Hello Friends, I hope you can find me here, because soon you will not find me on Facebook. It was never necessary to be found on a social network in the first place, and it has become clear that Facebook and networks like it are not altruistic or considerate of health and human needs. These systems convert attention into money for the sole purpose of self-perpetuation and market domination. Such forces must not be trusted. Facebook has shown that it cannot be trusted to guard our privacy. Because it does not care to foster healthy, meaningful connections and empower users to self-publish, it does not deserve us. We must leave it, and take control of our information.
I will go into 2019 making more meaningful, honest, and genuine social interactions with the people I love and care about.
This article is an experiment in self publishing and persuasion. I hope to persuade you to leave with me. I believe that in the future we need to find technology which serves us, and reject technology which enslaves and manipulates us. I’ll make my case here, and if you want to talk to me about it, please call.
Consider what is being exchanged when you use Facebook. It isn’t money, it’s time. However, time doesn’t keep the lights on. Somehow that time has to be turned into money. Advertisement can do that, but only if it gets your attention. Consider the news feed. It’s the first and easiest place to get to on Facebook and Facebook controls what is in there and in what order items are displayed, and how many advertisements to insert. This depends on many factors, an infrequent user may see very few or no ads, where a power user who logs in multiple times a day is seeing an ad every three posts.
This is because Facebook’s engineers are constantly optimizing the system to hold each person’s attention for as long as possible in order to show them as many advertisements as possible. They’re not just harvesting your time, they’re harvesting your behavior too, profiling you, learning what you’ll like, comment, click. How fast you scroll. How long you look at certain things. This forms a feedback loop in which your feed is optimized to show you things you’ll engage with more strongly because the more engaged you are the more attention can be siphoned off to advertisers.
A curious thing began happening after I deleted the Facebook app and logged out on my devices. After about three weeks, I started getting text messages from
326-65 with content like:
Carl, John Smith shared a link: https://fb.com/l/as1289gh1jdsf
The attention machine, begging for scraps. If you have notifications turned on, Facebook is strategically buzzing your phone, learning which notifications are most likely to get you to pick up, then optimizing again.
Do you remember boredom? It’s this thing that used to happen to people when they didn’t have much to do, or were waiting in line or riding a bus. People would become bored and look out the window, or close their eyes if they were tired. Maybe think about a problem at work, an argument, or reflect on a happy memory. Nobody could escape boredom by reaching into their pocket and pulling out a screen and scrolling. Boredom is extinct.
We need to be bored again. Boredom motivates us to seek interesting experiences. It causes us to relish and find interest in the world around us. And finally it gives our brains time to rest and reflect in consideration of past experiences and current conundrums. Without periods of boredom, do you not find that your whole life feels a bit lackluster? Are you dissatisfied with entertainments that you used to look forward to? Are you edgy and anxious about what’s going on elsewhere in the country, hyperattentive to issues about which you wouldn’t be aware if it weren’t for that feed? Do you carry a battery pack so that you don’t need to suffer the interruption when the internal battery in your phone goes dead? This is maladaptation to constant availability of intense stimulus. It’s unnatural.
Take back your time and attention. Take back your boredom. Give your attention only to worthy people.
As census bureau and citizen profiling and monitoring center, Facebook has capabilities that rival or exceed those of national surveillance apparati. They don’t just know your name and your friend’s names. They know what your interests are, who you like and dislike, your political affiliation. Facebook is tracking your location and your friends’ locations. They know when you get up, where you work, when you meet up with your friends, and if you took pictures, what happened there. Their face recognition system makes it convenient to tag friends who were there, but Facebook doesn’t need your help to identify everybody in a photo and quietly record that information, they do it with AI and engineering talent, and then grant you the honor of blessing their calculations with a tap.
Facebook doesn’t just track you and your friends, it tracks everybody. It knows everybody who works in your building who has Facebook installed. It knows if you go to the same grocery store, farmer’s market, or corner hot dog stand as any random stranger. Maybe you might know this person, send a friend invite, it suggests. Oh, and it told the hot dog stand owner about all the new marketing opportunities that walked by and exactly how to target them with a coupon for a free soda with any hot dog. And that’s just small potatoes.
Imagine a person running for high public office with lots of money and a drive to win at any cost. Wouldn’t Facebook be leaving money on the table if they didn’t offer targeting information and promoted post placement to this individual? Do you think Facebook cares if the articles, posts, ads and events posted by that information or agencies hired by them is genuine and in good faith? Of course they don’t, until their feet get held to the fire and Mark Zuckerburg gets on the podium to robotically read technobabble and promise to be better.
But the government won’t really force Facebook to change because it’s too useful to their interests. Not just in propoganda, but in national security as well. Ponder that some terrorist has entered the U.S. and has evaded detection. No problem for Facebook, if they can’t find his face in a single photo there, draw a graph to everybody related to that photo, then track the ones using facebook in order to home in on likely locations, they aren’t worth the four-hundred-billion dollar valuation on the New York Stock Exchange. And they’re not just open for business to domestic interests. Facebook is an international company and they enjoy money in all denominations.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The great power of Democracy is in spreading power as broadly as is practical while keeping an operating government intact. Facebook is not a Democracy, it’s a corporation, beholden only to shareholders where the biggest fistful of cash gets the biggest voice. The users are nothing to Facebook but resources to be harvested. They serve users only as necessary to maintain market dominance. And with this absolute power and minimal oversight comes corruption. It cannot be any other way. Profits demand growth. Growth demands money. Money comes from blending human attention with advertisements, and it comes from the power brokers placing ads, articles, and propoganda in our feeds. Either technology will change the playing field and make Facebook obsolete, or Facebook will dominate the entire planet.
