Quitting Facebook

*A hush comes over the media scrum as Chris walks into the press conference, flanked by his publicist and life-coach, then sits down in front of a microphone*

‘Um, yeah nah, I’ve just left the locker room where I sat down with the other 17.1 million Australian Facebook users and told them that I was retiring from Facebook, effective immediately…or after the 30 days cooling off period that Facebook make you do. Whichever comes first.
This was obviously a massive decision for me, as Facebook has been part of my life since 2007, but I feel that this is the right time to step away and spend more time with my family. To be clear, I have been spending a lot of time with my family, I just want to try it without constantly looking at my phone because I’m being distracted with incessant notifications and inconsequential updates on other people’s lives.
I will now answer any questions.’

‘Is this going to become a lecture?’

No. We’ve all suffered through people who have found a new diet, exercise regime or series of small plastic containers in which to store their food…and who then bang on about it at every possible juncture.
Nobody likes that person.
So I will not be using this as a way of showing that I am better than you. If you choose to reach this conclusion by yourself, I will not be responsible. But I will understand.

‘Will you still be using social media?’

Quitting one social media channel while continuing to use others, would be a bit like someone quitting alcohol by only drinking wine and beer – but NOT spirits!
It would be sadly hypocritical.
But if using social media has told me one thing, it’s that it’s VERY important to publicly show one side of yourself, while secretly living your real life.
So while I will be quitting Facebook, I will still be using Twitter and Instagram.
WHY?!! I hear you ask. Well put simply I still have memories of when Twitter was good. Believe it or not, there was a time when Twitter was a gateway to new and exciting information. I could follow Mark Colvin and discover amazing Op Eds from renowned international publications, or hear contrary views expressed in a way that made me reconsider my current beliefs.
It was like having a cool big brother who was constantly introducing you to amazing new bands. But now it’s more like a drunk Uncle, yelling his opinions and mocking any sense of nuance. So I’m taking Twitter off my phone, and will only look at it when I’m sitting at a computer.
I’m keeping Instagram because I like pretty pictures.

So in summary:
Twitter = Drunk Uncle yelling into the void
Facebook = Older family friend who corners you at Christmas and bangs on about what their kids are doing.
Instagram = Book of photos in Dentist’s waiting room that briefly distracts you from the inevitable horror that awaits.

‘Was it a tough decision?’

Bizarrely, yes. The evil genius of Facebook is how it has become so ubiquitous in our lives. You can; message people, buy and sell things, log into other services with your Facebook account, and you can start any number of sentences with ‘Did you see on Facebook….?’
So when you make a conscious decision to step away from all that, it does feel a tad intimidating, as if you’re giving up an amazing opportunity. To the point where I actually hovered my finger over the ‘delete forever’ button for quite a while, wondering if this was the right decision.
A freaking website was causing me existential dread!!!
Thankfully, reason won out. After all, this wasn’t a big decision. This was like that time you felt bad about leaving the bank that you had been with since you were a teenager. No one was going to notice, let alone care. This wasn’t life-changing or profound. It was NOT like changing where you get coffee in the morning and having to constantly walk past the old place…with a coffee in hand.
No one was going to get hurt.

‘Why are you actually leaving?’

Hoo boy! There are myriad reasons, ranging from the ‘virtue signalling’ all the way through to the ‘tin-foil hat’. But here’s a summary:

The sanctimonious – Facebook are bloody awful corporate citizens, and the less data of mine they have, the happier I’ll be. I also don’t want to be the sort of parent who tells my kids about the evils of social media, but is still a slave to its inculcative influence.

The societal – Look, I despair of other people as much as you. But for a society to work, you actually have to interact with other people. And not just in a click ‘Like’ way…and definitely not in a ‘I’m going to send a torrent of abuse some complete stranger’s way because they disagree with my opinions on climate change’. We’re still more tolerant and accepting of people and their views in real life than we will ever be with the distance of social media, and so setting up a world where we only talk online, and we order our food to be Uber-eated to our house, and block out the world on our train ride home through head-phones and ‘our feed’, means we become more isolated, more unaware of opposing points of view and more scared. And scared people rarely make good long-term decisions.

The financial – We all know that people only present the parts of their life that they want other people to know on Facebook. But that doesn’t stop the pangs of jealousy we feel every time someone else has a holiday, or buys a new bike, or renovates their house. I mean, if 100% of everyone else is clearly buying things, why am I depriving myself?!
Then somehow we have ended up with the second highest level of personal debt in the world.

The mental – I find myself bemoaning how busy I am, how little time I have to just relax or unwind…yet still slavishly respond to every notification and message. Last weekend I realised that the queue for pastries was going to be more than a few minutes, and so I reached for my phone to distract myself. I used to think that I was actually being ruthlessly efficient in not allowing my life to have any down time, but I realise now that I’ve been depriving myself of those little moments when your mind can head off on a tangent and go where it wants to go.

The selfish – I’m pretty sure that the data and time that Facebook is getting from me, is of far greater value than what I’m getting back from them. If a company, or Govt, said that they wanted to know all about me, and my friends, and what I liked, and what I was interested in buying, and where my kids went to school, and what their names are, and what I said in my Private Messages, etc, etc. I can tell you that in return I would be asking for a fair bit more than ‘a website that keeps serving me video clips from the Graham Norton Show’.

The political – the ‘democratisation of information’ and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, hasn’t really lead to a brave new world of innovative thinking and nuanced discussion. People still believe what they read, but can’t be bothered to do the work to see if it’s actually true. Our media cycle has become so frenetic that we simply don’t have the time to follow things through, but we seem to have the time to get incensed about trivial things. To quote the great Mick Thomas “We can’t find the time for talking, but it seems we find the time to shout!”
Politicians and political parties have quite literally escaped unscathed from things that in the past would seen them thrown out of Parliament or Government.
Our systems and institutions simply haven’t adapted to the speed and level of the bullshit that is being generated. To quote a popular saying on social media ‘Life comes at you fast!’, and so long as both sides of politics feels that it can benefit from it, it’s not going to change.

The egotistical – As one of the generation who has seen the transition from traditional media to social media, I still get a kick from the idea that what I say and write, can appear on the same platform as celebrities and people I admire. But that has somehow been commandeered into a situation where any muppet with an opinion and a keyboard thinks that what they have to say is equally as important as what someone who has years of experience has to say about the same thing.

The honest – To have a social media account that I would want to follow, people would need either; a life so interesting that that I want regular updates, or a willingness to disclose personal information that appeals to my inner voyeur. I don’t have the first, and I’m not willing to disclose the second. So why put time and effort into something that, ultimately I wouldn’t even want to read?

‘So where to now? Are you tempted by the shorter versions of the game?’

Ah, no. No, I think that the likes of ‘Snapchat’ and ‘Tik Tok’ can safely assume I will not be stumbling into their party, making a fool of myself, and then politely being asked to leave.
It’s a young person’s game.
But there is every chance, that like so many other retiring athletes, I will make an ill-judged come-back, humiliate myself, and then remember all the reasons that I retired in the first place.
But hopefully not.
Instead I hope this is the start of a new chapter in my life, a chapter in which I get to see you all in real life, down the street or at a party, and remember how good it was when I had Facebook, and could simply interact with you on my terms and at a time of my choosing.