Why I left FacebookPosted: October 31, 2013
My journey into online social networking ended today when I decided to deactivate my Facebook account indefinitely.
Just some background: I’ve been using FB since 2011, well over three years ago. My making an account was significant as, for various social reasons (I hated people’s guts ), I had vehemently insisted never to enter into online social networking back in High School.
To not have a Friendster account (yes, I’m that old) back then was social suicide, and not only was I not on Friendster, I didn’t even have a cell phone. But for the occasional skirmishes I started as an angry over-read student, I was a social nonperson.
My antisocial character mellowed down by College, and by third year College it was not difficult to consider entering Facebook (FB was in its first boom of popularity then, and people have been telling me to start one).
Then, in early 2011, I applied for a Fellowship to the 10th Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in Bacolod. While waiting for the results, top nagger Christian Cabagnot once again goaded me to enter FB. More to hope that I get in the workshop than to enjoy the benefits of Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild, I said okay, I promise I will open an FB account if I got accepted to Iyas.
A few months later I got an email from the Iyas Secretariat informing me that I was the only fellow for drama. It was my first National Writers Workshop.
And it also meant I had to keep my word. A few days after hearing I got accepted as fellow, I opened my FB account.
The rest is three years of internet history, full of links to anime songs and good reads, friend adds from nationally and internationally acclaimed writers as well as from beginning writers who for some strange reason think I’m a role model, pictures from Bacolod, Hong Kong, Macau, Negros Oriental, and Davao, and statuses that range from the aphoristic (I’ve been quoted elsewhere) to the emotional (embarrassingly emotional, I cringe at the thought of them) to the controversial.
The tail end of my time on FB began with that latter type of FB activity. Earlier this year I made controversial comments regarding the University of Southeastern Philippines in Davao, causing a barrage of negative feedback into my PM inbox. It was a delightfully bloody flood of trash talk in amusingly bad grammar, and I had fun responding to them. But my enjoyment was ended when I received negative feedback from my own friends, most especially those I expected would understand my side.
The illusion of having people who understood me was dispelled: even on online social media I was a polemicist through and through, and that condemned me to a life of solitude.
So I deactivated my account for a “cool-off” period from the world, to give me time to reflect on how I should deal with it. During my distance from FB I realized many things about it that just turned me off.
I read once that social media can depress you. This is perfectly understandable: you who are familiar with your own life have to deal with the vast pockets of boredom, not to mention the problems, that dominate it. But on FB all you see of other people’s lives is the fun they post. Even the emotional banter of an overly vocal boyfriend about his relationship sparks the envy of single friends. FB makes people envious by making them think how better off other people’s lives are. This is particularly true for me, as I am not photogenic at all (I used to answer before I had an account that I don’t have Facebook because I don’t think much of my face). To see friends post some carelessly good looking selfies depresses me. (God why am I so ugly)
I also realized that people become immature on FB. The temptation to say something that, with better judgement ought not be said, is too great, and FB is a landmine of tactlessness. The ease with which one can make remarks also decreases the possibility of self editing, and more often than not expression on FB needs to be workshoped. The risk of posting something badly written, specially because I have writer-friends, is terrifying.
On a related reason, there’s also the fact that anyone can use FB. Anyone. I don’t believe that intelligence is native, but I must admit that some people have grown up to be more intelligent than others. But anyone can use FB. Including the idiots. Yes, some brilliant people use FB (what with the great poet Cesar Aquino already posting his latest poems there), but if I had the freedom not to, why, I asked, must I be in a place where I have to swim in the intellectual septic tank of people with underdeveloped intellects? Why must I lump myself in the same category as buffoons who status about their bowel movements and their boyfies? Arguably, the temptation of the ivory tower was strong, but much of it is having been turned off by all the stupid things posted on FB.
And ultimately I realized there was something depressingly absurd about how FB works. You post, people like, and you grow to want more likes. I subscribe to the view that life itself is absurd, and I agree to Camus’ response on that, but posting “gutom much. MngAOn tA NiNy0” is hardly Sisyphus’ rock up the hill. FB is where you learn to crave for appreciation for exerting minimal effort.
And FB’s reward system is hardly about the amount of effort you make, either. Some not exactly good looking person who thinks he’s an intellectual (yes, I’m talking about myself) posts some link to an article on Brain Pickings, and he gets 5 likes, 10 if he’s lucky, almost entirely from his writer friends (who have probably read it before he did). Some ridiculously beautiful girl posts a photo of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart cuddling with the caption “Love is 4Ever” and she gets 30 to 50 likes. To really demonstrate the point: post a quote from The Myth of Sysiphus and you’re lucky to get more than 10 likes if you’re that not exactly good looking person again, but the jock whose profile pic is a topless selfie on the bathroom mirror showcasing his 4-pack gets 20 likes in the first 2 minutes for his “Gud MorNyt pipz! ^_^” The point is, unless you’re a really popular intellectual, FB’s reward system is not about how intelligent your point is, but about how many people like seeing you on their newsfeed. And cute (but not necessarily intelligent) people get hundreds of likes for the simple reason that they’re cute.
Considering all these I realized that my most fundamental values were contrary to how FB works. I believe in the importance of educated and moderated expression (I wouldn’t enroll in Creative Writing if I didn’t believe so), FB promotes tactlessness and stupidity. I want to stand up against commonly accepted folly (partly because I’m righteous, mostly because I enjoy shadenfreude). and FB promotes them. And I want to be heard and listened to (again, partly because I’m righteous, but mostly because I’m vain), FB is making me focus on other people and feel bad about myself because of it.
And so I deactivated my account indefinitely. Much as I was tempted to permanently delete it, the pictures there are valuable, and the contacts invaluable. If the need arises for me to contact people, I will open it for that purpose before deactivating it again.
I more than realize that getting out of FB cuts me off from regular connections with many, some of them quite valuable (I particularly regret losing contact with the brilliant Miguel Syjuco, who has been kind enough to add me). But this does not necessarily have to be the case. This blog for one is still a venue to hear from me. Most conveniently, I never stopped using my email address, Lefthandedsnake@yahoo.com, and I still use it to communicate with faraway people. And if I win the Asian Literary Prize (puhon!) as well as join other events, I still get the chance to meet writers personally. It isn’t as if I’ve deactivated myself. I am not my Facebook account after all.
But most importantly, there is something good in that very severing of connections. With a good book, a lot of paper, and things to think about, loneliness cannot help but become reflective solitude. And as Marjorie Evasco (who herself deactivated her FB account) puts it in the poem Animasola (now probably over-quoted because of me), “It is solitude that is the necessary caliper with which we chart our present reach, or measure the feel of infinity.”