It feels a little surreal watching #DeleteFacebook.
On one hand, despite how hard it is to keep an issue trending in today’s fast news cycle, this issue has managed to continue burning for a while. Somewhat recently (March 21), we got two high-profile Facebook account deletions from Brian Acton (WhatsApp cofounder) and Elon Musk. Other apparent examples include Playboy and Cher, or see Time or CNET for a few more. Facebook’s U.S. and Canada user base declined for the first time last quarter.
On the other hand, for me and for a lot of people, the scandal just doesn’t seem that qualitatively different from things we’ve known about Facebook for a long time — its stance on privacy, its psychological effects, its willingness to manipulate the user experience. Why is this time different? (Here’s the /r/NoStupidQuestions thread. I don’t actually know which answer I believe the most.)
Is this time really different? I’m not optimistic. The decline could simply be Facebook running out of potential users to add and space to grow. According to a recent Raymond James survey, about half of surveyed users did not plan to change how much they used Facebook, while only 8% would stop using it, and this may still be an overestimate of people who will actually leave or delete their accounts. Mark Zuckerberg himself told the New York Times, “I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on [the #DeleteFacebook campaign]”.
I myself have to admit upfront that, even though I barely use Facebook any more and have carefully contemplated deleting my Facebook account for a long time, I still haven’t pulled the trigger.
Why? What will it take to change this?
tl;dr: I don’t use Facebook much. If you want to contact me, I would prefer nearly any other mode of communication. I am also going to stop autosharing posts from this blog onto Facebook. RSS readers are great; get yours today.
Recently I checked Facebook and it said something like “You’ve added N friends this past T units of time! Thanks for making the world more connected!” and I just couldn’t any more. Facebook friends are not friends. Dunbar’s number is around 150, maybe double that if you want to stretch it; humans cannot handle that many human relationships. Facebook’s siloed ecosystem is the opposite of connected with the rest of the Internet.
That is one of many reasons I pretty much don’t use Facebook any more. This is not new, but I’ve never formalized it. Also, I figure others might assume otherwise since I still do have an account and still accept friend requests and post sometimes. Thus, I’m writing this post.
Here are all of the reasons:
(Uncohesive blog content, posted as part of a daily posting streak I have openly committed to; standard disclaimers apply. Whew, made it by a few minutes…)
This essay was partly inspired by but mostly orthogonal in purpose to dzaefn’s essay on a similar subject, Humans, Photographs, and Names. I agree with many of its points, although I deviate in that I think it’s more important for my Facebook picture to identify me than to inform about me (there’s the rest of Facebook, plus my maybe half a dozen other sites, for doing so). Part of the problem for me there, and part of the reason I hang on to my nine-letter random handle from fourth grade, is that my names, first and last, are so commonplace. Among the people who share them (according to DuckDuckGo) are a New York Times tech writer, more than one computer science professor, a photographer, a couple doctors, and some guy who did some sort of graphics work for a short clip and two movies. This means that, to somebody not already in my social circles trying to match me to my account, my Facebook photo is my primary tool for disambiguating myself from all these other people, and I don’t think there is anything that could do that job quite as precisely as a picture of my actual face and body.
Still, I agree enough to be bothered by having a profile picture suffering from “the whole extent of photographic informational void”. I always planned to add some GIMP layers to the photo to indicate context and content more precisely. Except I procrastinated and it got more and more awkward to do this as time went by, since as far as I know, normal people update their profile pictures only to reflect more recent events, especially when they’re important. Like, you know, graduating from high school? So yes, I’ve been waiting to do this for an entire year now.
Eh, to hell with awkwardness. That’s the spirit of this daily-posting exercise.
(Fun fact: The code in what I’m about to set as my profile picture, if I don’t procrastinate even more, is real IOI 2014 code I submitted successfully (for
rail, as previously featured; the visually selected fragment was the key fix for the final bug I fixed). Except I actually had to manually retype my code printout to get the picture because I lacked the foresight (sound familiar?) to save an electronic copy of my IOI submissions.)
