In two short months, I’ve made a year’s worth of memories. I’ve attended graduations at five schools and went back to the prom, zip-lined through a Mexican forest, cheered on cyclists in the rain, and drank Landsharks with old friends under a full moon. I BBQ'd with the parents, strolled down Chicago’s Navy Pier, fed my cousin’s kid from a bar table, and celebrated five years since my wife and I met. I’ve lived large; I’ve lived happy. And I haven’t documented a moment of it on Facebook.
Somehow, I’ve survived. Somehow, my experiences were better off for it. It's not sad, but it's true: Facebook and I are no longer BFFs. The honeymoon phase is over. Yes, I was once head-over-heels, eager to share all life's happening and photos of my dog. I snuggled up to FB at night and proclaimed its merits to all (un)willing to listen: "You're not on Facebook? Bah!" I built my wall like the sun rises: big and bright. As if the world revolved around my "likes."
This is not to offend those still neck deep. Still updating and uploading. I know I'm in the minority; I know this may appall you. I'm just trying to figure out what happened to me. What drove me away?
From Decent to Dreck
Despite its size, Facebook seemed intimate for quite some time. When I first joined in November 2008 and for several years after, the notion prevailed that my circle of "friends" was a group independent of other circles of "friends." I could choose the people I wanted to connect with. People who I actually knew in the old school, face-to-face sense at least some point in my life. Regardless of how ludicrous it now seems, I was part of a community where only those I allowed inside could interact. What other Facebookers were doing I did not know. Nor did I care.
Over the past few months, this cozy cul-de-sac has been overrun. My Facebook visits are now a torturous gauntlet of pictures and updates from complete strangers that have been liked, shared or commented on by my “friends.” No more independent circles exist, just a heap of humanity begging for attention. I may be a cynic, but I'm not wrong. A 2010 study found heavy Facebook users are insecure, narcissistic, and have low self-esteem.
The “News Feed" is mostly a wall of junk, covered with inane quips or memes I saw on Reddit two weeks ago. Images, images, images troll one after the other in an endless barrage. Status updates - Facebook's former provider of worthwhile content - are now buried under all this muck, and many that rise to the top echo the self-indulgence found in the picture parade. I get that my "friends" cause this cacophony of clutter, but it's Facebook's operational changes that allowed and encourage this downward spiral. If mommy and daddy leave the keys in the Ferrari and a bottle of Grey Goose chilling in the fridge, you can't blame Bobby for taking a few shots and going for spin.
The result? In less time than it takes to reach the end of a woman’s first trimester (I know from the incessant “My Baby's Progress” updates), Facebook has devolved from a useful and enjoyable place to a grimy alleyway where all remaining nuggets of value are suffocated by nonsense.
It’s no coincidence that I posted my last picture the day before the company went public (May 18). I'd be a fool to believe that before this date, Facebook did not seek profit. But Zuckerberg's "social vision" of "help[ing] people connect with the people they want and share what they want" shielded this pursuit. It was a genius marketing tactic. The company's insistence of this intent, coupled with serious media fawning, couched Facebook as the anti-big business organization of the future where customers, and their expectations, came first. Without a stock price, it was easy to fall for such hooey, no matter how preposterous.
But after its initial public offering, Facebook could no longer hide its true intentions. It is now another Comcast, Wal-Mart, Allstate. As if to prove this, the company just entered a partnership with NBCUniversal to bolster Olympic coverage. Guess who owns NBCUniversal? Face it, Facebook owes its investors a lot more consideration than the people posting photos of their child covered in pasta sauce. But unlike Comcast, WalMart, and Allstate, Facebook has seen your child covered in pasta sauce. And this is where it gets scary.
To appease its investors Facebook must make money. To make money, it must advertise. Selling ads is all about selling placement - convincing the buyer you'll get their message in front of their target demographic. No other company can offer the tailored info of 900 million potential consumers to prospective advertisers like Facebook. And that info just happens to be your personal life.
A few months ago, Consumer Reports released its annual report on Internet privacy and security. The most startling findings involve how much Facebook knows about its users, and how much these users freely provide. This information can be readily mined by employers, insurers, the IRS, divorce lawyers, as well as identity thieves and other criminals. According to the article:
- Almost 13 million users say they had never set Facebook’s privacy tools. Twenty-eight percent shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than their "friends."
- Facebook gets a report every time you visit a site with a Facebook “like” button (like this one), even if you never click the button, are not a Facebook user, or are not logged in.
- Even if you have restricted your information to be seen by "friends" only, a "friend" who is using a Facebook app could allow your data to be transferred to a third party without your knowledge.
- U.S. online privacy laws are weaker than much of the world, so you have few federal rights to see and control most of the information that Facebook collects about you.
- Eleven percent of households using Facebook said they had trouble last year, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being threatened. That projects to 7 million households — 30 percent more than last year.
And don't forget about the recent trend of employers demanding job candidates provide their Facebook log-in data during interviews so they "can inspect people's profiles."
If you're not thinking twice about your happy little Facebook community now, you're in denial. More harshly, if you're still chronicling your child's life through pictures from inception to the moment he or she can open his or her own Facebook account, and you think you have sole control over these pictures, and that they can't be easily copied by perverts via a screenshot or aren't stored in a server somewhere for retrieval when your child seeks public office, then you're a goner and might as well keep pretending a multi-billion dollar company really cares about you and your newborn's privacy.
So Why Not Just Quit?
But my biggest complaint with Facebook still remains. There are just so many better places to do what it once did best: share information. Twitter and Reddit take the cake, but places like Tumblr, Pinterest, SoundCloud, Imgur, and even LinkedIn and Google+ are more than sufficient to replace the value Facebook once had. I also really like Instagram despite it being owned by Facebook, because there's great creativity there (who knows for how long). Privacy concerns may exist with these sites as well, but their structures are not entirely dependent on sharing personal information. So you can actually enjoy them without posting anything about yourself.
I'm also realizing that I prefer a little mystery. That I don't want to know every single thing happening in the lives of everyone I've ever met. This is what makes reconnecting so fun, so invigorating. Maybe it's time for all of us to fall out of touch again so we can enjoy getting to know each other once more. Maybe then we can remember what it's like to be friends, no quotes attached. I'll start.
(This post was originally published on michaelpetitti.com)