Why I’m off Facebook (and staying off)

I deleted my Facebook four months ago, and I don’t miss it. Neither the racist memes (thanks, Auntie), nor the photos of kids I’ll never meet, nor the diatribes against the Great Starbucks Injustices my friends faced on their journeys back from yoga. If you really spent £1,200 to fly to that locale just so you could procure the perfect profile photo, you may as well Downward-Facing-Dog right off the scenic cliff.

Hermit

Mikhail Nesterov’s ‘The Hermit’

Above all, I don’t miss my constant role as an unwitting consumer: knowing that anything I click on or even browse in another tab in an actual shop will be regurgitated in my newsfeed over and over until I succumb and buy it, or – worse – will be sold along with my other data to corporations trying to figure out what my entire generation and I want. “My entire generation and I” deduced from my birthdate, my occupation, the schools I’ve attended, the pages I follow, the friends’ pages I visit most, the people I privately message, the types of photos I’ve ‘liked’, the articles I click on, etc. If I haven’t told my Facebook profile which university I attended, its technology will gather this based on the university the majority of my friends have attended. The list of how it develops and re-shapes its algorithms is exhaustive, and it’s all so very personal.

I suppose the counter-argument is that social media itself is very personal. When the United States’ National Security Administration (NSA) came under fire in 2013 after former sub-contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of its surveillance on US citizens, I wasn’t outraged whatsoever and didn’t understand why others were – particularly on Facebook. Articles about the scandal were sandwiched between people’s photos of sandwiches, where they ate them (with an auto-link to Google Maps) and the exact hour and minute they were sitting in that restaurant eating them. I don’t think this is the stuff the NSA cares about, and I definitely don’t care about it.

It’s the lack of this over-sharing that my mind, and therefore my life, feels cleaner without, especially as Facebook habits have evolved. Before the last couple of years on Facebook, I had never heard of a ‘gender reveal’ party, which gives babies social media personalities before they’re even born, and I had never known the art of the ‘proposal photo’ or the ‘engagement photoshoot’ – you weren’t randomly in that forest, and your ring didn’t fly onto the centre of that tree stump. So many people, rather than calling or texting, will now create a Facebook Event and allow 150+ likes to supplant over-the-phone tears of joy from a friend in another country or the emotion you can both pour into and receive from a long email. If I have good news at work or reach a milestone with a partner, I will get in touch with people I actively know in order to share the experience under their gazes only. Because I don’t actively know someone I went to primary school with and haven’t seen in over a decade, and I don’t want to give them full access to the intimate moments of my life – nor would I ever assume they want to see them.

Does this make me averse to all social media? No. I love Instagram, and it’s owned by Facebook. But where Facebook expects you to give all of yourself in exchange for the ads, products and people it chooses for you, you very much control your Instagram feed as well as what you put into it. Whereas Facebook is a catalogue of people you encounter for one hour at a wedding and now have to suffer the Cat Protection petitions of, Instagram isn’t about the people you know, it’s about your hobbies and how you’d like to engage in or view them. I can see snapshots of my uncle’s business trip to Japan alongside photos of classic BMWs I’ve curated within my feed. Similarly, my friends around the world who have never been to Scotland can view the countryside or isles through me every week or so when I decide to post. If someone who’s never met me looked over my Instagram, they would know I love Scottish nature, coffee and cars, and that’s about it. It’s an abstract extension of me; it never reveals all of me or any of the people I care about. Granted, you can still find some of the same self-importance among users: I’ve been in an airport waiting lounge before, so you don’t need to show me what they look like.

I can align with how Facebook works professionally for users, especially those who do freelance work or are in marketing departments and absolutely need to know what’s going on with the world’s biggest network. I think it’s a great tool for such purposes, and I know it’s statistically used well in that regard. But I don’t require Facebook for work purposes, and I found myself reflexively logging in each morning when I woke up and each night before bed – those are significant rest periods of the day. I would catch myself mentally staging real-life moments for photographs and their captions. I would find that, until four months ago, few of my errands and chores were getting done, but I now have full weekends ahead and empty to-do lists, and I can absorb (‘watch’ is an understatement) a full episode of The Sopranos without glancing at my phone.

But the real thing for me is when I now hear friends and people talking about Facebook. “Did you see that video about the mum who thought she had cancer?” “Did you see what Debbie posted last night in the group?” No, I didn’t see those things. I’m here.