Saturday, December 8, 2012

Breaking up with Facebook

I am making the choice to break up with Facebook.

We share a lot of the same friends, Facebook and I, and I realize that ending this relationship means that I may lose contact with the people I have known and met throughout my life. That reality saddens me, but it is not enough reason for me to stay in what was becoming a lopsided relationship. I hope that many of my friends will choose to stick with me through this breakup. If they insist on staying friends with Facebook too, which I expect they will, I hope they at least don't tell Facebook where to find me.

The problem was, Facebook was really great to me -- in the beginning. The concept of a centralized social network, where folks can connect with other folks, with interesting groups and like-minded communities, with companies and movements and products, is just… convenient. Heck, it's maybe even necessary to our modern ways of interacting with each other. Even though Facebook made sure that my communication with friends stayed brief, going from wall posts to comments to likes, it at least kept me wired to a broader world. It let me know more about my family, friends, associates, acquaintances, and favorite celebrities than I otherwise would. So what if keeping in touch always felt like peeping through a window into their homes without actually getting to knock on the door?

Sure, we had our issues, but whatever problems Facebook had would go away as I got more used to interacting with it. I learned to embrace its method of staying in contact via a series of posts broadcast by my friends like miniature bulletins. The changes in Facebook's policies, its frequent manipulations of my preferences and privacy settings, were just the necessary quirks of adapting to this new age of socialization. Same with Facebook taking its pictures of me and all the information I gave it privately and showing them -- flaunting them -- in front of its advertising buddies. Yet an uneasy feeling lingered and grew like old cheese slices in the fridge.

But what could I say? If I tried to change anything, Facebook and its algorithms had the power to cut me off from everyone I hold dear.

I finally took a step back. No change, just distance. I went off for a weekend -- without Facebook -- and the time away gave me a new perspective. The problem isn't me and my inability to adjust. The problem is Facebook and its informational promiscuity. Facebook and its non-consensual violations of my personal space on the internet. Facebook and its changing the rules of our relationship, which it was my fault if I didn't see but which I agreed to explicitly every time I continued to call it up.

I used to be my own person, with my own space and my own standards of decent behavior. When did I let Facebook define not just how, but whether I interact with other people? When did I let Facebook decide what parts of me the world could see? When did complete personal transparency become the accepted norm for all of us?

Yes, Mama always said that if I didn't want the world to know something, then I shouldn't put it on the internet. But the internet is not the realm of the Big Bad Wolf, and it should stay that way. I never gave Facebook my social security number or my credit cards, thank goodness. I never shared anything with it that I wouldn't tell a girl on the first date. But we usually trust our dates not to sell our chitchat to complete strangers, don't we?

When Facebook announced another wave of security adjustments, it declared that it valued the quality of our feedback over the quantity of our comments. Well, Facebook hasn't listened to me yet, and I finally see the abuse for what it is. So I'm breaking up with Facebook, because it's the only voice I have that it will listen to. I'm tearing up the scrapbook with my pictures and my little descriptions in it. Deleting everything we ever shared seems like the best way of making sure I maintain some scrap of my privacy. Maybe by leaving Facebook I can effect some small change in the future I envision, which is a future where business practices treat me like the man I am instead of disregarding and disrespecting my patronage.

Breaking up with Facebook is the only way to make sure it doesn't start to violate other aspects of my personal, private life. It will also clear room in my life, maybe for a hobby or my work, or just to have some empty space to enjoy for a while. No need to rush out and repeat the cycle.

I understand that my life, as one of Facebook's exes, will be different. And I will mourn the loss of communication that will happen with other people in this new life. But what contact remains, I believe will be far more fervent and far less compulsive.

Such a dream is possible because taking time for myself also means more time for heartfelt (rather than merely convenient) connections with my family and friends. Facebook did a lot of discourtesy to me, but it didn't delete my email address, and it didn't cancel my phone bill. My channels to the wider world will be narrower without Facebook than with it, but I think that my connections will run much deeper and more meaningfully, because they will be self-motivated and not Facebook-enabled.

Also, my communications will be private and personal once again. The publication of our lives is not necessary. It is not inevitable. It is not permissible, and yet we allow it to penetrate our daily lives. We embrace it so tightly that we can't see what its hands are doing down where the sun don't shine.

It's time we remember who's in charge here. We have the power to say no as much as yes. We are the ones to set the rules for this new age of social networking, like how many dates until we round second base (and whether or not Aunt Sally gets to read about it). We must strive to maintain our individual privacies, rather than learn to accept a standard of no privacy at all. Otherwise, what answer will we give the future when the future asks us who its real mommy and daddy are?

I tell you one thing: I don't want to beget the future with Facebook.

If Facebook wants to have any more contact with me, it will be on my terms. It can come to my office and act professionally. We can conduct business as colleagues, both of us benefiting from the terms of our arrangement and neither of us taking unrequited advantage of the other. Not again. That's why I'm keeping my Zach Hively author page alive and active -- that profile helps me (on my terms) reach a reading public. That side of me, the professional side, is a naturally public side, and anything I share as a writer is meant to be public. So have at, Facebook! See how you think I fit into your little algorithms now. You'll never get into my living room again, let alone my bedroom.

Setting myself free has always terrified me, even more so than chaining myself down. But that's why I have to make this move. I do not want to concede what is right and good for what is simply convenient. I do not want to compromise privacy for a default public setting. I want us human beings to dictate our communities and not relinquish our power to evolving technologies and those in charge of them. We determine the shape of our futures.

It's taken me a dozen or so times of fantasizing about this future day to make it my present reality. And it feels good to be strong. Sayonara, Facebook.