Jason Cochran

Stuff you never knew you never knew

If you clicked on this because of that dumb teaser headline, that’s why I’m leaving Facebook.

It’s not totally because the privacy concerns. Yes, they are annoying, particularly when the company keeps nibbling away at both its promises and your ability to choose what to make public. When we signed up for social media, we all agreed to sell ourselves a little in the bargain, but Facebook keeps rewriting the contracts to steal a few more ounces of flesh. I expected the company to get greedy. That’s what companies tend to do. That’s not why I’m leaving.

It’s that it got stupid. I thought Facebook was going to be all about the people I like. In the beginning, it was a place where I found out about their new jobs, their kids, their triumphs, and their stumbles. It was like I was there for them, except I wasn’t. A few years ago, I wrote about Facebook’s original gift to society: the act of “passive affection.” It was a great period.

That’s over. Now my stream is a logjam of blurting bullshit.

Facebook is no longer about keeping friends abreast. It’s a coloring book for grown-ups. Its primary purpose seems to be to sell me on political outrage or a movie or TV show someone watched, and generally to make me feel like my life is perpetually incomplete thanks to something I didn’t know about until 10 minutes ago. It’s a gush of intentionally provocative, time-wasting, poke-in-the-eye blathering click bait that never fails to leave me wondering why everyone thinks I wouldn’t have something better to do. Ever-changing algorithms (which always fail to understand what we really want) now elbow aside earnest status updates by genuine friends and ram my time full of a nattering Peanut Gallery of obsessive posters, many of whom I have never met. The original purpose of Facebook has been buried by its thirst for targeted content.

I mostly see things that, had they come to me by the Post Office, would be considered junk mail. I am barraged by endless attempts to stoke my emotions at some incident or cause, pet videos, junk quizzes, terrifying and badly skewed study results, dispatches from the fringes of the Culture War, snide commented potshots that bring out the worst in us, hyperbolic declarations that the universe is falling apart, glib rat-a-tat-tat efforts to rack up Likes with snarky one-liners, humblebraggish photos that present a cultivated image of happiness, and goddamned duck-faced selfies.

The only personal things I see there now are complaints—usually about the weather, transportation, or the service industry.

I don’t want to be that person. The nonsense is contagious, it’s unproductive, and it trains us to look outward for validation and stimulation. I frequently wake up after a tumble down a Facebook Hole and realized it contributed nothing to my life. Facebook, you were supposed to make me love my friends more. But your unquenchable thirst for post churn has turned friends into an unnecessary source of anxiety.

So a few months ago, I began backing away—or didn’t you notice in between the TBT posts and the “one thing you must watch today” reposts?

I feel like the smartest people stopped posting a while ago.

I think I know how this happened. People derive comfort from the inconsequential. But also, people don’t post many details about their lives anymore because they’re worn down about how Facebook markets them. I see fewer baby pictures and fewer announcements of life events. Instead, people rush to the keyboard to regurgitate and gargle the latest forgettable meme. The brightest minds now lurk.

Facebook is still good for finding people who think like you, for seeking out comfort in the wee hours, and for finding someone to buy your old sofa. Those benefits are not commensurate with the level of OCD it brings out in everyone. Facebook is a trigger of OCD that anyone can justify, but make no mistake: If it was a substance that had the same effect, it would be banned.

Yeah, okay, the privacy stuff is a whole other level of bullshit, and that matters. I refuse to migrate to Messenger just so Facebook can more conveniently penetrate my app collection, my smartphone’s contents, and thus sell my life. If anything, my vexation with Facebook’s creeping and disingenuous privacy infiltration simply primed me to view it critically, and once the scales fell from my eyes, I saw I don’t need it.

You can tell the whole privacy issue stinks by the way Facebook spins its changes. Anytime a power answers your objections with a line about how it’s good for you, you know something shady’s up and you face two choices: dig deeper or run away. Well, we all have dug into what underlies most social media companies’ thirst for your personal information, and it stinks. So I’m running.

Let Facebook market my every contact, photo, and written noun and in return, get the social equivalent of junk mail? No thanks.

My friends know where to find me if they’re my friends.

I still use Facebook for work and for my professional page. I’ll maintain a ghost account, like 90% of Twitter users, and pop in for messages, like a P.O. Box. As with mobile phones, you have to participate to a nominal degree if you want to be part of society.

But I’m not going to compulsively waste my time enabling others to waste their own. It’s not just about you, Facebook. It’s also about what you bring out in my friends.