Or we, the users, can leave. Tell your friends.
This year I turned 35. I celebrated in Japan with my wife. I got a few phone calls, a few cards in the mail, a few gifts. I replied with handwritten letters and phone calls. Every year before this one, I also received a few dozen
Happy Birthday messages on my Facebook wall. This year, perhaps they appeared but I did not look nor was I notified. And I was not disappointed to be deprived of this digital confetti.
I used to participate in that ceremony as well, and Facebook also institutionalized it with integrated birthday reminders and a birthday-wall-post shortcut button that would appear whenever one of my friends had a birthday. So I know how little time and effort goes into that congratulatory blip. I am not ungrateful. However I am cynical that each of those messages was accompanied by a private recital of the Happy Birthday Song, clapping, and great big grins all around. Being completely honest, if we draw a list of birthday ceremonies and rank gestures from personally baked and decorated a cake and served it to me to slap on the back and drawl ‘another year wiser, eh?’, I would place wrote happy birthday when prompted to near the bottom of the list.
This extends well beyond birthday ceremonies. In the grand list of positive social gestures, the Like button has to be in the bottom third. I struggle to think of anything genuine and positive which is transmitted by Facebook that could not better serve the world by either being told over the phone, a letter, or over gathering to share a meal. Or simply not transmitted at all. The only thing in my Facebook feed which is not self-satisfying, sarcasm, outrage, a meme, or a virtue signal is a lovely video of two friends of mine revealing the latest batch of handcrafted pottery fresh from the kiln, which is an advertisement, but it’s the most genuine thing in my feed.
Facebook needs raw material for its attention-demand engine, and so it has systematically lowered the bar for mass publishing to the point that the sheer amount of noise is nearly deafening. And the reason this is noise is that Facebook is not a mass communications platform servicing its members, it is servicing advertisers. Try posting something genuine and thoughtful, include no memes, images, links or clickbait headline. Watch it get zero interest. Post a cute animal, meme, or buzzfeed article. Massive reach.
Nothing in this machine promotes good, genuine wholesome social communication. It generates attention, outrage, anxiety and addiction to pictures of cute animal babies. Facebook doesn’t care about this post, and it knows its users won’t read it either, because it’s not political meme or baby picture. Why are we feeding this thing content, likes, and comments not knowing whether we are reaching our ‘friends’?
But that’s not the most insidious part. By encouraging us to devote all our social effort and attention to the platform by posting pictures of our babies, development updates, and showing us the posts by others, Facebook is showing us an incomplete picture of the world and fooling us into thinking we actually know what’s going on in one another’s lives based upon the content of our feeds. We no longer think to call or write to our best friend from high school because we see and Like their posts on Facebook. And because of that our real social connection are atrophied and replaced by fake digital social facades. We pass up visiting people when we’re in town because we can just catch up by scrolling.
So don’t Like your friends. Call them. Visit them.
Free means your attention is the resource you’re spending, and your attention is not unlimited. Be intentional about to whom, or what, you are paying attention. Choose social mediums that have the highest emotional and personal bandwidth. Beware what Facebook will do with your data, intentionally or otherwise, they haven’t earned the trust you have granted.
If you join me in leaving Facebook you may wonder what alternatives I reccomend. I’ll try to make a short argument for each.
To Writers: Start a Squarespace blog. It requires very little technical skill and looks and works great. You pay for it, so you should expect a level of support and honesty commensurate with that business relationship. If you can’t afford that, Wordpress.com still has free options that can get you started and publishing. Beyond that, you may need a technical friend or learn the technical skills yourself to set up your own hosting.
To Photo Sharers: Use your Digital Identity Provider’s photo sharing facility. Pay for their expanded storage. Windows SkyDrive and iCloud both offer this, and Google accounts have some photo facilities as well. If you’re a photographer or artist, use Squarespace. If you can’t afford any of this, consider sharing your photos on thumbdrives, you can probably get a lot of 1GB drives on eBay for ten bucks. And they can be mailed.
To News Readers: Get a newspaper subscription. I’m serious. I have huge appreciation for my newspaper. It doesn’t ping, buzz, or flash notifications at me, it comes once a week with only the most sober, thoroughly-reported news printed in it, and I can literally rip out the ads and set them on fire. If you can’t afford that, get a radio, though broadcast news does have some of the attention-demanding qualities of internet news, it isn’t quite as intense or irresponsible.
To Debaters: Join a small debate forum focused on the topic of interest. Or start a mailing list. You’ll have a better time when rando-friend-of-friend jerks can’t just drop in unannounced and poop on your argument with non-sequiturs, straw-men, and ad-hominem attacks. Somebody is always wrong on the internet, but you aren’t going to fix it by correcting them in front of an audience of Millions
To Friends and Families: Use the phone. Plan a trip together. Get together around a campfire like humans have been doing for hundreds of millions of years. It’s going to take something a lot more carefully designed than Social Media to improve upon that.
To Groups and Grassroots Organizations: Mailing lists, IRC, or if you want to experiment, new communications platforms like keybase and patchwork offer highly decentralized models for community organization and communication.