I’ve been Facebook (almost) free for three weeks, and here are my initial thoughts.
1. Facebook does not want me to be free. Yes, I realize that it is a website and not a person. But it kept sending me email notifications every few days that my friends had updated their statuses, that I had missed popular stories and popular comments on popular photos. Moreover, it usually managed to pick friends that I was most interested in hearing from; it’s probably some algorithm that figured out which friends I interacted with the most.
Of course, to read the actual updates, I had to log in to the site (and thus be sucked back into the link-clicking that constitutes “keeping up with” people on Facebook.) It was as though Facebook was a washed-up diva who grabs attention in any pathetic way possible, trying regain the glory of her youth.
No thanks. I clicked unsubscribe, so hopefully that will take care of the junk in my inbox.
2. The medium is the message. There’s a lot of truth in Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase. He means that the medium itself is not neutral; it influences and becomes a part of the message that is communicated. So what message is sent by Facebook?
Here’s one to think about. When status updates are posted, they all have equal weight. It doesn’t matter if it’s about genocide or a headache, it receives basically the same amount of screen space, the same size profile photo beside it, and the same format (profile photo beside message, sometimes with a picture/cartoon beneath it).
When everything is given equal value, then nothing is valued and nothing is all-absorbing. No matter how riveting someone finds a particular update, it’s easy for their attention to drift to something else that might be more interesting.
In Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, he quotes expert Michael Merzenich on what happens when we multitask online. (And Facebook is really one big exercise in multitasking, if you think about it.)
“When we multitask online, he [Merzenich] says, we are ‘training our brains to pay attention to the crap.’ The consequences for our intellectual lives may prove ‘deadly.’” (The Shallows, page 142, emphasis mine.)
3. I don’t miss Facebook—now. At first, I would be checking my two email accounts and accidentally click on the Facebook login button out of habit. It was hard. Here’s what I wrote in my journal in late March:
I don’t so much miss FB as I do crave it. This must be what drug addicts go through—needing the stimulation, craving that rush. Wasn’t it always a rush? The instantaneous replies, the gratification of seeing MY words beside MY photo on a page dedicated to the idol of ME, the anxiety when the replies were not forthcoming. It wasn’t all that different from a manic—okay, a hypomanic—episode, the high with that dreadful crash soon to follow, cycling, cycling, wound tighter, tighter until there is nothing but movement inside my mind.
Even remembering it makes my brain shift from side to side. (I doubt many people would believe that. A fellow sufferer, maybe, or a neurologist. Most would raise an eyebrow and think, we must humor her at all costs!)
Fast forward to now and I really don’t miss it. Occasionally, I’ll be curious and want to check out my friends’ profiles, but I also know that if I start, I’ll have a really hard time stopping. So going cold turkey is best.
It’s a bit like when I was addicted to soap operas and we got rid of our television set. It was hard—withdrawal from any drug is hard—but worth it, and I can honestly say that I don’t miss it.