Our relationship has gone sour, Facebook. I won’t let you sour my other relationships, too.

If and when I come back, it will be on my terms. Until then, you’re a drain, so you’ve got to go.

FacebookThumbsDown

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13 comments. Add a Comment:

  1. Hilary says:

    First thing I did after reading this? Checked my last 10 most recent posts. And that’s exactly what I hope you wanted this piece to do – a bit of critical evaluation. It’s also exactly why I think some people will be ruffled by it. I suspect many will automatically and guiltily identify themselves as part of the ‘blurting bullshit’ brigade as opposed to a lurking ‘bright light’, so you’ll get the familiar “screw you man, you and your sanctimonious assessment of how I use social media” responses.

    The reality is more nuanced – our Facebook timelines read like a night in the pub after a few drinks: sometimes we’re on point, all witty observations and sparkling anecdotes. Other times we’re just relaying factually inaccurate hand me downs or talking crap about some drivel we watched on the box.

    “Comment is free” used to be a positive statement. Now it’s used as a justification for anyone to share anything at any time with no thought, filter or critical judgement – and for me, that’s what’s choking my news feed with spammy effluent. That clickbait doesn’t like itself. We are all enablers.

    Our Facebook selves are not the best versions of ourselves – they are outrageous caricatures. But, but… What if we all just curated the content we shared a little more diligently? What if we were all better social media citizens, each clearing up a few bits of trash from the pavements of the platform each day? And – while we’re at it – what if, when we sat in the pub with our friends, before we spoke we always asked ourselves “is this something worth saying?”

    What an entertaining and informed world that would be.

  2. Gwaynee says:

    Totally agree but could have been said in one sentence .. Overwritten.

  3. It’s ironic that you lodge your comment about what’s unnecessary with an unnecessary comment, but you do prove my point about how much social media causes us to lose good sense and post things that might be better left unsaid.

  4. heekin says:

    I think Gwaynee also proves a point about what social media has done to our attention sp- TWENTY FIVE THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT BIRDS!

  5. Well written piece.

    I was a latecomer to Facebook; only joined about 2 years ago. Within a couple of months in I was “well-connected,” so to speak; I had found people I’d never thought I’d hear from again, and regularly kept up to date on their happenings.

    Slowly though, I noticed the nature of the typical Facebook post: ranting about work, ranting about politics, posting viral videos that you couldn’t live without, and general attempts at provocation. There are plenty of things that are really worth getting upset about, some of them work-related, some political, and videos that are really worthwhile to see. But so far Facebook hasn’t proven itself as an adequate medium for this. Perhaps it’s because the very democratization that it promotes (EVERYONE, JOIN AND BECOME FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE NOW!!) dilutes the quality of the medium. If your mom, cousin, uncle, and 12 year old nephew are all posting things to your timeline (or however it’s called/done), the quality of what you see will undoubtedly be different than if you followed, say, professional peers. Even worse, that Facebook makes posting onto someone’s timeline so easy (after all, a “Like” on Facebook is nearly effortless, just the click of a mouse) only exacerbates timelines’ pollution.

    An easy reply would simply be that maybe it’s the people in my network then; if I’d simply follow experts in my field (i.e. philosophy), then the quality of the posts I’d see would greatly improve. But the problem with this is that this goes against Facebook’s central premise: getting everyone connected to everyone else. Facebook doesn’t want me to just follow philosophers; it wants me to follow everyone (and vice versa). When I joined I noticed how may people suddenly wanted to follow/friend me. Facebook makes it absurdly easy for everyone to find you.

    Soon people I hadn’t known since high school were regularly posting updates for me to see. Friend didn’t like that her kids didn’t like vegetables. Friend didn’t like that President Obama was taking away our guns. Friend found that the paleo diet was the key to longevity. I realized that I look at the world in a fundamentally different way than nearly all of them. This wasn’t merely a snobbish acknowledgement that most of the people I follow are stupid, but more of a realization that I just don’t have enough time to browse through the drivel to finally find something interesting for me. It was also coming to terms that some things (i.e. political views, religious views, etc.) are complex and don’t lend themselves well to a medium such as Facebook. Perhaps the people I knew in high school, etc. were best left there; after all, if I really wanted to keep up with their goings-on then I’d still be their friends, no Facebook required. After about 6 months I’d had enough.

