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Farewell, Facebook, with Regret and Relief

My relationship with social media has felt uneasy for a long time.

My son has nagged me for YEARS to get off these platforms. He is one of the best critical thinkers I know. (I say this with pride now, but trust me, this was not so endearing when he was a kid.) He has deep expertise in this area, so I believed everything he told me about the ways I was being used and manipulated on social media. I had a sense of the invisible, dangerous repercussions of what it has created and is creating.

“Mom, when are you going to get off social media?” He asked this question with this exasperation almost every time I spoke to him. And like any good addict, I would defend all the delicious things I love about something that I suspected, deep down, was not so good for me.

Even with all his information, I’d resisted. It felt too hard. I’ve tried Facebook fasts and scaled-back participation — I barely use Twitter and Instagram. But I have been afraid to permanently cut the cord. Honestly, I still am. Partly this is out of FOMO (fear of missing out), but mostly, it’s because I am loathe to give up the meaningful connections and community I have found on social media. With a few exceptions, I’ve met in real life every friend I have on Facebook. And much of my family is there.

I clung to what I was getting out of it, and that felt like a lot. I have discovered and renewed relationships. I’ve learned of my peeps’ triumphs and tragedies, about new lives who have entered the world and old souls who have left it. The love and support I’ve received in my own difficult times have been abundant. I’ve been awed and moved by my friends’ knowledge, wisdom, and humor. And their willingness to help. My intellect and thinking has been stimulated and changed by great, thought-provoking, and humorous content that I likely wouldn’t have found on my own. I have engaged in spirited debate and found like-minded souls in many of the groups I joined. Lots of fun snark fests. Learning opportunities. Thanks to my diverse, interesting, adventurous friends, I’ve traveled the world vicariously. And the birthdays!

I mean, that stuff feels really good! Why would I race to give it all up?

While this decision to leave social media has been a long time coming, I finally was persuaded to act after reading a book by Jaron Lanier: 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. A summary of his arguments can be found at the end of this blog. If you’re interested, read the book, and make up your own mind. I hope you will.

In this easy read, 150 pages or so, Lanier builds a compelling case for the ways social media companies are wreaking serious, dangerous havoc on the world, and how the people running them are enriching themselves by refusing to pay the people who make them rich.

That would be us.

Lanier should know — he’s one of the insider Silicon Valley billionaires who has been hands-on in social media…

I’ve long been alarmed by the scarcity of thoughtful conversation and critical thinking and how it’s bled over into public discourse. What I didn’t fully understand before I read the book is that the SM structure actually encourages and supports negativity and conflict. Its algorithms purposely make viral the lies, distortions, nastiness, and ginned-up outrage.

Who needs context or complexity when you get such great reward for pissing people off? Who needs love and compassion when it’s so satisfying to spread hate and demonize the people you disagree with?

I’ve always been bothered that Facebook’s algorithms are deciding what I get to see, but I never realized to what extent we are being manipulated. All those likes, loves, those angry and sad emojis? They trigger those algorithms, computer code completely lacking in mind, heart, or soul. Bots and a lot of invisible bad actors have great power over what you get to see. You can’t outsmart them. They constantly scan for ways to reinforce your biases, manipulate your behavior, and keep you hooked.

Don’t even get me started on what social media is doing to our political systems— in this country and globally. What Lanier reveals about how social media supports authoritarianism throughout the world is probably the most frightening thing I have read in a long time. In this new world, he argues, it’s entirely possible the arc of history will NOT bend toward justice. The day I wrote this blog, both Twitter and Facebook — the companies, not people using their platforms — offered evidence that a group backed by the Kremlin is again meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Finally, in spite of my commitment to live an intentional life, I often find myself behaving on social media in ways that don’t align with who I want to be in the world.  (See argument No. 3 below.)

Reading Lanier’s book made me realize that this “free” social community that I have valued highly comes with calamitous cost. His book made clear that I could not, in good conscience, continue to be complicit in shaping a world that I don’t even want to live in. I can no longer justify or defend my participation there.

I have no illusions that my leaving will make a difference. My absence won’t crumble the empire. Even the author, in the book’s afterword, admits he knows his arguments will likely fail to land. And I totally get that for many people, leaving isn’t a realistic option. It’s how people do business these days.

Even so, in a few days, I’ll permanently delete my profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My Facebook account, where I spent the most time, has been deactivated for more than a week. I took this first step to see if I was really ready to break the cycle of codependency. I wanted to experience the feelings of withdrawal. The separation also has been a self-imposed test to see whether I can live the courage of my convictions.

I feel clear about this decision, and this will be my last Facebook post. It will remain here until the download of my Facebook data is delivered. I’d love to hear comments or feedback about what I’ve said or what I’m doing, but please post them on the Medium site or the blog on my website. Otherwise, they will disappear when my account does.

Breaking up really is hard to do. And it’s not you, it’s social media. I am feeling super vulnerable about this. It is painful — but it also feels right. I’ll be back in a heartbeat if something better comes along. But for now, I’m out.

Please keep in touch. I am easy to find. I’ll continue using my LinkedIn account, and my contact information is on my website: marenshowkeir.com. If you don’t have my mobile number and want it, please shoot me an email.

I was going to write about how much I’ll miss you, but I hope that won’t be true. I fully intend to find ways to stay connected. What that looks like I’m still not sure, but I am committed to figuring it out. In the meantime, this is my Facebook farewell, with sincere thanks for the good memories.

