I had been toying with the idea of quitting Facebook for a considerably long time. I was getting bored, wasting a lot of time on it and wondered what life without it would be like. The deciding factor that bolstered my desire to leave the site was the attacks on Paris on 15th November 2015. Whilst feeling a deep sadness for those that had been affected, and a connection as half my family are Parisians, I had no interest in seeing an ocean of shallowness swell before my eyes. Of course there would be an enlightened few that would peel back the layers, revealing a story far-more complex than general mass media reporting and the bovine that believed it. I just couldn’t face the idea of seeing more hash tags saying stuff like #IstandwithParis or the French flag being superimposed over people’s profile pictures. Nor could I be bothered to enter infuriating debates with ignorant “friends” who displayed a narrow compassion, sympathising with white victims of violence, whilst remaining saliently silent for the brown people who’d recently lost their lives to bombs in Bagdad, Beirut and al-Bayda. No, that was it, I needed out. Within 24 hours I’d shut down my account.
My relationship with Facebook
I accidentally joined Facebook on 17th June 2007. I was sat at home in Brighton in the front lounge. It was a hot day and the sun filled the room as I lazed on the sofa, surrounded by a jungle of plants. A girl from university had sent me an email automatically generated by Facebook to everyone in her contact list. Absent-mindedly I clicked on the link and found myself setting up an account. That afternoon disappeared beneath my fingers as I immersed myself in this new world. I added friend after friend, excitedly accumulating throughout the day. The first message I got was from a friend, Liam, who had been trying to persuade me for months to join, but I’d refused, stating that I had no interest in social media at all. Little did I know it would become an almost daily habit for the next 8 years!
Over the next few months I had reconnected with people that I would never in my wildest dreams imagined speaking to again. A guy I’d had a passionate fling with many moons ago and had lost contact with as my email account had decided to shut itself down permanently found me, which would have been impossible without Facebook. Kids, now adults that I’d been friends with at primary school had gotten in touch and we formed artificial friendships that had no physical grounding, and would never lead to one. After a while though, I began to question whom I was adding as friends and whom I was accepting, and why was I adding them? What did it mean to have 300 friends? Would I ever get to 1000? I slowly started deleting them, feeling bad for about a minute. When I closed the account last year, I had 970 friends! And that was after a recent spate of removing randoms. Who were all these people? Why were we friends? And how did that affect my understanding of the term friend?
For example, I remember one evening at a party meeting a friend-of-a-friend for the first time and, slightly tipsy, trying work out where I knew her from. I really recognised her. How do I know you I kept asking. Eventually I worked out that we’d never met, but I’d seen her in holiday photos with my friends in Menorca. I’d seen her in her bikini, I’d seen her drunk, I’d seen her at a BBQ and on a boat trip. Facebook was affecting relationships with potential new friends, providing me with a set of representations constructed by themselves and their mates. It was all becoming a bit intrusive.
At first my interaction with Facebook was mostly a lot of fun. I love photography and it was an innovative way of sharing pictures and seeing others from people across the globe. I felt a connection with people that I knew and loved and like I was able to experience their lives through their photographs. Over time however, an element of my relationship with taking pictures started to change. This is actually hard for me to admit as it makes me sound kinda sad but an almost immediate thought would spring to mind after taking a shot. Should I put this on Facebook? How many likes will it get? I began to think of my creative outlet in terms of how much appreciation I would get rather than purely enjoying the process. I guess lots of artists think this way, but because it was Facebook it felt somehow crass and cheap. Similarly, whenever someone else took a photo of me, which I find genuinely uncomfortable, my mind would spring to pondering on how many likes it would get, who would see it and who would comment on it. Photography on Facebook had gone from sharing art to bordering on the vainglorious.
Facebook starts to become less fun, more politics
Initially Facebook wasn’t at all serious. There was lots of banter, explicit statuses, expletives, embarrassing pics, the occasional sharing of wisdom and the odd article here or there. Insidiously, the function of Facebook changed from entertaining to political, reflecting my life and interests during that time as well as a shift to the propagation of click-activism and endless memes. My friends then began to include UN Special Rapporteurs, politicians, authors and activists. I began using the site in a very different way, accepting almost any friend request sent to me. I saw Facebook as another opportunity to share information about challenging, confrontational and controversial subjects and that the more people that added me, the more I could potentially influence. Of course this then changed what I said and what I shared. Chat began to take a back seat and, at least for me personally, it all became a bit too serious. I would barrage people with images of burnt bodies after Israel bombed Gaza; with petition after petition requesting people to act on issues I cared about; and a slew of articles attempting to dispel and crush the monopoly of knowledge that the mainstream machine disseminated. Some friends during face-to-face conversations thanked me for my endeavours, saying they read almost everything I posted. Some I’m sure blocked me, getting wearisome of the assault I unleashed on an almost daily basis.
