonal meaning that you never added anything particularly unique or interesting about yourself. Also, you never set out to develop your social network.

    So ultimately you found it unfulfilling; but if you joined any other club and never went to the meetings or told anyone about yourself could you find that fulfilling ?

    I think you could find some kind of halfway ground if you were a bit more flexible about your "rules" and looked for other ways to engage your acquaintances.

    By the way, I am not defending facebook, I am also looking for my own way to use it. Unlike you, I chose to only friend people who I really knew well, I de-friend people who never submit anything to update their profile; I never take part in those "Who is my best friend for X" comparisons; I post the odd picture about things I like but never anything to embarrass friends.

  15. Thanks for the article Andres, it’s very well written and I agree with many of the comments. There is obviously a certain percentage that uses it as a worthwhile communication tool to stay in touch with friends and family. But there is a nagging feeling that a vast majority are using it to fulfill something missing in their lives. We live in a pop idol tv culture where far too many only seek celebrity status. It’s a fascinating topic that I am sure many a psychology thesis has been written. I am one of those that don’t use it and never will that does not mean I don’t have friends or family, its just I prefer to stay in touch with letters, emails, and phone calls. In the end I think the Beetles song sums it up “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” I think today you will find Eleanor Rigby on Facebook.

    Ps interesting fact a 2006 study in The American Sociological Review found that Americans had, on average, only two close friends to confide in, contrasting with three in 1985. But in that same year 10 per cent said they didn't even have one such confidante; by 2006 this had risen to 25 per cent.

  16. Very cool 2 see, that I'm not the only one outside in this world thinking like that. Like your opinion and sight of things. Keep up the good work & nice greets from Germany

  17. FB is like a time machine that not everyone needs to be using or daily revert to, do more people in our lives make us happier? for me personally I don't know some how, old friends can be the most judgemental and if you feel they or any in particular judge you more than you judge yourself its time to quit FB I decided some things are comfortably better in the past I mean if you wanted to keep in contact you would of done, no offense meant but when you realise the same people make you feel the same way, than I would choose your words wisely because thats how they seem to judge you on FB word by word and to me thats shallow, I dont care if no one attends my funeral the future isnt in the past its in the here and now.And to all you braggers out there im going underground baby.

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