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(Anti)Social Media

Sunday, 17th December 2017 (9:30PM)

At the start of 2018 I will delete my account and all associated content from Facebook.

I joined Facebook to work with their public API as part of my work at Fluidinfo. After a while people started to find me (with a surname like "Tollervey" I'm easy to find online). As a result, I've reconnected with many friends. This has been a lovely and positive experience: anything that brings people together in friendship is to be applauded.

Unfortunately, Facebook makes me uncomfortable: it makes it easy to bring people together, yet drives a wedge between friends.

Posts and responses may appear like conversations between people, but they introduce a layer of indirection -- they are always done via Facebook rather than directly between friends. To analogise, it would be like going to a bar where all interactions between the patrons were made via the bar tender. Facebook acts like a really efficient and multi-media aware version of the bar tender from my analogy.

This is problematic for several reasons.

Our socialising on Facebook is reduced to interactions that standardise, process and normalise our lives into a digital production line of uniform social outputs ("like" something, post a picture, reply with a comment, set your mood). The messy, complicated and raw aspects of life, which I would argue are the most valuable, fun and interesting are lost or have no way to manifest themselves. We commoditize ourselves into a dribble of systematized digital assets (photos, posts, likes etc...).

Once commoditized, Facebook insinuates itself into our friendships. For example, after chatting with a particular friend (let's call them "X") you appear to see more "X likes Y" content interleved into your timeline. Facebook even tries to guess things about your background (where did you go to school? X attended Y university). Our commoditzation makes it easy to be measured and analysed which, in turn, allows Facebook to work out who we are from the way we behave on the website. Remember, the bar tender in my analogy knows the content of all the conversations between the customers as well as everyone's drink and snack preferences, favourite seat and usual arrival time.

To be fair, Facebook are up front about how they make money: they sell access to our accounts to the highest bidder who wants to advertise at us. As their website explains: "Find people easily; you can choose your audience based on demographics, behaviours or contact information. Get their attention; our advert formats are eye-catching, flexible and work on every device and connection speed. See the results; our advert reporting tools show you how your adverts have impacted your business in visual, easy-to-read reports." It's obvious that their customers find this a valuable service (note: as users, we are not their customers, but, as is often pointed out, the product on offer): "We can target adverts to people based on how and when they engaged, and create an experience that is relevant to where they are in the process of investigating our products."

So, here's why I'm leaving Facebook: I don't want my friendships reduced to pre-canned types of interaction. I want to look my friends in the eye, smile at them, make music, laugh and give them a hug or shoulder to cry on. I want to welcome them to my home, make them a meal, share a drink and get lost in conversation. I want to shake their hands, listen to their tone of voice, raise my eyebrow at a silly comment or make a joke so we laugh together. Put simply, I want to spend quality time with my friends in real life, rather than watch a stream of mediated content in a sterilised digital life.

Furthermore, I don't want to be measured, analysed, prodded and poked for the purpose of brand engagement. I don't want my friendships interrupted for the sake of a commercial break in my timeline. It's troubling to be reduced to a means to an end by virtue of simply being me (my friendships make me a way for Facebook to make money). Put simply, I find Facebook's openly Orwellian platform troubling.

Many people, including maybe even you, don't have a problem with such a state of affairs. I completely respect that, as I hope you respect my discomfort with Facebook and my decision to leave. Facebook is, after all, an opt-in personal choice.

So, what will I do post-Facebook?

I'll concentrate on fostering friendships unmediated by Facebook. That will take time as I try to stay in touch via email, phone calls or face-to-face, but I'm confident such efforts will be worth it.

Finally, if we are friends on Facebook and Facebook is the only way we interact, please don't lose touch. Drop me an email and never doubt that I'll be pleased to hear from you. If you find yourself wondering if you should get in touch with me, the answer is always, "yes, you should definitely get in touch".

I look forward to hearing from you soon... :-)