    It’s difficult to find people you truly get along with; but when you do, you do care about how their kids are, and about their political views, and about their views on food, even if they’re different than yours. But I don’t need Facebook for this. There’s this novel concept of simply contacting the people I care about directly. And you know what, it works better than Facebook.

  6. Wes says:

    I think the most salient part of your blog was when you noted that if this stuff came in the mail, it would all be instantly deemed as junk and thrown in the garbage. You and I have talked about it before: I called it the “breathtaking inanity” of Facebook. It is true as others have said “it is what you make of it”, but it is also true (again as you noted) that this kind of social Media pruning is of itself a kind of waste of time and energy.

    I changed my Facebook password to a random combination of characters that I have to go to an excel sheet and retrieve. This has had the wonderful effect of severely limiting my interaction on here.
    (I noticed yesterday that I had accidentally left “keep me logged on” set and so I had come back to Facebook more than I wanted to yesterday. I will rectify that in a few moments. The instant access is just too tempting.)

    A person who commented on your blog had it right: Sometimes our ramblings are on point, and sometimes they don’t need to be seen by anybody and there is no real way to keep that from happening unless you never participate at all. It is just the nature of the beast. The timing doesn’t’ work: When others are feeling political, I’m not. When I’m feeling political or on a crusade, others are not. When someone wants to post what they had for dinner, I just don’t care. If I want to do the same, they just don’t care.

    The interesting thing is while most people won’t stop using Facebook, I can guarantee you that everyone who has an account has felt the way you do. What began to strike me was how posts have gotten favored toward viral videos while more thoughtful pieces seem to get shoved down the line. You can SEE Facebook’s advertising algorithms at work.

    On the other had, I have connected with people I never would have and I’ve had some absolutely fantastic conversations with folks who might have a completely different worldview than me. The problem is, sometimes Facebook ISN’T what you make of it: There really is no way to extricate yourself from being a part of “the problem” except by pulling back severely or altogether. The bottom line is that broadcasting statements out to many people at once without any regard for where they are in space and mood is by its very nature an affront to the listeners’ sensibilities.

  7. A great deal of my interaction on Facebook takes place in groups, some of which are quite small. We have great conversations and support one another. Some groups are better than others, of course (as is the case with all things in life).

    When I go to my general newsfeed, I do skim through quite a lot with barely a glance. But I still catch quite a bit of news about my friends and their families that I simply would never know about if it weren’t for FB. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to have some excellent public conversations with friends on controversial subjects, but I’ve also seen so many friendships fall apart because of the distinct inability to do that.

    So what’s the answer? Whatever is the right thing for you to do is the right answer. Loved the piece. I haven’t downloaded messenger, not so much for the privacy concerns (most of those are permissions that the FB app itself had before they moved Messenger out of it), but because the idea that I have use two separate apps in order to get the same functionality pisses me off. I now log in via the mobile site.

  8. I just think of Henry Fonda I On Golden Pond: “Who the HELL are these people?”

    Still not on Facebook.. and agree with your reasons.

    I like Twitter, but use it when I want to see what people are saying about a subject, but not for daily reading.

  9. richrockster says:

    Isn’t it somewhat ironic that I clicked the facebook icon – only to find you still on facebook?

  10. Hilary Bowsher says:

    Richrockster:

    “I still use Facebook for work and for my professional page. I’ll maintain a ghost account, like 90% of Twitter users, and pop in for messages, like a P.O. Box. As with mobile phones, you have to participate to a nominal degree if you want to be part of society.”

    So, no – not really…

  11. Another thing I don’t miss about Facebook is the way some users read only a headline, proclaim themselves experts, and post snide comments based on their incomplete comprehension.

  12. Lance says:

    A useful perspective to retain while considering the inanity of Facebook is it was designed by teenagers for use by teenagers. This is one reason why the Facebook experience seems so inane for many of its more mature users with actual life experiences. And I’m sure it’s the reason why my Facebook “About Me” section still states “Worked at Retired;” the twenty-something (and younger) developers have no clue what life might be like when you’re older than 29.

  13. THE TEACHER says:

    It is truly refreshing to discover such a masterfully written critique on the internet. “Over-written”?! Not hardly. “Gwaynee,” you are an envious philistine. Mr. Cochran clearly understands that words are not to be tossed about as so much pearls before swine. Skilled writers are easily recognized by their ability to turn ordinary words into music.

    (And who doesn’t appreciate reading an internet article written by someone who actually has bothered to proofread for misspelled words?!)

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