Also, I’m glad this isn’t a smiling photo because I feel like it’s easier to appreciate happy posts from a person whom one associates with a serious face, than serious posts from a person whom one associates with a happy face, and I want both types of posts to impact people when I post them. I could be overgeneralizing from my own feelings though. If you are reading this and want to chat me feedback (as way more than one of you has been doing), I’d welcome more data points on this issue.
That’s not what I really wanted to rant about in this post, though.
Why do people take photographs?
This post, or most of it, was published password-protected once because… well, I explain that below. (To the one person who actually bothered asking me for the password, just so you know, I did add and rewrite parts. More than a few.) I forgot how distinctly powerful a disincentive a large 2300-word block of text is to the average person, especially when the subject of half of those 2300 words is teenage angst (I’ve already linked to xkcd 1370 in enough places so I’m not even going to embed it here) interweaved with an insufferable amount of rationalist jargon. This will probably filter my readership more than sufficiently already.
I have still decided to protect one detail of the thought process, though. But even after that, I guess I do care more about how many people read this than I do for most of my other posts, so here’s a primitive attempt to gauge interest; if you choose anything beyond the first choice, I would also appreciate if you leave a comment, even if you don’t think you have anything to add:
I haven’t posted for a long period again, but I don’t feel too bad about it.
Well, until I look carefully at my blog draft folder and remember that I have 90%-finished drafts about the two debate competitions I went to (November 2013 and March 2014), and winning the previous Mystery Hunt (January 2014), and my summer trip to Penghu (July 2013). Which will probably never get posted out of awkwardness.
But I’ve been busy, completely righteously busy, with college apps to write and algorithm classes to teach and speeches to write and a math club to sort-of lead and all the typical homework besides.
And then (for those of you who don’t have me as a friend on Facebook) I got accepted to MIT and Caltech early.
And for a few days after that, I checked Facebook about sixteen times a day for the Class of 2019 group discussion, except for one day when I really needed not to, thanks to the power of committing to my HabitRPG party to do something. I am increasingly learning that procrastination is something that has to be actively and strategically fought. But that’s not what this post is about.
Note: My 2012 self wrote this. It is a little dated and does not entirely capture my current beliefs and attitudes, although I have to say it’s not too far off either. As of 2018, Me and Facebook is more relevant.
Here’s a guilty secret: I like getting feedback.
I’m not restricting myself to painstakingly thoughtful comments that attempt to build upon and transform the post to form an interesting conversation, the kind English teachers are hellbent on promoting. Sure, I get the most kicks out of those, but I’m not picky. Even single-digit pageview bars or a handful of Facebook “like”s give me buzzes of excitement.
It’s a guilty feeling, because I also think that that these are unimaginably cheap internet currencies and should not qualify as “meaningful” under a rational mindset. I strongly suspect visitors accidentally click on my blog and leave after five seconds without taking in anything, because I do that all the time to other people’s blogs and sites. Sometimes it is out of boredom, sometimes it is because I actually have something of higher priority to do than indiscriminate reading, sometimes it is simply because I cannot read the language. I’ve seen plenty of people like posts on Facebook based on the poster, only occasionally taking into consideration the first word of the post in question, before actually reading them.
Yes, the proliferation of “liking” on Facebook bothers me. I don’t expect everybody to reply meaningfully to everything when they just want to express approval lightly. However, when I see that tiny minority of people handing them out to people in their own threads like programs at a concert, I become indignant. Under their influence, what was originally a straightforward, meaningful badge of appreciation becomes a handwavy gesture that carries virtually no weight, and then I don’t know what to do when I see something I like seriously. Will clicking that button still express the feeling strongly enough?
I accept that, in our stressful world, a few instant effortless gags that take ten seconds to fully process and approve deserve a place. Nevertheless, the number of people who seem to want to make the “like” a completely passive and automatic action is almost physically painful: