Why I left Facebook

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6.8.2013

I removed my Facebook account today. This marks the end of a 5-year era which began in 2008. While I liked Facebook in its infancy, as years went by I started to dislike it more and more. In this post I will tell you what made me to leave Facebook.

Synchronization

Among the most fundamental needs for me is emotional synchronization, the feeling that I share my current state of mind with someone else. I like to play with the idea that to fill this need the quality of the emotion does not matter. If we can be happy together, then that’s good. If we can be sad together, then that’s good too. The stressing situations are those where the synchronization does not take place; when happiness faces sadness, or when anger faces indifference. To me, being social is to synchronize (1).

Facebook can be used for many things. The primary task I wanted to use it for was to extend my ways of being social. To get someone to share my feeling. One concrete thing was that I wanted to find at least one person who would share my taste in (electronic) music. I never did, apart from occasional song-specific matches. Here’s how it goes. At a given night, while streaming music from an internet radio, you come across a very good new song, something which happens maybe once a month. You get this rush of excitement, of feel-good, and instantly start to think of someone to share this experience with. Since I already know my day-to-day friends are less than excited about the music I like, my interest shifts to my Facebook friends. Since there are so many of them, surely some of them shares my taste? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I get no reactions.

Strangers in real life

Facebook is part of the so-called social media. When I joined Facebook in 2008, Facebook was full of social interaction. It felt like a playground where old friends and acquaintances would gather at the same sandbox, perhaps with the hope of strengthening those bonds. We filled and answered questionnaries of each others, shared funny pics, and tried out all those odd apps. Back then, Facebook really was about being social.

Inevitably, though, I ran out of topics with the people I did not see in real life. To have something to talk to, I need shared interests, or, preferably, recently shared experiences. If I have neither with my Facebook friend, is there any chance for actually being social with that friend?

Happiness bias

In the next years, messaging in Facebook degenerated from exchanging emotional content (pokes and all), to exchanging information about who got married to whom, who got graduated, who got a baby, who had a birthday, and who went to a vacation. People would post about their moments of happiness and achievements. Unfortunately, that doesn’t have anything to do with being social anymore (“share my feeling”), because those feelings are private to the posters. Rather, the emphasis had shifted to maintaining a favorable facade (“see how well I do”).

In 2013, only the best images and the happiest news reached the Facebook updates (there were exceptions too). I dislike this happiness bias (4). It is like eating ice cream every day, and nothing else, until I feel sick. And I do; happiness lies in synchronization, not in smiling every second. To give an example of the wonderful imperfect, I was recently delighted to see a Facebook page showcasing the worst summer-photos of 2013 (e.g. an ordinary photo of an ordinary light-switch) (2). I found this collection of unimpressive images refreshing.

Message persistence

I think it is important to realize that social communication is relevant only temporally. Already thirty minutes after its publication, my Facebook update may not have been representative of my current state of mind. However, Facebook is designed to catalogue every update and comment forever. Soon enough my update would feel out-of-place, because I couldn’t place myself back to the state of mind I had at the time of publication. This conflict between message persistence and temporal relevance made me avoid spontaneous updates in Facebook; although these updates were just the ones that contained all the emotions! If whatever I say will be seen for a long time, I better not say it at all, or otherwise be sure that it stays relevant forever. Perhaps the worst example of message persistence in Facebook is that the chat discussions are preserved forever.

If there ever is a social media that I’ll join again, it absolutely must be nonpersistent by default, unless I choose to override that on a case-per-case basis (3).

Distorted communication

Knowing that I was potentially being read by all my Facebook friends had an influence on my communication. So when I typed a public reply to my close friend, not only was I replying to him/her, but also considering the image I was reflecting off of myself to the others. Starting from my intuitive reply, the thing I would say face-to-face, I would make tweaks here and there, to not make some outside reader feel bad, or to think badly of me.

In general, I found that it’s hard to post stuff in Facebook that people can relate to, no matter how funny, interesting, or impressive something is to me. I think the problem is that the viewer often wasn’t in the same state of mind as I was. But, in Facebook, there’s no time to lay out the groundwork to get the reader in the right mood.

Summary

To summarize, I left Facebook, because, by my definition, it is not social. In particular,

These are the reasons I am able to make explicit to myself. On the intuitive level everything is simple: I just don’t feel good being there. And, contrary to my usual self, in these things I let my intuition play the dominant part.

Footnotes

(1) Then, being around is necessary, but not sufficient, for being social. Also, an extraverted person can be anti-social by not making an effort to synchronize with lower-energy feelings.

(2) The group’s name is “Paskimmat kesäkuvat 2013”. It’s a Finnish group.

(3) Twitter is much less persistent. But even that is too much; it should not store your tweets, unless you tell it to.

(4) See publication bias.