Let’s talk about leaving Facebook. Not because I want to convince you to do it (that’s your business), but because my departure has forced me to rethink how I communicate and what it means to be someone’s friend. Quitting Facebook was emotionally fraught, because I was afraid of losing touch with people. But I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the degree of corporate surveillance I’m subject to, and after reading the Facebook Terms of Service I decided to deactivate my account. Instagram and Whatsapp too.
This post is about my efforts to untangle myself from Facebook, and what I’ve figured out so far.
How I’m Replacing Facebook
The first step was to figure out what I actually use Facebook for. The company offers a bundle of services including:
- Photo Albums
- A Family & Friends Bulletin Board
- A Messaging Service
- Discussion Threads for Groups
- Event Invitations
Back in the dark ages (8 or 9 years ago), many companies offered those services. Anyone remember Evite? But over time, Facebook ate the market share by providing a place where everyone gathered. And it became the most convenient way to communicate online. When you wanted to invite friends to a barbecue, there were no phone numbers or addresses to remember. And when most of your friends communicated via Facebook, it became difficult to leave, because that’s where the conversations were happening. Don’t use Facebook? No more barbecue invites for you, buddy.
Leaving meant finding replacements for the parts of Facebook that I use. In my case, that meant setting up an email list for invitations to my book club, making sure I had all my friends’ phone numbers saved so I could text them, and downloading a few pictures that I wanted to keep. That took a few weeks, and was no big deal.
But because of Facebook’s popularity, leaving did require a few sacrifices. There are some discussion groups that exist only on Facebook, and opting out means I can’t participate in those conversations. Perhaps over time they’ll move to a different platform, but in the short-term that doesn’t help me. None of those groups were essential, so I decided to let them go.
The biggest downside in leaving Facebook? It’s losing my ability to scroll through the feed and get low-effort updates on how my friends and family are doing. The social scroll is at the heart of Facebook, and it’s the most challenging piece to replace.
Replacing the Social Scroll
Leaving Facebook had me worried. Without the social scroll, how would I know what my friends were up to? Would I lose touch with the acquaintances that I never talk to, but whom I still care about? And would my friends be annoyed with me for leaving, thinking that my rejection of the service was somehow a rejection of them?
But then I remembered how friendships operated before the advent of social media. Back then, acquaintances tended to fade away. Friendship required a mutual investment of time and effort, and that meant our social circles were more limited. And it would have been weird to randomly send a friend all your vacation photos, unless they asked you to. Braggy much? It used to be normal to talk on the phone with a friend for an hour, and it was considered rude to bail on a get-together unless you had a damn good reason. Most importantly, if a salesperson walked up to and said YOUR FRIEND JOE BOUGHT THESE SHOES YOU SHOULD TOO you might call the cops, and that creep might get some questions about why he was following Joe around and harassing his friends.
At risk of sounding old, I’ll admit that I prefer the institution of friendship as it used to be. And while vestiges of that old world remain, I worry that we’ve weakened our relationships because it’s easier scroll through photos while sitting on the toilet then to call up a friend and ask how they’ve been.
In the end, I decided that I’m okay with leaving Facebook’s social scroll behind. I might lose touch with acquaintances, but that’s not the end of the world. And I want my friendships to consist of more than clicking “like” on a photo of their kids or pets. Even if I need to put forth more effort.
Social Media vs. Social Life
I’ve been exploring new ways of staying in touch without Facebook. My experiment was a project I called “Post Card Status Updates” where I wrote something I was thinking on a postcard and sent it to a friend in the mail, sometimes with emoji stickers. I thought it would be funny, and it kind of was, but it also felt wildly narcissistic. HERE IS SOMETHING I AM THINKING TODAY. I’m still sending out postcards, but with personal notes on them instead. That feels better, as a quick way to say “I’m thinking of you today” instead of making it all about me.
Texting has been a good replacement for messaging, and I’ve been sending more texts than I used to. Sometimes to say hello, and sometimes to invite friends to hang out. And while I sometimes worry that I’m interrupting people with my texts, I think it’s okay. I have one or two “phone friends” and I love it (it must be the 90s teenager in me) but coordinating a time to talk can be difficult. It no longer feels socially acceptable to call a friend out of the blue, because unexpected phone calls are rare enough that they might assume you’re dying. 😉
Unsurprisingly it’s the in-person time with friends that I enjoy the most. Those coffee chats, happy hours, and game nights. It’s all pretty wonderful, and without the convenience of the social scroll, I have some extra motivation to reach out and set those things up. Therefore I’ll say: so far, so good.
While I’ve replaced Facebook, I still have an interest in social media. It used to be fun, before all the surveillance, unwanted ads, and bullshit algorithms. Patrick told me about something called the IndieWeb which is a community of people who building alternatives to ad-driven social media. Their core philosophy is that you should own your own data, express yourself however you’d like, and then use tools to allow others to follow you if they want to. And because each individual hosts and owns their own stuff, there’s no corporation lurking over your shoulder while you read, or putting limitations on what you can say.
This movement (if you can call it that) is small and quirky, but the tools are getting better. I used a service called micro.blog to create something I’m calling my social feed. Think of it like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram rolled into one, except that I pay for the hosting myself, there are no ads, and I there’s no corporate snooping built in. Anyone can visit social.cheribaker.com to see my feed, or subscribe to it via RSS. And because I’m still on Twitter, my feed is auto-posted there as well.
My social feed is more in-the-moment than my blog, and you can expect photos of my travels, snippets of what I’m thinking and doing, book updates, and general goofiness. I recommend you access it directly, without ads, but Twitter is also a fine option.
If the IndieWeb intrigues you, check the links at the bottom of this post. Perhaps you’d like to make a micro blog of your own?
Life Without Facebook
Leaving Facebook has been an interesting process! The tech side was easy; mostly it required me to gather up phone numbers that I’d been too lazy to write down. The emotional side was harder, but any relationship that won’t survive the loss of an online photo album probably wasn’t very strong to begin with, right? And I’m excited about the potential of the IndieWeb, which is an intriguing blend of technology, philosophy, and self-expression.
I should get back to my writing! I’ve got a book to edit. 🙂 But in case you’re toying with the idea of leaving Facebook, I’ve shared a few relevant links down below.
This article highlights some of my concerns about Facebook
Download the Firefox Browser and install the Plugin to stop Facebook Tracking (note: Quitting Facebook is not enough to prevent them from tracking you.)
Learn about the IndieWeb
Set up your own Micro Blog