Like most people, I’ve used Facebook quite a lot over the years. I was never a particularly enthusiastic user, though – the user interface is pretty awful, it’s hard to find stuff you want in amongst all the dross, and 99.9% of the posts were irrelevant, boring, annoying or offensive. Still, I used it pretty much because it felt like I had to. Let’s face it – it’s become the default way that people communicate, as they seem to have forgotten that other methods are available, and if you’re not there, it feels like there’s a risk you’re isolating yourself and missing out on people’s news.
Well, I tolerated it all for a while, but for some time I’ve felt I’d far rather not be there. The thing that really changed my relationship with Facebook was an unpleasant incident a few years ago when I unfriended an old teenage acquaintance. I’d never had a particularly deep friendship with said person, and after he demonstrated a fairly epic piece of poor judgement in something he did, I decided I didn’t really want him getting glimpses into my life, I unfriended him. Bear in mind that since 2009 I’ve lived 400 miles away from him, but it’s even longer than that – probably around 20 years – since we could have been considered even remotely close friends. In that time I’ve probably seen him in person half a dozen times.
When he caught wind of me unfriending him, the mother of all drama bombs exploded in my life. I got abusive messages from him, and then he went and moaned and complained and slagged me off to a considerable number of mutual friends (of whom we have quite a few). This put a couple of my friendships under severe strain and one of them hasn’t properly recovered. I found myself suddenly feeling like I had to justify myself to people, who wanted to know why I’d unfriended him and demanding I friend him back again. It was extremely unpleasant indeed and happened at a time in my life when I had actual, real problems to deal with. It was a classic “I’m-too-old-for-this-shit” moment that soured my relationship with Facebook a lot, and led me to (a) delete a number of friends and (b) drastically scale back what I posted on there. It went from me being fairly open and real to just posting bland, inoffensive stuff simply to maintain a presence on there. At that point I began to seriously consider quitting, but feared I wouldn’t stay in touch with a lot of people I valued.
I should point out that Facebook has done me some good, in that it’s established some relationships I really value with people and probably wouldn’t have managed to sustain without it, and it helped me feel connected to people in lonely periods when I’ve had a lot on my plate and have been distant from old friends. But…it’s also led me to do things I’ve regretted, say things I wish I hadn’t said, wear my heart on my sleeve when I shouldn’t have, and attempt friending people I’m better off without. There’s been plenty of times when I’ve put my heart and soul into an update that meant a lot or made me vulnerable, only to have someone say something flippant and hurtful about it, I’ve added people who have turned out to be untrustworthy, and, worst of all, I’ve posted stuff that has ended up ignored. The whole thing was a massive sinkhole of wasted time and energy and it got to the point where I hated myself for being there.
I’ve tried to leave before, but ended up staying because my Facebook login was linked to other apps and sites and I didn’t know how to undo it, and because when I said I was thinking about it, people pretty much begged me to stay. However…that was before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and it became clear just how much data Facebook collect on you, and what they’re prepared to do with it. The fact that it could well have swung the result of the UK’s European Union referendum, and led to the leave result, has made me incredibly angry. Brexit is the most catastrophically stupid decision this country has ever taken, and the way people have been manipulated into voting against their best interests by shady, unaccountable corporations who misuse their data is absolutely appalling.
It brings into question the entire way that the Internet has been funded and run. It seemed to be established very early on that everything online should be free, but no-one really stopped to ask what price we were really paying. As a very private person, it has shocked me to find out just how much companies and governments know about me from what I do online, and it’s ridiculous that we voluntarily part with this information without thinking about it. Since finding this stuff out, I’ve installed a VPN and ad blockers, switched to a search engine that doesn’t record or monetise your searches, and I’m gradually weaning myself off GMail – which scans all your messages to flog adverts at you – to a paid email service that keeps your data private.
After giving it a week or two to get people’s contact details and extricate myself from third-party Facebook logins (easier than I thought), I deleted my Facebook account two weeks ago, and yesterday passed the window where I could cancel the deletion. My account has now gone. That couple of weeks has been extremely refreshing. I’ve made an effort to text people, I’ve written a lot of letters, I haven’t stared at my phone for status updates every two minutes, and I feel greatly refreshed by not being on there. I have no doubt whatsoever that I’ll lose touch with a lot of people, but I have to question whether they were really “friends” in the first place. Facebook gives us an illusion of intimacy that doesn’t really exist. While it can be useful to see what is happening in people’s lives, it’s no substitute for going round to someone’s house for a coffee, or to a pub for a drink, and having a real conversation, without staring at your phone. Instead of randomly liking inane crap on a screen, it’s so much better to write someone a personal letter, that won’t be tracked, read or recorded anywhere, that is a tangible, unique, joy-giving object that pops through someone’s letterbox almost like magic.
I’m not a luddite or anti-progress. I was an early adopter of both the Internet and the smartphone, and both these things have improved my life and broadened my horizons. However, I’m determined that technology is not going to get the better of me, or be my enemy. It’s time to say enough is enough, and I’m going to actually live the way we were meant to live, in a tangible, real, solid world, not some stupid, tacky virtual one, run by people who are laughing at us as we make them very rich.