For a majority of this year, I have avoided Facebook. It has absolutely nothing to do with their data mining, their data stealing, their data exploiting. It has nothing to do with becoming a zombified slave to an endless plummet of scanning, swiping, sliding and staring. What initially pulled me from the network was the same thing that many of us complain about, but do essentially nothing about. In fact, we generally contribute to it. It’s the onslaught of negativity and judgmentalism that populates it and anchors it as probably the only truly ‘bad energy’ that I would swan dive into on a daily basis.
But let’s be real. I’m a pretty aggressive, opinionated and often negative person at times in person. We all can be. We all are. But that being said, much of my barbs are sent in person within small groups of friends, those who know my scope and my scale. And at the end of the day, they know that reason is going to temper my observations. At the end of the conversation, no one will come out of it feeling angry, feeling oppressed, judged or shredded. In person, these conversations are two sided. We’re together in it, even if we’re apart.
But what I’m writing here isn’t about the power of positivity or even the effects of negative energy on your well-being. This is a piece of writing meant to explore purpose and intent, specifically surrounding the social network of Facebook. What stepping away meant, and what coming back means. And of course, what environment I plan to allow when I’m logging in to the site and the app.
Being off of Facebook didn’t open my mind up to a life I was missing. It didn’t suddenly give me the ability to do so many things I’d been neglecting, didn’t repair my personal relationships, didn’t give me fresh perspective. It wasn’t one of those things where I could build a thesis around, nothing like “putting your phone away at a show”. But I also didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I missed a few references when people talked about “that video going around online.” I was a little off base on a meme or two. But outside of that, everything that occurred within that tunnel was only occurring within that tunnel.
The interactions that went on in there seem to be forever locked in a stasis within its coded walls. The hearts, the laughs, the references, the chatter… muted without a pulse. When you’re engaged in it, it feels like an organic chat room, almost like an actual get together where conversations and interactions are bustling and building. It’s a strong representation of the way we think that things are going to go when we go to a big party or a big event. Lots to say, lots to react with and share and commiserate about. Most importantly, everyone gets a say. Everyone gets to speak.
Then the algorithms invade. It isn’t exclusively Facebook, though. Twitter is guilty of it. Instagram is guilty of it. As an audience member, you are at the mercy of what the algorithm wants you to see, slightly based on what you’ve liked, but also based on what you’ve clicked, searched, scanned, seen, bought and researched before. So while your friend might be posting about something personal they wanted to share, some minor celebration or testimonial, you probably will see shoes first, trailers first, bloopers first, sports teams first… and if you can survive those, then sure, then maybe your friend’s post will pop up, amidst the weeds.
And that’s essentially what dulled the experience for me, if ‘experience’ is even the word you can use for it. I was your average Facebook user, opening it up after IG and Twitter, rolling down for a while, thinking that my shares and my likes and my posts were heading up into the sky for my friends to check out. But in reality, my thoughts were rolled up notes in diminutive bottles tossed into the sea, but that sea was populated by huge warships, giant tankers, people rowing boats frantically, fanatics diving head first into the water and splashing the water around them with no rhyme or reason. Maybe if someone recognized my bottle, recognized my note, they might pick it up. But also the wake of these other vessels would swallow most of it up immediately.
We’re pilotfish surrounding leviathans.
And as often as I tried to customize my feed and alter my ‘experience’, many more giants surfaced. The inescapable culture of sharing videos, of ads following those up, and behind those ads, many more promoted posts which are just ads in disguise.
All that shouting into the neon wind, it wasn’t me, man.
Again, I’ve stepped away for months. I didn’t miss it. I deleted the app. I never went on the browser to ‘check in’ or ‘check out’ what was going on. Life was the same with it and without it.
But I’m from the prime internet age group where we learned that we could ‘make websites’, could share content freely, could make music and put it out there without going through physical gates and channels. We could post blogs, post updates on our blogs through other medium. We could share our location, our photos. We could share ourselves. And while Twitter had elements of that, and Instagram had elements of that, there was something so much broader about Facebook that was more random feeling. The sense that if you were friends with someone, there was the small chance that they’d find you. That they’d find your bottle in the sea and have a thought about it. They didn’t need your username, didn’t have to choose to follow you. They just have to know you.
There’s something attractive about that.
And sure, there are unsavory elements about it all. Your band, your book, your art, your video, your opinion, your photograph… you’re just advertising yourself. Another ad sewn into the quilt of ads. And hey, maybe it’s just me, but if an ad has a more personal connection to a person I know, I’ll be more likely to check that out before one offered by someone/something I don’t. I’d like to think that’s a majority opinion.
So after several months, I’ve decided to make a jump back onto the ‘Book. I’m going to try to keep a very controlled experience in front of me, to contribute as much as I digest. I plan to strongly follow a concept that is deliberate and self-motivated. One that holds its user accountable to their own vision. I’m going to try to keep it as positive and as proactive as possible.
I don’t want to simply scroll into the depths, forever rolling the endless message board into oblivion, consuming and learning nothing. I want to mute more Big Voices, love more Little Voices, interact with actual humans, actual friends, neighbors and family members. I want to open up those surface communications and open up avenues that find us connected as people, whether it’s face to face or even SMS to SMS. I want my timeline to feel like a bulletin board of great things. Maybe I expect a lot of the content that people are creating or sharing. But I also don’t want to feel like I should be missing out on the possibility of stronger personal connection simply because a majority of the medium is disposable. Maybe I want to hold the service to its own mission.
Living in South Carolina for five years has been a great experience, but being separated from friends, coworkers, ex-coworkers, acquaintances and family is something that I should be utilizing Facebook for. This is one of the biggest and easiest ways to keep in touch with the whole spread, to keep us all engaged and interacting. That’s not to say that it should replace the one on one contact. There should always be text messages. There should always be letters. There should even always be phone calls (shudder to think). But also, there should be ways to show signs of life, to let those that have always been there that you are there as well.
As someone who’s always creating, this is how I want to be able to share the different fruits of that creativity as well. I want to offer up what I’ve written, collected, designed, seen, expressed and have it out for consumption. I’m a pretty firm believer in the idea that ‘your friends are not your audience.’ But also, that doesn’t mean that your friends aren’t still your friends, and that they should be able to see what you’ve been working on nonetheless.
Instead of shuttering the doors and hermeting into an underground lair to escape the flaws of the construct, I’m going to try to utilize what’s great about the smallest world we’ve ever known. I want to embrace what’s given us the ability to be closer to each other as people, regardless of our busy schedules, our twenty four hour news cycle, and our physical distance. I want to live in the world that’s more open and connected. I want to experience what that vision is to me, and I want to use it to strengthen the interactions we have with each other, not allow it to run me off because I feel that it’s watered down.
Maybe this comes across as stark idealism. Maybe the only logical response to this writing is, “Bro… It’s just Facebook.” That’s cool. However, I feel like I know what this network can provide. While I didn’t feel like I was missing out on what the product is currently, I do feel like I’m missing out on the potential of what this can be. I want to give it another shot. Perhaps I’ll come away from it in another month, read this article again and want to shove it. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.