I feel a little guilty about something.
Eight or nine years ago when the internet was still a place of simple, pure, naive ideals, when we still thought information was both power and the great equalizer, a fledgling start up was moving swiftly into the public consciousness. A free social media tool called Facebook was snowballing into an avalanche that was tumbling down the mountainside of the early twenty-first century, freeing ideas, connecting people, and bridging cultures.
I was an early adopter.
As such, I brought dozens of people on board. I posted content. I shared photos. I invited family and friends to check out my profile. I connected with long lost friends who appeared on the network over the coming months, and if they weren’t appearing I encouraged them to appear and connect.
I am not claiming anything whatsoever in the success of Facebook, but the free labour and promotion efforts of thousands of early adopters like me certainly raised the profile of the site and the work we did posting hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, starting groups, messaging, liking, poking, and generally participating gave millions –and then tens of millions– of people the reason to log on daily, hourly, perpetually ever since.
I feel a little guilty that I participated in that.
While I take no responsibilities for the profit-driven actions of Facebook in the years since, I am a user, and like all two billion of us users, am partly to blame for the rise in influence of the site and the impact it has had on shaping the media landscape, super-charging propaganda from every side, and creating bubbles of belief, understanding, discourse, and civility among the population of modern society.
In the coming months I’m taking on a small personal project. It’s called my “Saturday Simplification” and it’s little more than a conscious, active way of making note of the things that are complicating my life, writing about them, and then actively working to remove or limit those things.
The target of my first week of Saturday Simplification is Facebook.
It’s almost cliche to do the “I’m quitting Facebook” public statement and then hear:
“Oh… you’ll be back!”
“How dare you criticize us for what we post? What makes you the judge?”
“You think you’re better than us, huh?”
…and a billion more unique takes on such an effort.
Yet here we are. As the other cliche goes, if you can’t figure out how you’re paying for something, chances are you’re the product. On Facebook, and on so many other web sites, we’ve become the product. Our thoughts, hopes, dreams, and ideas are being monetized, and that profit has been driven into building and fortifying self-selected, self-affirming little bubbles of ideology, politics, irrationality, falsehoods, and purpose around each of us with the primary intention of turning our time into advertising revenue. So, I say that I’m moving away from routine use of Facebook because I don’t like what it’s doing to people, the world, society and hear:
“You’re privileged, and just because something doesn’t work how you like, you quit?”
“Society needs to be shaken up, so what?”
“What are you some kind of anti-capitalist, or something?”
…and another billion more unique takes on such an effort.
To those I answer, this isn’t about taking down Facebook. It’s about de-cluttering my own life. It’s about digital minimalism and removing the distractions and influences that drive anxiety and other emotions. It’s about walking away from something that to me seems so obviously, so obliviously, yet somehow so purposefully destructive. Something that declares it is broken one week and then turns around to propose a solution that will invariably make it more so without realizing that the problem is so entrenched in the product the only fix is annihilation.
So, this week I’m simplifying. You haven’t seen me much on Facebook for months, and going forward… maybe not at all. Yes, it’s that simple.