The Internet is lousy with essays by people quitting Facebook. They do this for many reasons: to protest the social network's manifest sins (including the Cambridge Analytica affair and its role in the 2016 presidential election), to reclaim some of their time, improve their own mental health or lives. It seems that, except for the most committed social networkers among us, everyone who uses Facebook comes to a point when they decide they need a break.
Not me. I've never been on Facebook.
Despite writing about media and technology for years (including writing about Facebook), I've never been one of the 1.59 billion active users (in June, per company data) of the platform. That means no automated birthday reminders; no baby pictures from middle school classmates I haven't seen in 20 years; no political screeds from second cousins; and absolutely no outrage on my part when Facebook's management does something creepy or downright dastardly.
It's not my platform, so it's not my problem.
I can still remember the first time I'd heard about Facebook back in 2006. Back then, it was still only open to users with .edu accounts, making it seem like so much greasy kid stuff to me. I'd already experienced the silly, giddy rush of finding old friends on Friendster and come out the other side thinking, "Gee, that was a waste of time."
Facebook, back in those early days when Mark Zuckerberg was a college dropout with a dream, held little appeal. Everything I heard about it, from the hours people spent playing games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars to the relationships being disrupted by all that private, 24/7 access to exes, current and former colleagues, and charming Nigerian princes turned me off. Also, if I'm honest, I found the site ugly. I haven't seen it in years, but as I remember it from back then, Facebook looked like LiveJournal hooked up with an insurance portal and gave birth to the most boring--yet somehow still emo--baby you can imagine. Why were people spending hours and hours of their lives looking at that?
I also didn't like what Facebook was doing to the people around me. It was turning them into stalkers of exes or their bosses, making them jealous as they looked at other's vacation photos (a use case that eventually grew into its own entire platform--also owned by Facebook--called Instagram), addling their attention spans with a constantly refreshing feed. Long before most people outside of the tech industry talked about "engagement" as a metric for success, Facebook seemed to so nakedly want all of our attention all of the time. Friendster was a place to pop in and see if that kid I went to camp with accepted my connection request; it didn't want anything else from me. Facebook was different. It was hungry. It wanted more and more of its users.
Zuckerberg hadn't just built a better mousetrap, he'd built a trap, period. Soon it wasn't just friends whose feet were getting stuck: It was media companies, political campaigns, our parents, Russian trolls.
In the decade-plus since I never signed up for it, I've found myself tempted to join Facebook from time to time. Occasionally I'll be trying to find a source for a story and the only way is through messaging them on Facebook. In those cases, I've either come up with a workaround, or found another source. A few years ago some new friends found it annoying that I couldn't receive party invitation via Facebook so they took the liberty of setting up an account for me under a fake name just so I'd get email notifications for new events. After about two weeks, I found it annoying and closed it down. Another friend wanted to share pictures from a safari so she created an Instagram account for me. When I found myself idly clicking through random people's photos, I deleted the app.
Sure, I miss some invites and I don't get to see a lot of excellent photos of wild animals and boring brunches, but somehow I've managed to live these last 12 years. Am I missing out? I dunno.
"Life is rather dull without Facebook," one person told The New York Times' Kashmir Hill this past weekend in a story of users who find themselves banned from the platform for various reasons. Hill's piece reveals the great lengths these distraught folks went to get back in Facebook's good graces (one applied for a job at the social network just to ask why he was banned) with varying degrees of success. I could feel these former Facebook users' panic, rejection, and dread at being cast out out of the network, all their contacts, photos, memes, and digital flotsam and jetsam held hostage by capricious and faceless forces.
How frustrating, was my first thought.
Not my problem, was my second.