I had a Facebook account for a few years. I was never an active poster, but I didn’t see any other way of keeping up with the comings and goings of my large extended family.
A few months ago, when Facebook announced they were going public, I decided it was time to delete my account, for a combination of reasons. The amount and the type of private information that Facebook collects is staggering, and their pre-IPO advertising revenue wasn’t nearly sufficient to justify their first-day share price. The only logical way to increase revenue was to leverage and monetize their huge pool of personal data, and their shareholders would demand better returns.
I also felt I never really got much out of my Facebook account. Sure, I knew when my nephew broke up with his latest girlfriend, and I read some good jokes posted by a friend (but you can always get better, more current, more interesting stuff on Reddit anyway). The trade-off — giving my potentially valuable personal information to a mindless, faceless corporation in exchange for the occasional nugget of interesting info in a sea of mindless crap — just didn’t seem worth it anymore.
Many of my motorcycling friends have found Facebook to be a valuable tool for keeping in touch with their riding friends, but I prefer my Forums and direct email for that purpose. A few people I’ve talked to say they’re concerned about Facebook’s reach into their private lives, but don’t see any other good way to keep in touch with their large set of friends and family. But for me, I knew I could live without it — I’d just have to find other ways to keep track of my nieces and nephews.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, former Facebook insider and Zuckerberg ghost writer Katherine Losse discusses her reasons for deleting her account, and they solidify my opinion that I made the right decision.
On the loss of private moments:
Losse’s unease sharpened when a celebrated Facebook engineer was developing the capacity for users to upload video to their pages. He started videotaping friends, including Losse, almost compulsively. On one road trip together, the engineer made a video of her napping in a car and uploaded it remotely to an internal Facebook page. Comments noting her siesta soon began appearing — only moments after it happened.
“The day before, I could just be in a car being in a car. Now my being in a car is a performance that is visible to everyone,” Losse said, exasperation creeping into her voice. “It’s almost like there is no middle of nowhere anymore.”
Losse began comparing Facebook to the iconic 1976 Eagles song “Hotel California,” with its haunting coda, “You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.”
On the amount and type of private data being collected:
Among Losse’s concerns were the vast amount of personal data Facebook gathers. “They are playing on very touchy, private territory. They really are,” she said. “To not be conscious of that seems really dangerous.”
On the difference between ‘connection’ and ‘real conversation’:
But Losse’s concerns about online socializing tracks with the findings of Sherry Turkle, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist who says users of social media have little understanding of the personal information they are giving away. Nor, she said, do many understand the potentially distorting consequences when they put their lives on public display, as what amounts to an ongoing performance on social media.
“In our online lives, we edit, we retouch, we clean up,” said Turkle, author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other,” published in 2011. “We substitute what I call ‘connection for real conversation.’?”
For now, I’m using Google+ to keep in touch with my kids and a few friends. Not everyone is using G+, but its setup is much better suited to what I want out of a social network, and the privacy controls make it a useful alternative to the all-knowing Facebook juggernaut.