“Are you sure you want to do this?”
Two boxes appeared on the screen. I selected “Yes.”
“If you do this, K— and S— and C— and M— will miss you.”
Now a piece of software is manipulating me to feel guilt about letting down my friends?
Thank you, Facebook, for giving me all the reassurance I needed. Without hesitation, I clicked “Deactivate my account.”
That was three weeks ago, and I haven’t regretted it for a minute.
The disillusionment started back in March, when the doctor said, “I’m not gonna lie. This doesn’t look good.” It took about 4.7 seconds to evaluate the most cherished parts of my life, and Facebook didn’t make the cut. I logged off for a couple of months, to spend more time with friends and family, then to recover from surgery.
But I was lucky. Unlike some wonderful people in my world who are battling cancer, my pathology report came back clean. I was given a glimpse of my frailty without any consequences and, once in the clear, I didn’t see the need to go back to wasting precious time, worrying if I read a shared article or if I remembered to like someone’s comment, so as not to appear rude.
Let me back up even more. Three years ago when I joined the 21st century by purchasing a smart phone, I loaded the Facebook app on my phone because, well, that’s what you do. I quickly discovered that, as a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s, it was a lot easier to disengage and stare at cat videos than to look grim reality in the eye. Almost immediately, I deleted the app, realizing that it would cause me to miss out on some life-changing moments, and it’s a good thing I did because there was a lot of joy lurking in those shadows.
The final nail in the coffin was the Equifax breach. When I read that credit bureaus had been harvesting social media posts for keywords to sell to marketers — ever update your status to reflect a broken-down car and then wonder how you coincidentally got a mailout from a dealer? — I was done making their job easy. It became clear that the technology was using me, not the other way around, so I decided to take back control. To stop the manipulation.
It’s not that I don’t care about the people I’ve connected with. I do, especially those I grew up with who are no longer near but played an important role in shaping the person I’ve become. But I’m taking the advice we recently heard from President Carter to recognize that the most important person is the one right in front of you.
A different way of looking at it is to ask, as the philosopher Neil Postman did, for what problem is this technology the solution? I’m obviously not opposed to technology — as I write this blog post on a laptop using the library’s WiFi — but when unmitigated, it creates problems rather than solves them. It adds stress. It adds to our to-do lists. It obliterates time, five minutes here, ten minutes there.
I’ve learned I’d rather fill those ten-minute breaks with a foreign language lesson, a quick walk, or a phone call to a friend. Funny, Facebook, I don’t feel like I’m letting anyone down.
I did make a point of subscribing to a handful of email updates from museums, environmental groups, and blogs I support, to keep up with events in the community, and I hope you’ll do the same for The Dew because I will no longer be sharing posts on Facebook. It’s all about simplifying the background noise and only letting in what I choose, not what an algorithm chooses for me. It’s time that we stop allowing ourselves to be treated as products.
Go ahead. Push the button.