It’s true: I know someone who was on Facebook, then decided to leave. Actually leave, as in, go for good and never come back, not just threaten to leave then…stay. This person was (and is) a very good friend of mine who’d been a member of the social networking site for a number of years. Someone with tons of photos on his page and a real history he was giving up. Lots of friends, offline and on, who he liked to stay in touch with. A man who worked – and works – in media, and who some hardcore Facebookers (I promised myself I wouldn’t use that stupid bastard word, but, sorry, it felt essential) might consider mentally unhinged for giving up the numerous connection opportunities that Facebook is so famous for. There was none of this I’m considering leaving Facebook or I would leave Facebook if I could crap, followed by the not doing it. He was fed-up with the way his life was spiralling more inward and digital each day, he decided to leave Facebook, and within hours it was done. That simple. Easy. I was shocked. For a long time, I’d accidentally search for his name on the site and his profile photo would come up, although it wouldn’t lead anywhere when I clicked on it (somehow I got through those dark times). Now, a year or two after he deactivated his account once and for all, he seems to have vanished forever off the network, no trace remaining, in a way that feels more or less like certain death. And that makes me smile, in a strange kind of a way, a bit like Ben Affleck at the end of Good Will Hunting, when it becomes clear that Will has finally left and gone on his way and he isn’t coming back, ah. I often think about doing exactly the same as my friend did. I smile and I think I could do it. Maybe I will. Leaving Facebook might feel almost the same as faking my own online death.
Except I know I probably couldn’t. I also know that I am not the only one.
I’m not going to lie: Facebook does make my life easier than it would be without it — but surely you know that, it makes your life about a hundred-times easier too. With Facebook as my guide, birthdays are easily remembered and when someone has a baby, I can share my congratulations on their Wall without ever needing to have written down in my diary that I’ll need to get in touch in 9-months-time or so. It’s also saved me about a five-thousand-pounds on sending cards in the post as well (not that I ever did that much). But there’s much more to it than just that, of course. I may not like it, but Facebook is now a part of my life in more ways than I will probably ever know or realise. If it was as easy as simply deciding to leave and doing it, I’m sure I would have done it before now. Except it’s not. There are consequences of leaving the site. There are knock-on effects. Things might happen and things might not happen. For one thing, if I left, I’d have nothing to kill my boredom with while waiting for clients to get back in touch, and for another, I’d lose a valuable way of getting news of my writing, books and blogs out into the world. Without Facebook’s public Wall settings, I’d still be able to put my stuff out there via Twitter and other social networking sites, but let’s be honest: it’d be a right pain in the arse and knowing me I wouldn’t bother. And besides all that, there’s the friend-thing. I like being able to see what my friends are up to whenever I like, and I like the way you can be on the train and seeing what’s going on out there instead of feeling angry about the increasing price of using the railway (see? Even my use of like has been affected!). I also like how easy it’s become to plan an evening out. Commenting on statuses is fun, too, and very often Facebook is the only reason why I find myself reading an interesting article, or keeping up with something on The Guardian which I may otherwise have missed. In other words, it’s complicated and it’s got me right by the balls…so complicated that it’ll be years until psychologists really understand and interpret the impact that Facebook presently has on our every-day lives (in plain English: just how much it’s got us by the balls).
Analysing all this now, then, seems almost pointless. I’m almost tempted to leave it to the GCSE or whatever-they’ll-be-called students of the future. Except I’ve started now, so I may as well finish.
Leaving all this? It’s not that simple, is it? I’m sure I could deal with the birthday thing – I could find them all out before I left, and using my new concept of organisation I’d even write them down so I could read the handwriting at a later date – and I’m certain I could find another way to use my time that would be much more productive, but what about…everything else? Can I really be bothered to find other ways of putting my work out there? Probably not, because here’s the really cruel thing: that would include signing-up to other social networking sites, which would basically un-do the good of leaving FB to begin with. The friends-thing is the last hurdle, and surprisingly, as I type this now, I find myself thinking that this actually isn’t the biggest issue I’d need to consider. After all, I do sometimes go out into the actual real world and do it the old-fashioned way. I do like commenting on statuses, but I’m sure I’d cope with not being able to, and I could definitely do without the endless events notifications from people I barely know and likely won’t ever speak to in real life, much less go to their events. The same goes for news stories. What time I’d regain in leaving Facebook, I could probably use to source all the news stories and interesting articles I would ever want or need. In so many ways, by leaving Facebook it’d be win-win.
So it comes down to this: it may not really be about being able to spread the word about my work and it may not actually be about the friends-thing after all. Instead, what it may be about is more unsettling: the fact that, like it or not, FB may have invaded my life to such a point now that nothing could make leaving the site an attractive or sensible thing to do. I could tell myself that the Timeline feature is a pain — it’s crap, I despise it — and I preferred it before, back when none of us realised the grip it had on us. I could remind myself that Facebook is harvesting all my personal information and that this, in the future, might end up in the wrong hands, but I’d only be inventing bullshit. Fact is, I’ve known since I created an account that Facebook were gathering my private data and getting high off it, like gangsters on mountains of cocaine. It’s nothing new, everything you ever sign-up to does that, and really, it wouldn’t make any difference if I left now anyway. That data would still have been copied. There’s virtually nothing I can do about that, and even if I could, what would be the point? Somehow, somewhere, a copy of that data would still exist.
Still, if my friend can do it, then I’m sure I could. OK, maybe not sure, but…
Hm. I think I’m going to need to think about this some more…