Having become a much more political space, the scope for debate and discussion widened, albeit it in an impersonal and toneless medium, occasionally leading to misconstruction, flabbergasted expressions, rising anger and decreasing patience on my part. Despite this, I have to say, I learnt a lot from people about issues from the occupation of Palestine, feminism, the economic crises, spirituality, food, health, nutrition, geo-politics, art, music and so much more. However, I often felt a deep sense of frustration at some of the ignorance I encountered, finding myself exasperated, dismayed and enraged and later feeling foolish for having allowed myself to become entangled in sometimes seemingly futile chat.
How do I feel post-Facebook?
Deciding to leave Facebook was fairly easy, and as I mentioned before, not a fresh idea, but one propelled by a desire to see what life was like without it. I reckon I spent at least an hour a day on it, every day. I would check it over breakfast, waiting for the train, during breaks, coming home and probably several times throughout the evening. Woah…that’s the first time I’ve ever written that down. It feels like an AA meeting introduction…Hi, my name is Layla and I am a Facebook addict with a mild to heavy habit. So what replaced this endless swiping down streams and streams of memes, petitions, photos and mindless fluff?
At first I seemed to become a more avid user of other sites. Instead of having the red notifications from Facebook, they would pop up on Instagram instead! I felt like someone who had given up cigarettes, replacing them with spliffs: a process of switching without actually clearing. Here are some initial notes I made on my phone about life without Facebook:
Day one: getting rid of all my masters readings and I thought it would be good to put a post up to see if anyone wanted them, but I couldn’t. I’m so used to having a space to advertise things I have that I no longer want or need any more. Weird.
Emailed people that had contacted me with their details the day I closed my Facebook account and it felt good.
Day two: accidentally activated my account when signing into Spotify and had a mild panic attack as I couldn’t shut it down from work. Thought people would assume that I’d given up on my experiment of life without Facebook after less than 24 hours so I asked my best friend Nat to shut it down for me.
Day three: got a little bored at work and wanted to distract myself in the break but couldn’t so stayed focused and present instead.
Day four: I actually don’t really miss Facebook. I thought I’d be pining for it, and although it’s a good time filler when I’m bored, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.
Several days later: setting up a new Spotify account was a pain in the backside as the first one was linked to my Facebook account so I couldn’t sign in or listen to any of my tunes.
At some point: wanted advice on where to buy my nephew a skateboard and would usually put a status up and get tons of suggestions. I asked my brother to do it instead.
One month later at Christmas and finally I miss it. I miss knowing what people are thinking or what they present to the world they are thinking and being included in that process. Still no desire whatsoever to reactivate my account.
Life post Facebook
What do I miss the most? My international friends. I miss knowing what Tara and Jonah are up to in California; I miss Yasmina and my Goddaughters in Mexico; I miss seeing what Sylv is doing in New York; I miss my Colombian families, my Thai crew, the Palestinians, Brazilians, Portuguese, South Africans, Australians and I could go on. I feel very disconnected visually from their lives: their thoughts and ramblings are no longer part of my everyday. I miss reading the occasional inspiring article, or insightful quote, and I miss seeing photos of parties, concerts and events that I’ve been to. I also miss the utility of setting up an events page: they are so freakin’ helpful!
What I don’t miss is thinking about something that seems profound, at least to me, and almost instantly wondering whether to put it on Facebook with the hope that people will find it interesting and comment or click like. I don’t miss meeting up with friends in the evening, them telling me a story and thinking, well, I already know that as you put it up as a status on Facebook a few hours ago; I don’t miss swiping down streams of mindless tedium masquerading as profundity; and I don’t miss flitting away time debating with people that have absolutely no desire to see things any other way than their own, using Facebook as a platform for spreading racist, bigoted, narrow-minded pomposity disguised as thought-provoking contributions to issues of real gravity. Perhaps in the future I will join Facebook again and limit my intake to once a week or month but for now, life without it seems to be just fine.
I think it’s useful to see facebook as a personalised manifestation of a wider crisis/opportunity. A head spinning deluge of content in a world, where more than a billion can publish instantly. Here’s a juicy quote which reminded me of this blog:
“Today, humans cram more data into our brains in a single day than our ancestors did during an entire lifetime. On average, in one day, we view Google 7.2 billion times, post 30 billion pieces of content to Facebook, and send 247 billion emails.*”
The Human Face of Big Data.
