I deleted Facebook in 2015. It’s great that the rest of the world is catching up. Unfortunately, I see a lot of indications that the critical lessons haven’t been learned and within a decade we’re going to see the exact same thing happen. It’s easy to live without Facebook, and I’ve navigated the internet over the past three years just fine.
Everything Fails Eventually
There are people young enough for whom Facebook is the internet. It’s worth taking a step back and reading this article from 2007: Will MySpace ever lose its monopoly? Let’s not forget Altavista, Netscape, AOL or Yahoo!
Companies come and go, there’s no real reason to think Facebook won’t suffer the same fate. The survivors morph beyond recognition. Nobody guessed the 1980s Apple would be making phones and selling content. Even now, Facebook’s future is Instagram and WhatsApp, which are far less profitable than Facebook itself.
The biggest thing Facebook has going for it is the network effect. Everybody’s there. It’s easy to underestimate how fickle people are and how quickly other platforms can grow. The fact that Facebook was ubiquitous in 2017 doesn’t mean it won’t have become a meme by 2020.
Platforms Aren’t Functions
We have a tendency to equate a tool with the action it performs. Go back to searching, chatting and sharing pictures. Brand names shouldn’t become verbs and common nouns.
This makes it much easier to delete a platform such as Facebook. Your phone already has a dozen apps on it that can share photos, find news, chat or whatever else you do on Facebook. You might have to get a bit creative, like how I turned to getting my news without Facebook.
Once you start experimenting, you can evaluate different platforms based on their merits instead of just using what first comes to mind. There are use cases where Facebook makes sense, but I find them to be far narrower than most people would expect.
Chatting, gossip, getting news and sharing photos are natural human things, but Facebook comes with some serious drawbacks that other platforms minimize.
Redundancy isn’t sexy, but it’s important when systems fail. Were any one of my communication platforms to fail, say LinkedIn, I’d have no trouble finding the same people elsewhere. I’m constantly surprised to see how many people allow Facebook to be a single point of failure.
This becomes even more reckless for businesses that use a single platform to generate most of their revenue. An unexpected algorithm change is all it takes to put these companies out of business. Should Facebook be part of a company’s marketing strategy? Absolutely, but not everything.
Passive Relationships Aren’t the Real Thing
Pornography is no closer to real sex than most Facebook connections are to genuine friendship. Since I deleted my account, I’ve had to call and text people to stay in touch. Obviously this means I have far fewer active relationships. The payoff in quality is worth it.
Store your extended contacts in a few databases (Skype, email address book, just a little redundancy again) so you can get back in touch when you need to. I have friends around the world that I’m happy to meet up with for a cup of coffee once a year or so. That’s far more rewarding than knowing the intricacies of their cat’s bowel movements.
As seductive as libertarian mythology is, it just never pans out in real life. 4chan and unmoderated subreddits are all but unusable cesspools of hate speech, trolling and worse. The free-for-all of data monopolies made Cambridge Analytica and Equifax inevitable. GDPR is a good start, but we have a long way to go until companies are held accountable for mishandling the data they collect.
There are counterexamples to Facebook and Google’s data collection. Apple treats data as a liability and stores as little of it as possible. Viber is a profitable product that remeains free for users while offering end-to-end encryption.
Future platforms are going to have to balance the legal and societal consequences of retaining as much data as Facebook does. This isn’t going to happen on its own. As loathe as I am to admit it, serious regulation is likely the only answer.
Facebook != Social Networking
I love social networking, chit-chatting and talking to people across the world. I don’t like the privacy issues that Facebook poses, its walled garden or the psychological effects of notification heavy social media. For me, deleting Facebook was the easiest way to get the upside of the former and cut out the downsides of the latter.
The future of social media, at least for me personally, is probably going to be smaller scale platforms. There are some great subreddits, forums and blogs that cover my niche interests. I’d rather share photos with a small group of people than a few hundred ‘friends’. There’s no reason recruiters should see my political views. I also don’t want any particular platform to have all of this data. When that platform collapses or is hacked, the more sandboxed my data is, the better.
Whether this is the beginning of the end for Facebook or not is beside the point. I hope that either a reformed Facebook or the next big social media platform will be more human scale. In any case, you can live a happy social life and even work in the tech industry without Facebook. Take the plunge and try life without it.