Why I am leaving Facebook

New beginnings
By DAN MACLEOD  |  December 29, 2010

By the time you read this, I'll already be gone.

I first considered killing my Facebook-self earlier this year after reading a couple of articles by equally skeptical and/or curmudgeonly writers. One piece in the American Prospect by an editor for the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard detailed a common gripe with the amount of control Facebook has over user data. Others have complained the site eats up all their time. There is a small but growing murmur of dissent in the shadow of the digital monolith of Facebook. Digital Kevorkian-like services like the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine will even help you end your online life.

For me, the usual reasons for quitting Facebook only partially apply. I don't mind being tricked into volunteering my personal information to an ad campaign. I don't mind my personal information floating among servers owned by multinational corporations. I don't mind being searchable to long-forgotten elementary school bullies. I don't even really mind Farmville. But at more paranoid moments, I feel I'm becoming an avatar with a categorized list of likes: I imagine my face as a paper-thin slice stacked among hundreds of thousands who also have an ironic appreciation for Mariah Carey. I picture my friends' and my interactions interpreted as electrical bursts buried in quietly humming servers in dark Swedish warehouses. Facebook is omnipresent; it has consumed our world, yet it means nothing.

And beyond these Philip K. Dickian fantasies and my nagging existential dread, Facebook has also affected the way I interact with people. It somehow nourished both my narcissism and my deep-seated fear of real human interaction. It satisfied an urge to be seen, allowed me to be social despite a deep social anxiety. I could both craft my appearance, and stand back and think before speaking. As a narcissistic person prone to addictive behavior, that kind of control resonated with me.

But in more practical ways, the site has also has reduced my ability to concentrate. I read less now than I used to; I just don't have the patience for it. What if someone comments on a photo I was tagged in? How many people liked that New York Times story I posted? And most important, why do I care?

I've always preferred Twitter: a network whose users are secondary to the ideas themselves. A "re-tweet" can set in motion a revolution regardless of who originally typed it. It's a public sphere, unlike Facebook's cordoned-off, protective hive of ordered preferences and likes. Twitter never stops; Facebook allows you to carve out a small hole in the Internet you claim as your own. It allows you to smooth the wrinkles of real life and collapse complicated personal connections into a well-designed stream of witty one-liners, Huffington Post stories and videos of sneezing baby pandas. It allows a user to hold back the messier parts of their personality and present the world with the person they want to be, however inaccurate that person is.

Is that crazy? I think so. But it's also a fact of modern life. We're all anxious people seeking a place where we can pause to think before responding, where it's OK to stalk our ex-lovers and hide behind self-designed profiles. We want a place where we can control our message. Facebook is designed to sate the social urges of obsessive people. But it also allows anyone to be involved however they want. You can play IQ games 18 hours a day, or use it once a month to find out when bands are playing.

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  Topics: This Just In , Internet, Mariah Carey, New York Times,  More more >
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