"The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'… It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology… The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway… It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
-- Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook
It's been over two months since I've gone off of Facebook and other social media platforms (Instagram, WeChat Circle, etc). I have almost forgotten about Facebook's existence until it came up in conversation. I do not miss it at all, and have been much happier without it. What’s more, contrary to the fear, I have not missed anything important in life. Leaving Facebook has absolutely been the "best thing since sliced bread" regarding my relationship with technology :) Would like to offer a few reflections here.
There might be nothing wrong with social media per say. It meets many practical needs. However, fundamentally, the mainstream social media platforms are founded upon the wrong -- or you can say "malicious" -- intention. Its business model is to keep us hooked to its platform for as long as possible, and manipulate us to spend money. Everything else is window dressing. Not to mention the "unintended consequences" and "collateral damages", such as data security, privacy violation, "fake news", ideological echo chamber, and threat to democracy.
Technology is an unruly creature. Even with the best of intentions, we might fall pray to all the temptations and blind spots. When the fundamental intention is not right, everything will taste off. That's why those feel-good perks from FB (such as the auto-generated videos to celebrate your 3-year friendship with a distant friend) inevitably invokes a suspicious, "yuck" feeling. The wrong intention also drives countless small design decisions that impacts our sub-consciousness, which collectively make the users feel depleted and unhappy.
The tech entrepreneurs might have convinced themselves of their good intention of changing the world. But they -- like the most of us -- might not even be aware of our complex layers of conflicting motivations. Or worse yet, as the opening quote suggests, they might actually know what they are doing, yet "did it anyway".
As I Ching (The Book of Change) forewarned, "Off by an inch in the beginning, lost by a thousand miles in the end."
When it comes to my own intention, I might comfort myself in thinking that I am posting "wholesome contents" that may inspire others. But at a more subtle level, I am only tickling my own vanity. Period.
Adorning the Titanic
The more "good content" I put on a fundamentally flawed platform (such as FB), the more I am enticing/obliging others to remain addicted to it. I am making it all the harder for others to quit by raising their opportunity cost and worsening their FOMO (fear of missing out). Friends might justify their FB use by thinking they are checking out the "good stuff" on it, but would most likely end up spending much more time wading through the muck. So, it is not just about my own happiness, but the wellbeing of my friends on FB.
There might be people who are mindful enough to use Facebook and not end up being used by it, but I know I am not strong enough to withstand the collective cunning of thousands of programmers, psychologists, and businessmen, scheming against my poor mind.
Leaving the Empire
Here are some steps that helped me leave FB.
- Set a time-bound experiment to try live without social media. Such as one month. Time-bounding the experiment makes it easier to adopt, compared to an "all the rest of my life" commitment.
- Make an announcement on FB so that friends have an alternative way to reach me if needed.
- Log off -- but not delete -- the account. Not yet deleting the account also lowers the psychological cost of experimentation. Also, some third party apps could only be authenticated by FB.
- Make my browser -- and myself -- forget the account password, and block the URL, to prevent accidentally logging back in.
Ultimately, it is the newfound freedom and mental calm without social media that makes the experiment stick. Life after Facebook feels great! I love my friends even more :)
See you on the inner net! :)
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.