I totally agree! A friend told me at the weekend that 21% of all internet traffic is Facebook, which is more than Google and You Tube combined. Needless to say, my jaw hit the floor.
This is great – sums up how many of us feel I think x
Thanks Ed! I work at a Secondary School now and they say “Miss, Facebook is dead.” They’ve moved into Snapchat now instead!
Really enjoyed reading this Layla.
Ah, thanks mate. How are you? Planning in a trip to England any time? It’d be lovely to see you. xx
I would miss my international friends updates too! Well written and I think many of us have the same experience Layla. Interesting how it has changed over the last 10 years and how many of our generation initially refused to join yet now we are hooked (I too initially refused but when I was travelling South Korea in 2007 it was the only way I could easily access another travellers photos and eventually it was an easy time saving way for my parents to know what I was up to). I still try to avoid getting into anything too deep on FB because I try to limit my time on it but I still lose hours! We are a nation of Facebook addicts and signing into other sights using FB just plants the seeds deeper! Well done you for getting out!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Anna. Facebook is so useful on many levels, and does exactly what it says on the tin, which was something about being connected, I forget now. There just seemed to be so much rubbish and time-wasting too, so it does feel lovely to clear it out for a while at least. I honestly thought I’d miss it a whole lot more, but it’s been much easier than I’d thought! Try it for a bit and see.
Layla, welcome to the post-facebook or non-facebook world! I left in, hmm, 2012(?) with a slightly intemperate blog post titled ‘we’re all east germans now’. It’s time-sucking qualities are legendary, as you point out.. some might say it distracts us from the important things in life. But there are several other things I think are worthy of note.. 1) I also joined in 2007 in Brighton.. (but that’s not noteworthy), so 1) in facebook the user is the commodity. Much like clubcards and loyalty points and all of those terribly useful things that we’ve learned to love.. they’re actually a means by which to sell raw data and data aggregation. 2) that data aggregation has been used by ‘interested parties’ to profile what the politically mainstream looks like, and what outliers look like. An activist at home should be deeply concerned. An activist abroad, possibly even more so. There is more known about the ordinary citizen now than at the height of autocratic rule that many people have written about. Even for someone like me who sits in the political mainstream, I can observe that there is a perilously thin line between where we sit now, and what we profess to hate in autocracies.
Thanks for the post, and I hope it continues to sit with you well.
Rob, so good to hear from you. As always, your thoughts are invaluable and provocative and I am deeply grateful for you sharing them. Whilst being on Facebook I was definitely aware of myself as being a commodity. I had a bizarre attitude towards that aspect at times, which often centred on the argument of, well, they know almost, everything about us anyway via CCTV, mobile phones, HMRC, Internet searches and email, what’s another layer? A ridiculous argument I know, as Facebook is like a permanent tracker, which is deeply perturbing!!! I also recall, when I was in the height of my days as an activist, whatever that means (and I intend to write about that soon) posts regularly getting deleted and stuff disappearing a lot. Once, whilst coordinating a European-wide set of events and a speakers’ tour during Israeli Apartheid Week, in a so-called private forum on Facebook, every post that the members shared was instantly deleted within seconds until the week had passed. Big Brother, Big Politically Aligned and Selective Brother was not only watching but actively interfering.
The irony is, at least for the next few days, I have reactivated my Facebook account to advertise this post. That’s bad isn’t it?!! I also wanted my international friends to send me their phone numbers so we could chat on WhatsApp. It seems like emails have become daunting in their potential to entail more than a few lines, so I hope to be able to continue communicating with them, even if in truncated sentences. I’ll take whatever for now as I really miss them!
I hope you’re very well Rob. Please share the link to your blog. I didn’t even know you had one!
You’re far too kind, as always.
I don’t have a blog as such. I’m not that interesting. I occasionally ramble on the KCL blog and here’s the link to the East Germans piece. It was actually 2011.. so I’ve been facebook free for 5years: http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2011/12/were-all-east-germans-now/
I think I sounded more intelligent then (worrying) and I quite enjoyed reading it back (even more worrying).
There is something to your argument about an additional layer. But it’s a layer that is free from any semblance of theoretical oversight. I just found it creepy. Like an institutional version of the kid who sits on the side just watching..
But anyway.. reactivating! Does that make you a splitter?! 🙂
A great analogy, “the kid who sits on the edge just watching”. That’s very creepy indeed and pretty perturbing.