A summary of Jaron Lanier’s arguments:

(Emphases are mine)

1: You are losing your free will

2: It is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times

3: Social media encourages you to be an asshole

4: It is undermining the truth

5: It is making what you say meaningless

6: Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy

7: It is also making you unhappy

8: Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity

9: It is making politics impossible

10: Social media hates your soul

And one more, added by me:

11: Social media (specifically Twitter) has ruined the presidency

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Maren Showkeir
Maren Showkeirhttps://www.marenshowkeir.com/
Maren Showkeir is a writer, editor, teacher, and yogini. She is the co-author, with her late husband, Jamie, of Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job (Berrett-Koehler, 2013); and AuthenticConversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment (Berrett-Koehler, 2008). She earned a BA degree in journalism from Arizona State University and a MA in Human and Organization Development at Fielding Graduate University. Her life-long passion for writing led her to a fabulous career in newspaper journalism — remember newspapers? — where she had extraordinary experiences for nearly 25 years as a reporter and senior editor.  In 2003-2004, she was awarded a Knight Fellowship for the International Center for Journalists and taught journalism at universities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru. While there, Maren also collaborated with South American journalists to provide educational workshops in rural provinces for reporters and editors who had few opportunities for formal training.  By accident, she managed to exit the newspaper industry in the nick of time. In 2005, she joined the consulting firm henning-showkeir & associates, inc. as a managing partner, where she collaborated with people in all types and sizes of organizations managing complex organizational change. Since 2015, she has focused on writing, editing, and coaching writers who want to create clear, concise, and compelling content that connects with their intended audiences. She is a mother of two, and a grandmother of three. Maren also is a certified yoga instructor and has been a practitioner for more than 25 years.

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6 CONVERSATIONS

  1. I have not experienced any ill effects from Facebook other than a hacker that took over my original account so I had to make a new one. I use it as a platform to share my poetry to groups and individuals. I also write on a variety of subjects. It is more if an instant gratification when posting on the internet compared to publishing a book. I have not had much success in social media for marketing my books though. But I have had success on publishing on line. And in a magazine. I don’t see myself walking away to soon. I enjoy the connections I’ve made. Great article though and I wish you all the success and happiness. I will say that I can get burnt out at times and have to take a break.

    • I can understand not wanting to leave social media, Eva. I still miss so much about being on Facebook, and there are lots of things to value there.
      As with all of life, there are definitely trade-offs.

  2. Hi Eileen:

    Thanks so much for writing! I probably should write a follow-up post that outlines how my experiment with withdrawing from social media has been going. The truth is, there still is a lot about it that I miss, especially knowing what the people I care about are up to. Even so, I can honestly say that my life has been more peaceful and productive since I left, although I have certainly cut myself off from a fairly easy way to market my work!

    One unfortunate learning from time spent on SM is that people are willing to say all kinds of hateful ,horrible things that they never would say in life. And of course, the outrage factor only excites Facebook’s algorithms. While I don’t think anyone intentionally set out to create a force that was evil, I do feel like the founders are willing to tolerate things that are definitely out of alignment with what I would consider civil engagement. It was so eye-opening for me to ready Jaron Lanier’s book about social media, and get a better understanding of how much we are being manipulated. I think most people don’t have any idea how it all works.

    Maybe some day we’ll figure out a better way to connect virtually. In the meantime, In the meantime, have made efforts to cultivate more meaningful and deep connections with friends through meeting face-to-face, through email and phone calls, zoom happy hours and even the occasional hand-written letter (!)

    I love that you break away from the technology tether by camping! I take Sundays as a “technology fast” and stay away from my phone and computer as much as possible. Fortunately, I love to read, so books and the Sunday New York Times are a lovely way to spend Sunday mornings.

    Best to you, and thanks again for writing,
    m

  3. Maren,

    Thank you for sharing your journey of separation from social media, not an easy task! Around 2010 my husband and I started a relationship FB group, it quickly grew to 6,000 people and we nurtured it for a few years. But over time, the headache of the emotional roller coaster within the group caused us to close it down. We learned a lot more about human nature, communication through the computer and the influence of keyboard commandos. As a result of this experience, we have studied, challenged ourselves, navigated and continue to do things to “beat” the system so we are not negatively impacted. It does take awareness, the ability to keep emotions out of the equation when needed and knowing the algorithms are manipulating what we do/do not see. We engage in ways that it works on our terms.

    As the unseen puppeteers are scheming in the background and we are the recipient of their manipulations, there are still good people out there trying to do things for the highest good. Unfortunately, when in the wrong hands, good can turn bad. That is what we are experiencing as a global society. As humans, we can be easily persuaded, mind controlled, convinced and become like puppies following the next best thing unconditionally. I totally understand your son’s push to get you disconnected from social media and your desire to follow his recommendation. I am not sure where we are heading today into the future, but I do believe more people will see value in breaking the bond. There is an underlying human need for connection with others, so hopefully we’ll discover a better way to make that happen. The challenge with social media is words are twisted and meanings are misunderstood when communicating with others in the written word. We miss out on body language, voice inflection and many other attributes that are part of the interweaving of conversations.

    One way we have survived is we go camping for a week every month and do as little as possible with electronics. As you have mentioned, social media is integral to business and those who make a living from it must stick with what is available right now and transition when something better comes along. I wish you all the best and I know you will get your sanity, joy and happiness back. Cheers! Eileen

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