As far as I can tell, I’m not dead, I’m just not on Facebook.
Yes, I am one of those people. You’ve heard of us, you may even know one of us. And contrary to what you may think, we are alive, we are happy and if you’re like me, and still have your Platinum Facebook Virginity, you really have no idea what the big deal is. Now, I’m assuming that not being on Facebook is less of a big deal than it was say, five to eight years ago. Certainly it’s not a big deal compared to the early days when it was the thing to do to creep on all your long lost relatives, friends and classmates, peeking into their lives playing Judgey McJudgerson. But these days, in a post social media world, there are countless stories of people quitting Facebook, or at least giving it up and going on a bit of a Facebook fast. So I think it’s less of a shock today when people find out you are not part of the club than it used to be.
A lot of the thoughts I have about Facebook are based on a certain naivety about the platform. I could have spent a significant amount of time researching how to use it, all the features available, and security and privacy options it offers. But that would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to do. While I’ve written a lot of “I wonder if’s” in this article, that’s kind of the point. I’m exploring this from the perspective of myself, and others, that don’t really know what goes on in this not so secret society. And no, we don’t know how anything works in there. We’re just occasionally peering over the fence to take a peak at this mysterious world.
I can’t really remember what made me decide to not join in the first place. Probably a bit of everything – worried about privacy, not wanting to be contacted by people from my past, my stubbornness rearing its head when everyone kept telling me to join and you could hear the “one of us one of us…” chants following you around. Whatever the reasons were, I never wavered and I’m pretty sure I never will. The initial fuss died down and once I realized oh hey look I’m not dead, I figured meh, why bother now. And believe me when I say, I actually have very very little knowledge of what goes on in there. I remember something about a wall, and poking? Was that a thing? Liking a post, I think that was definitely something.
I have been on the actual website of course. Looking for a business or an event would inevitably lead me to a Facebook page where I could usually find the basic information that I was looking for. But as for the layout and how you do things on the site? No idea. But what I really wonder is – what do people actually do on there? I honestly have no idea. And so it is one of those common refrains that come into play: How can I know what I’m missing if I never had it it the first place? That, of course, is also the same argument used when people (still) try to get me to join. But what I do know I’m missing is all the things that I have to hear about from Facebookers and why they hate Facebook being part of their lives.
Anecdotally, it seems to be big source of stress for a lot of people. Lots of conflict over politics of course. Dragging current or dormant family conflicts out into an open platform. Feelings of FOMO because everyone is busy posting their best life. I’ll tell you one thing, if I WAS on there you wouldn’t get some filtered shiny version of my life. You’d get how I am on Snapchat or how I used to be on Twitter – hey a cheeze puff fell on the floor, here’s a picture of it next to my pet dust bunny family.
One of the biggest things I’ve heard over the years from people is, “oh I was on Facebook arguing with so and so about blah blah and now I’m all stressed out.” While I don’t really say it out loud, my first question to myself is what on earth are you doing? Why are you putting so much importance on this? But the real question is – would these people be having the same argument face to face? I think depending on how your profile is set up you see threads from people that you follow and then people that are connected to them. I’m guessing you start to see all these random conversations that don’t really involve you directly. But then that little voice of opinion kicks in and the urge to toss the two cents becomes too much to suppress.
Humans are gossipy beings for sure, and it’s not like I can hold myself above everyone else. The part I can’t understand however, is voluntarily putting yourself in an arena where you can’t avoid situations for this argumentative gossip. Something I’ve read a number of times from people that have left Facebook is that they couldn’t take all the drama. Life is stressful enough, stripping away a completely needless source of conflict, even if it is passive, has got to be a healthy decision.
So am I one of those people that goes around bashing Facebook, actively holding up my nose at all of you that are on there? Getting hot whenever someone mentions that I really should be on it? Nah, because I just don’t care enough. Do I feel a little smug that I have lasted this long and will probably outlast Facebook in it’s entirety? A little. I have to be honest about that. There’s a teeny bit of superiority that does come with being Facebook-free. And I’m sure others like me would agree with that sentiment. Just a touch of smugness that we have been able to keep ourselves out of the fray and we are doing just fine, thank you. Perhaps we are doing better?
