After 8 years on Facebook, I deactivated my account this weekend for the first time. I can’t quite say it’s the last time, as it’s turned out that third-party applications are able to reactivate your account (I’m glaring at you, Spotify) – but the idea is to be done with Facebook for all personal matters. It’s still a necessary broadcast node, so I’ve converted to a fan page, but it’s nonetheless on its way out as a core website in my internet experience.
Facebook, for better or worse, has married itself to the newsfeed style of presentation. Content is consumed through a single, linear feed, prioritized arbitrarily by volume of comments and likes. While this makes Facebook easy to browse and requires very little commitment on the part of the user, comments and likes are a terribly shallow means of interaction; comments auto-submit when users press enter, and likes are a generic catch-all, encompassing all types of possible meaning: “I support this”, “This is funny”, “This is interesting”, “I noticed this”, “Good for you”, and most obviously “I like this”. Combined with the aforementioned use of likes as a measure of approval or quality, the phraseology of likes inherently leads to massive biases in the type of content that ends up most frequently posted and becomes most visible. Because likes determine visibility and most content has a relatively short window of opportunity to be viewed by your network, there’s a snowball effect that strongly favors content that does not require users to leave the site.
This has lead to a complete dominance of the image format, which I believe has resulted in a commoditization of many of the most important moments of life. Weddings, babies, graduations, parties, vacations, and the ubiquitous shots of prepared food are far and away the most prevalent content, easily garnering maximum approval regardless of the demographics in question. I’ve talked before of the filter that this creates, where Facebook becomes a repository for nothing but the most positive and trivial features of our daily lives. There is no mention of or place for complication, and no meaningful means of support or compassion for darkness or tragedy. If you have something difficult going on in your life that is more complex than one-liners about the weather, traffic, or Obama, you can expect little help from Facebook. Moreover, Facebook encourages comparisons between people, and through its prioritization of most-liked content, is bound to leave users that have nothing exciting to share about their lives feeling poor and less-than.
I speak of this, of course, from experience. As my own life has spiraled into an ever-deepening maw of absurd twists and turns that have found me trotting around the country and pinching pennies as best I can, every visit to Facebook has left me feeling dissatisfied with my status in life. It’s all too easy to hop on and see professional photo shoots of newly engaged couples sharing intense gazes of pure love, parents posting shots of children captured at moments with bright smiles and laughter, students in graduation gowns elated to be done with school. I can rationalize and remind myself that this is not the full story and that I ought to be grateful to have a job, a place to live, and food to eat – but this is not how the brain functions. Humans are hard-wired to actively experience the contents of every photograph we witness. As users of Facebook become savvier with the timing and framing of their shots while Instagram steps in to coat everything in retro-noir artgasms, it’s impossible not to feel like one is missing out on Life Which Is Happening Right Now.
It is a another form of the Rat Race, and rather than try to contort my life to fit within the format that Facebook desires, I have concluded that it is time for me to move on. It’s about time, anyways. Being on Facebook since my sophomore year of high school presents problems for which there are no solutions. What do you do with the friends from high school that you like, but you haven’t talked to in 5 years and know you’ll never see again? What do you do with the pictures of old girlfriends? Most of all, how can I feel confident entering the next phase of my life carrying all of this baggage? I see no viable solution other than a clean slate with a more one-way type of interaction. While I’ll be remiss to lose touch with many acquaintances, I don’t believe Facebook was offering much utility to my daily life anyways.
If you want to keep up with what I’m doing outside of my fan page: