Closing down my Tumblr was an interesting experience, emotionally speaking. I felt a large pang of bittersweet nostalgia. It brought me a lot of entertainment. And yes I would miss things going forward; the easy access to solarpunk content, the fandom posts that flood after new episodes/novel/games are released the people a follow for their humour. However none of it would dramatically affect my life. If anything since quitting it I’ve had more time and energy to focus on actually creating content instead of reposting. And thinking about it, it would be much the same for twitter and Instagram. Sure I would worry about missing out on entertainment, but that would fade quite quickly as I move on, the people who I really care about I can see and talk with in person. But Facebook? Facebook didn’t feel that simple.
And this got me thinking what is it that makes Facebook so hard to quit? I walked through the same mental steps in my head of leaving. Again, sure I would miss the entertainment but I would live. Everyone I care about I can see or can reach through messaging apps. Then it hit me. What would happen the next big party or gathering was arranged. I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t be kept in the loop for that. I wouldn’t have the reminders that help my terrible memory and planning skills. This was something that would impact my life. This would be something tangible. And I don’t think this is just unfounded FOMO. I myself am guilty of neglecting friends who aren’t on Facebook. Inviting them much later and not keeping them as informed as those who get it through posting on the event wall. This isn’t out of maliciousness. As someone with terrible organisational skills covering multiple bases is something I struggle with.
And this is it. Facebook is not just entertainment. Its social life infrastructure. It’s how we organise our lives and stay in contact with family. We announce our big moments like births, engagements and new jobs and use it instead of cards to wish each other a happy birthday. Some workplaces won’t hire people if they don’t have an active Facebook to check. This is why despite having so many scandal’s crammed into one year, it has been incredibly hard to shift people away from the platform. Unlike Myspace (remember that?) which had a fairly rapid desertion by its users to Facebook, there’s actually a degree of cost to a person to switch away from Facebook
I have heard rumblings that as Facebook is now basically a form of infrastructure, much like telephones, should be nationalised. However the idea of a centralised authority being in control of that level of personal information and potential manipulation is just as terrifying. No one single entity should hold this much power over something so fundamental to connecting to other humans. If we are going to have this technology, it needs to be kept as neutral as possible. I personally am a strong advocate for both the federated model, like mastodon, Pleroma, pixelfed and many other new projects or the distributed model like the Scuttlebutt SSB network.
There are alternatives to things like FB events. There are independent event organising tools like meetup, get together, etc. However these have a huge disadvantage of relying on email as the primary form of communication and updates. We have been trained to rely on the notification system of our phone to feed us updates passively and checking email has basically stopped being a good form of real-time updating. Yes, some of these services do have apps, but I feel bad for demanding my friends create a new account and install the app on a service they don’t know or trust.
If enough people started using these services those feelings of being a nuisance would go away of course. It is the eternal catch 22 of trying to get people to shift social networks. People will not use a new service if others are not already there to show it’s worth it. And for those of us who champion new social networks it can feel like banging your head against a brick wall. I myself have been trying for over a year and a half now to convince my friends to join me on mastodon. I have had limited success with a few, but many aren’t willing to try.
This leads to a troubling question: how do you convince people to leave a platform they rely on? It’s becoming the norm to expect that Facebook is untrustworthy, but this increasing discomfort with how they pervade our lives never seems enough to fight against the inertia of using them as a social norm. People tut and moan and are horrified whenever a Data use scandal breaks, but they are never shocked enough to let go of the benefits Facebook gives as social infrastructure.
Unfortunately the only way to combat this is to lead the way. As previously discussed, there’s a sort of social embarrassment about trying to force people out of the path of least resistance. To force people to actively look at and go outside the already agreed social norms. Forcing people to look at the fundamental habits and assumptions we all collectively run on will be met with a degree of annoyance and frustration. There is something about the way the human brain operates that does not liked to be disturbed from its normal operating pattern. I’ve got a few friends who are vegan, and the amount of ‘hur dur have to tell everyone your vegan’ jokes they have to endure would drive me nuts.
You have to be willing to rock the boat and be the annoying person that asks their friends to do the extra steps to RSVP to your birthday or after work drinks. It can help to actually say upfront why you’re doing it; Say, “I don’t like how all-encompassing fb has become, so I want to try something different” say “I’m trying to get off Facebook, so I’m trying something new”. People tend to be more understanding when you show your motivation. In the end, things won’t change if there aren’t people willing to be the first. To go against the grain. All too often people will say “someone should do something” without the follow up “and that someone will be me”. Change never just happens, especially not at large scale. It take months and years of individual people taking those small steps, being the pioneers, being the early adopters, being the nagging friend pushing people to try new ways of doing things to slowly build up momentum. If we are to oust FB from the core of our social infrastructure it won’t be a big switch. It will be a long process of people taking the time to try out new things and drag others along with them.
So next me you are arranging your birthday or housewarming, or any big event, take the time to try a new invite service. Be the one who takes the time to go against the grain. Change starts with the small choice. It can be hard at first, but nothing will change until we take the time to resist the urge to go the easy route and to try new things.
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