So I pulled the plug on Facebook earlier today, which might seem a rather random action to those who follow me here and on Twitter. I gave no warning, I just went ahead and did it. Part of me feels a bit sad, and I’ll miss the ability to keep in touch with particular friends and family in the way that Facebook enabled. There are some things I won’t miss, as I’ll briefly explain.
Ownership of my information
So far as I can tell, WordPress currently only displays information about me that I choose to be there, when I choose for it to be there. I can delete and edit anything I like, when I like. I can move away from it to another site or system how and when I choose.
Twitter is perhaps a less-known quantity, even if it is currently my primary online social-networking tool. I can seek information when I choose, and it only displays on my profile what I choose to be there. Sure, people can mention me and I’ll appear on timelines in a different light than I might like. But in general I feel much more in control of the content I put there, and feel more able to trust what happens to that information.
Facebook has turned on many sharing features recently that have “leaked” things like contact information and relationships over the last few years, and each time has required me to jump through hoops to turn information feeds off to those to whom I’d rather remain just another face in the crowd. The news in recent days of facial recognition functionality being switched on without notice on the site itself was the final nail in the coffin. Yes, it’s only suggesting to people I know that I might be a person in their photo, but I’d rather have that functionality built into a computer operating system or web browser, based on information I’ve fed it, rather than have it as part of a bigger machine that can only make the functionality invisible to me.
On a more emotive level, there’s something more than a little creepy about a business that makes its money sharing and advertising to those who live their lives within reach of it.
Time is valuable
Various factors have come together recently that have conspired to help me learn to organise and use my time more effectively. Facebook was a time-sink for me, yet in the bigger scheme of things didn’t offer anything valuable in return.
Twitter has been a valuable resource for looking up realtime information about things happening around me, and has helped me engage with the local community in quite unexpected ways, especially when used in combination with blogs like this one.
WordPress has enabled some interesting conversations and interactions, and it seems that some posts have been informative to others facing similar situations to those I’ve described. I don’t claim to be a fount of all, or any knowledge – but my mistakes and lessons learned can help others in a way that status updates on Facebook just don’t hit.
Add to this that the Facebook interface had become generally feature-bloated and unreliable, especially on my phone, while things like email, blogs and Twitter carry on with their given functions with much greater efficiency and more tangible results.
Relationships are valuable
If I’m really set on keeping in touch with friends and family, then shouldn’t I be writing letters, picking up the phone, sending emails, sending photos or even arranging meets? Facebook is useful for all of these things in its way, but I don’t want such communications being owned by any company or entity other than myself and those I’m communicating with. When I send a letter, it doesn’t become the property of Royal Mail. They don’t sell copies of all or parts of the letters to advertisers. They don’t tell Amazon that they recently delivered an box of fluff to my door, so that Amazon can try to sell me books about that fluff.
And yes, it’s nice to be able to feel smug or angry about something and to share that with a select group of individuals, as I did so willingly on Facebook and will likely continue to do on Twitter. But I feel my relationships have suffered because Facebook was becoming the fount of knowledge about what I and those around me were getting up to, and I was willingly letting it stifle the very reason for those friendships and relationships to exist in the first place.
No, my personal relationships probably won’t get any better as a result of today’s decision, but at least I don’t have the ongoing Facebook conversations as the smug excuse for not spending time with or taking time for people.
So that’s the real killer issue for me – WordPress and Twitter have created real relationships with tangible output. Not always benefits, but experiences and genuine connections at some level. And that surely is what social media tools should enable?