A lot of people talk about wanting to quit Facebook because its a time waster. That’s such a common sentiment, that a lot of people have misunderstood my reasons for quitting to be because I think I spend too much time there. They’ve said that the problem is really my time management and that it’s just as simple as turning off the computer and doing something else.
That has caused me to second guess whether my real reason for quitting is just because I’m terrible at managing my time. I really appreciate my friends who were willing to challenge me, because it got me thinking and refining my ideas about why I’m quitting. Spending too much time on Facebook isn’t the problem. When we spend too much time on Facebook, it’s just a symptom of the real problem.
The real problem is who controls our relationships with other people. Do we control our relationships, or are they controlled by a third party? You’d probably argue that it’s your choice to control your own relationships, and that Facebook isn’t controlling them. But I argue that just by choosing to use it, we’re giving Facebook complete control over how we stay in contact with our friends. By the way, the problem isn’t just Facebook, it can happen with any online service that we use (Google, Amazon, Apple, etc), and we should be aware of that. But for this post I’m just going to focus on Facebook and how when you give them an inch, they take a mile.
Facebook has been slowly taking over communication with our friends for profit since 2004. Many of us think that Facebook’s purpose is to give us a better way to connect with our friends, but there’s a subtle but important difference; Facebook’s goal is to become the primary way we communicate with our friends. It’s in Facebook’s interest for us to depend on their service to reach our friends.
When I first decided to quit, I was shocked by how many of my friends I didn’t know how to reach outside of Facebook. I didn’t have contact information for hundreds of friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, donors and other connections. It’s really hard to quit Facebook when you depend on it as the only way to reach others, so I set out to get other forms of contact information and what I discovered is that Facebook is actively preventing people from connecting in other ways.
In 2012 Facebook changed your email address. Most of you probably didn’t even notice, but go look at your profile right now. Your default email address, the one that’s displayed publicly on your profile, is @facebook.com, and your real email address, if you had made it public before, is now hidden without your permission. That means, if you wanted people to be able to contact you by email, unless you caught Facebook’s sneaky change when it happened, those people have been directed to contact you through Facebook instead. Maybe it’s not a big deal to just change your email address back, but Facebook can sneak these subtle tricks in unnoticed at any time.
Another sneaky trick that I mentioned in my last post, is the new Facebook Home feature for Android phones. By convincing people to install a Facebook app as the screensaver on their phones, Facebook is effectively preventing people from connecting via their phone numbers by putting software on our phones that intercepts us before we send a text or make a phone call. We are quickly becoming dependent on Facebook as our primary form of communication because it’s the most available and convenient, but that’s not a good thing.
How many times have you been annoyed because the latest Facebook update changed where or how you find the things that you’re looking for? Facebook doesn’t make those changes because they want the site to look prettier, or because they want to make it easier for us to communicate with our friends freely. They make those changes because they will generate more profit. The more time we spend doing the things that Facebook wants us to do, the more money they make. And that’s the bottom line; you’re not on Facebook because it helps you connect with your friends (were you unable to connect with your friends before?), you’re on Facebook because they’ve attracted you and they’re using you to make a profit.
It’s important to understand this; Facebook isn’t a product we use to keep in touch, we are the product that Facebook uses to make money. We’re selling, or rather giving, ourselves and our friendships to Facebook and that doesn’t come without a cost to the quality of our relationships.
Take the news feed for example; scrolling through and seeing our friends posts gives us the illusion that we’ve kept in touch with our friends, but we mostly post positive things, so if we’re not doing anything cool or interesting, we look at Facebook and see all the cool things our friends are doing and how interesting their life is and we feel left out and boring. Worse, if we’re down, or going through a hard time, and really need a friend, we usually don’t post it on Facebook for fear of seeming negative or desperate. In the end, it’s not very genuine. It turns friendship into a fair-weather affair; if it’s entertaining, we participate. If not, we ignore it.
Facebook doesn’t own my relationships. I want to be in control of how I engage my friends, and I’m going to choose communication tools that allow be the dignity of doing so. I’m going to use tools that don’t manipulate my relationships for profit, even if they’re less popular or less convenient. In the end, it might not save me any time at all, but I hope it will improve the genuineness of my relationships.