I’m fortunate to be married to one of the smartest people I know. She’s also a co-founder at Defiant, our cybersecurity biz that makes Wordfence. Kerry and I have been tech co-founders since around 2003 with many successes and failures.
We are both very much technologists and have been since we started our careers in the early 90s. We’ve seen tech come and we’ve seen tech go. We met at eToys, one of the biggest dot-com busts of the early 2000s, which peaked at around 6B market cap and fell hard.
I left Facebook a few years ago, but I was surprised to hear Kerry did the same a few days ago. She’s out of town right now, and of course, I miss her. We hadn’t chatted for a few days, so on our call this morning we went deep on just thinking through being on FB, leaving FB, implications for individuals and society, and so on. She suggested I write a post, so here I am.
I’m going to try to keep this short, but I’d like to make the case for why you should leave Facebook – and keep in mind this is coming from two technologists who have been in tech for 3 decades, run a successful tech biz and firmly believe in the transformative power of technology.
Online text-based communication is new for most people and it doesn’t bring out their best side. It’s not because those folks are evil, vindictive, etc. It is merely because they are uncalibrated for text-only communication online, and it tends to foment extreme conversations. People say things they’d never say to someone’s face.
It has also become the norm to try to achieve outcomes – be they political, environmental, foreign policy, societal – by sharing extreme content or posting extreme views. “Society will totally collapse if you don’t….” or “All the evil around you is caused by this one thing…”. This is a relatively new phenomenon and it has caused folks with the best of intentions to selectively present data, and frame it in the most extreme terms.
There was also a shift in PR and News that happened about 10 or 15 years ago where marketers realized that having a million fans is way less valuable than having one-tenth of that number of people, really really angry about something. The former provides you fans. The latter provides an army. And thus anger became the name of the game. Get them angry and we’ll keep their attention. Or, get them angry and we’ll achieve our outcome. So, much of the content on social media is about creating anger – and that is what is shared.
I live at 856 Buckhorn Rd on Orcas Island. I have a public path next to my house that goes down to the beach. While my partner is an introvert, I am all extrovert and I’m constantly chatting to people visiting the island who are heading to the beach. I’ve made many friends on the island and some I’ve kept in touch with either via text or WhatsApp or some other 1 to 1 communication system. If you visit Orcas, say hi if you visit our beach. Just shout from the path and I’ll hear you, assuming I’m not on a call or anything.
I’m friends with my neighbors here and in rural Colorado, where I spend winter. Orcas is what one might call ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ or whatever. Rural Colorado is politically on the other side of the spectrum. I’m friends with my neighbors in both areas – and by ‘friends’ I mean face-to-face friends. I don’t use social media so I don’t see what they’re posting. And I don’t really care because I understand that the medium facilitates and engenders extreme views and extreme interactions. I don’t want to know their Facebook selves. I want to be friends with their real selves.
Funny thing. Ever noticed how when you meet someone new in real life, you don’t talk politics that much? I’m talking about the USA – the rest of the world is quite different in this respect. Politics here is divisive and when we make new friends in the USA, most of us are calibrated to avoid politics at least for the first few interactions. Not so online. Oh boy. Definitely not so.
What caused me to leave Facebook was a conversation I had with a friend in real life. I don’t remember which friend it was, but it was someone I’d chat to every few months one on one. They said: When we chat, I feel like we don’t have much to talk about because I follow you on Facebook and I know about your various adventures.
Poof! That sucked the air right out of my lungs. Facebook was robbing me of the privilege of sharing my news with my friend – and the other way around. Ugh! It’s such a pleasure to excitedly meet someone at an airport and fall all over your words as you share everything that has happened since you last saw them. I realized Facebook was monetizing stealing my adventures, and my life failures and successes.
There’s also this weird shift in the definition of ‘friend’ and ‘family’ when you’re using Facebook. My friends and family these days are the people I talk to – usually one on one. When I was on Facebook, my ‘friends’ were everyone with who I had a logical connection on the social graph. In other words, people who were added at some point who I had not talked to in years. I hadn’t reached out to them. They hadn’t reached out to me. It’s all good. We drifted apart. But there was still this vestigial Facebook connection that never goes away. Maybe we’d reconnect if that was removed, because we’d have to, to get an update?
But I think the most value I’ve gotten out of leaving Facebook is to no longer have to see these extreme uncalibrated text based human interactions that show the absolute worst side of people or a community. It’s just not part of my reality anymore.
I left Facebook years ago. I have real friends who I treasure and continue to make more. Sometimes we lose touch. Sometimes we reconnect. Sometimes not. We like each other. We are civil. We have amazing conversations. And I’m happy. I think you can be too.
PS: Lest you think I’m a luddite, I do run a 38 person high growth tech business that is 100% remote and uses the best tools in the biz to facilitate mostly text based interactions via Slack, Github, Fogbugz etc. But we regularly connect voice as a group, and one on one, throughout the week. I’d also add that a professional environment is very different to a ‘social’ network, in that the need for professionalism has a profound moderating effect on interactions.