Which, of course, at a certain level, does put me on the same plane as those insufferable no TV people from years ago. “Oh no no we don’t even own a television. It’s such a terrible thing.” Well congratulations. What do you do? Sit upright in a chair and stare at the wall? Fun times. But I’ll only allow a slight comparison to those people. I do not live in a disconnected bubble. I have a bunch of other apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp, but I use those in a closed space. I select who and what goes in and out of those. So while I don’t, and can’t, judge you for using Facebook, I will still wonder why you have the need to use Facebook.
And we can’t forget about the endless scroll. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else when it comes to my newsfeeds. Some days I just can’t be bothered to read anything other than the headlines. But that’s inside news apps. So what are you scrolling past on Facebook? Headlines but instead they are from friends and family and co-workers and knitting groups and businesses you are friends with? Is it like Flipboard but amalgamating people and companies and hobby groups? I should google that. Because again, I honestly don’t know. Are there that many pictures of Aunt Suzie’s new hairdo?
I said I don’t really remember why I never signed up, but I do know now one of the most important things that keeps me off. Insularity. In general, we surround ourselves with like minded people, but within our circle of life we still have relatives and co-workers, teammates and volunteer partners. We go out into the world without an algorithm filtering out dissonant information and people, nor do we have an algorithm upvoting the people that re-enforce our world view. I can only imagine the guy on the bus 3 rows down having a big thumbs up floating over his head because he listens to the same bands as me so hey go give him nudge based on the same concerts you’ve been to in the last ten years. A little weird? Not really, as this is exactly what Facebook is doing.
I mentioned I am just as guilty of the endless finger scroll as anybody else. What I am not guilty of however, is insulating myself to information and people that tell me I’m right. I know this is a bit of a nature versus nurture kind of argument, how your brain is wired, how you like to spend your spare time. But, isn’t my scrolling through every topic available on Flipboard the same as a Facebooker doing it through their feed? At the base level, it is exactly the same. I’m bored (or I think I am anyway) and I’m feeding my brain the digital jungle juice modern tech has trained it to feed on.
What I am very careful to do though, is make sure I am in control of the content. And while this seems like hey dude, you’re doing the same damn thing as Facebook by filtering your content. Excuse me but no. When I say controlling the content I mean that I am keeping the door and gates to the world of information wide open. I have articles coming in from all corners of the political, artistic and business spectrums. And I read them. I may not agree with them all, but I read them. If you do this on Facebook will you get called out for it? Say you follow the publication Red State, but you also follow Crooks And Liars. Will you get nasty messages from people on either side? I suppose there is a way to lockdown your account to a certain extent so it’s blocked to outsiders. But then what’s the point of being on Facebook in the first place if you do this?
I use news apps as a gateway to the wider world of information that is out there. I want to be the one who selects what I am going to read or watch. And I will be the one to make sure I always have the widest selection of content available on the menu at all times. I understand that this is how my particular knowledge seeking brain works, but these days everyone is seeking content of some kind, be it world geopolitical alliances or the latest winged eye trend (I was told this is a thing). My point is, no matter the content we seek, if you are doing it on Facebook and have no idea of the settings you’ve selected, you are just being funnelled further and further down the same insanely narrow rabbit hole that has become so insulated that it’s always the exact same temperature from one day to the next.
Facebook seems to be the end all for information for many people. News, weather, sports, family, friends, colleagues. Does no one see the problem with allowing a singular platform to dictate how you consume and interact with all of this information? By staying away from Facebook I feel that I have stayed freer of mind, and kept just a little bit more of my sanity by staying out of whatever meme has everyone raging and arguing themselves into oblivion over. Whenever I’m feeling a little frisky I’ll dip down into an article’s comment section to gauge the temperature on a given topic. And without fail, that temperature is enough to make me shake my head in despair. But I can always choose when, and when not to, inflict this masochist pain upon my brain. If I was inside Facebook that choice would be taken from me. And I’m guessing so would be many many more of my hair follicles and/or heart valves.
Lastly, and this could be an entire discussion by itself, I get the argument that I should be on Facebook for friends and family sharing purposes. I suppose this is true. I do hear “oh right, you’re not on Facebook” a fair amount. And I know it is seen as being selfish that I’m not on there. Which I do understand to a certain extent. But I still have a phone, with multiple paths of contact available on it. I’m not that hard to reach. As someone who is extremely lazy, and avoids people like the plague, I still manage to stay in contact with people. After all, I’m not dead, I’m just not on Facebook.