Saturday, May 29, 2010

my reasons for quitting facebook

I've decided that I'm going to quit facebook on May 31st, along with a bunch of other people, but I'm not entirely sure why. This post is an attempt to ferret out my real motivations from the dark corners of my head.

Reason #1: Privacy

Facebook has a really poor track record when it comes to the privacy of its users. Sensitive user data has been exposed because of bugs in the software, but more often the data leaks have been a result of their default opt-in policies. It seems that every time that Facebook makes changes to the site, they automatically opt-in all the users to make more of their data public. The end result is that most users are exposing private information without even realizing it. Try searching for "playing hooky", "divorce", or "cancer" on Facebook to get a sense of how common the problem really is. The end result is that people are sharing much more than they think.

All of these privacy concerns have been the center of the most recent uproar against Facebook, but I think that it is disingenuous for me to claim that this is the reason that I am quitting. Because I've been writing software and working with computers for most of my life, I am fairly diligent about minimizing how much information I expose online (enjoy the irony of the fact that I write this blog), and I also do a decent job of updating my privacy settings in Facebook to keep my information from being available to the whole world. At best, I could say that I am quitting to make a statement in hopes of getting Facebook to change, but they couldn't care less if I leave -- they have over 400 million users. Even if they lost a million people it would barely be a blip on the radar.

I'm not quitting because of privacy.

Reason #2: Utility

I could certainly argue that Facebook doesn't provide me with a lot of value. I am not a very social person, and I tend to prefer keeping a smaller group of close friends. Facebook tends to encourage the opposite behavior. It is a system that is trying to connect you with everyone that you've ever known. Still, there have been a few times where I needed to get in touch with someone, and the only way that I had to contact them was through Facebook. Addresses, phone numbers, and even email addresses are constantly changing, but Facebook makes it easy to contact people that I haven't seen in 15 years.

Facebook can be useful. That's not why I'm quitting .

Reason #3: Marriage

There is suggestion that Facebook is responsible for an increasing number of divorces. I'm skeptical of that claim, but there is probably some kernel of truth there. The temptation to rekindle some old relationship that has been whitewashed by years of separation has the potential to be a problem, and social networking sites certainly make it easier to reconnect with those old flames.

Still, I don't think that Facebook will be breaking up any happy marriages, and blaming it for causing a divorce is like blaming the Internet for pornography. Like any technology, it can be used wisely or poorly.

I'm not quitting Facebook out of a fear that it will hurt my marriage.

Reason #4: Time

I can't remember the last time that I logged in to the site to check the status updates of my "friends." Long ago I realized that the signal to noise ratio wasn't worth my time -- please don't take any offense (my status updates were as guilty as any). If Facebook could provide some more advanced filtering -- allowing me to hide: song lyrics, bible verses, farmville updates, who just friended who, beer pong photos, holiday greetings, who has a cold, etc -- then it would be much more substantive. The time spent scanning through updates in search of the important information was time that could be better spent offline: with family, real-world friends, outdoors, or reading a good book. Reading status updates felt (dare I say) more wasteful than time spent watching TV, and that's a pretty low bar to limbo under.

I recently sold my iPad, not because I didn't like it; I liked it too much. It is a great device that I would recommend for most people in place of a laptop. The problem was that I found it too enjoyable. It makes it easy to lose an hour or two: surfing, playing games, watching videos, listening to music, and looking for new apps. It was gobbling up the precious commodity of free time.

Facebook can be a real time killer, and that is one of the reasons that I am quitting.

Reason #4: Authenticity

Humans are very social creatures, and this instinct for cooperation is one of the biggest keys to our success as a species. Even social hermits like myself find great joy spending time in the company of friends, but I can't help but feel like these social networking sites are perverting our natural desire for intimacy with other people. Calling everyone a "friend" and exchanging glib messages has all the benefits of vending machine food -- many of the "friendships" on Facebook are the social equivalent of empty calories.

One of the keystones to a real relationship is shared experience. Much of who you are as an individual is wrapped up in stories from your past: that time you got stranded on the lake in a leaky boat with a broken motor and took turns paddling back to shore, or when you got together on that hot summer day to go ice blocking. Do you have any fond memories of that time you read someone's Facebook status, or saw those stranger-filled photos from that party that you didn't attend?

In the end, Facebook has done for relationships what TV has done for storytelling. It has stripped out all the nutrition and substance, and it gives us little more than a sugary experience which temporarily satisfies us but ultimately leaves us hungry.

That is the real reason that I'm quitting Facebook, because I'd rather spend time developing real relationships with the people around me.

Final Words

If any of that resonates with you, maybe you'll join me; but even if you don't quit on May 31st, try taking a few days off. Push away from the keyboard (and put away the TV remote while you're at it), and go spend some more time with your family and friends, creating some new stories. At the very least, review your settings and make sure that you aren't giving away too much of your privacy.

So farewell, Facebook "friends." I hope that our paths cross again in the real world, so we can actually be friends. Until then, best wishes, and thanks for not ignoring me.

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