So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or are afraid of technology like my Mom (Hi, Mom!), you probably noticed that Facebook has been monkeying around with its design quite a bit these days. As is usually the case, Facebook users around the world flew off the handle, and went berserk.
I work in the web software and services field, and we often have to do redesigns of our software to improve functionality and appearance. And much like with Facebook, every time we make a change, somebody is upset by it. They liked it the way it was. And usually, I’m of the opinion that look, technology is change. If websites don’t change and update, they will eventually become irrelevant. And for a market leader like Facebook, it’s even more important that they continue to change and innovate, or other websites will come in and take over.
So usually, I don’t begrudge Facebook wanting to change and update their service. I really don’t. Innovate, build, evolve. It’s your world, and you can do whatever you’d like. And as a long-time technologist, I’m extremely flexible. I can adjust to new layouts, functionality, options, etc., without much effort on my part. (For an interesting retrospective on Facebook designs from 2005 to 2009, check out this blog post.)
The redesign rolled out at the beginning of this week, as well as the announcement of what the new Facebook layout will look like was something else, however. In one fell swoop, Facebook went from being a fairly passive, static website experience to becoming the web equivalent of a CNBC Screen during market close.
There’s so much going on at once, so many places to look, so much movement. In addition to fighting itself for attention, Facebook has decided to take away my ability to determine what it is I would like to see in my “feed.” It’s moving certain stories into a special area to highlight them. It’s got a constantly updating ticker of every single thing that my “friends” are doing every second of the day. It’s got a list of friends who are popping online, offline, and into chat. It’s got advertisements that are often irrelevant (or offensive). It’s suggesting that I subscribe to people I’ve never heard of. And navigating the labyrinth of privacy settings, display options, and other configuration variables has become next to impossible without a GPS, a translator, and a couple of Sherpa with mules.
It has become too much for me. Maybe I’m just getting too old. Maybe I’m behind the times. Or maybe I’m just really tired of being unable to focus my attention on any one thing in my life for more than 30 seconds at a time. It used to be that I would get into a zone, put my head down, and make huge strides toward completing a project. These days it seems like I can’t focus on a single topic for more than a few minutes before I get distracted by something else. This new Facebook design seems to require that I sit there in front of my computer for hours and hours on end, watching every little thing that every person I have ever known does during the course of their day and reacting with them.
But I’ve realized something…I know so much about what’s going on in most of my friends’ lives now that when I get together with them or talk to them on the telephone (you know, that thing you use to send text messages…it’s actually capable of voice communication too), I don’t have anything to talk about. They know what I’m doing, I know what they’re doing. There’s no joy in discovering what’s new. This redesign reminded me that I really don’t care all that much about 98% of the people that I am friends with, and certainly not to the point that I need to see what photos they are commenting on, or whose comment on someone else’s post they “liked.” I’m overloaded with information in general. Now, thanks to the new redesign, I’m also getting overloaded with information about people whose lives just aren’t that interesting to begin with.
Then there’s the privacy thing. Look, I’m not naïve enough to think that online privacy is actually a “thing” anymore. I know it’s not. And even if it were, it’s not like I have much need for it, since I spill most of my deep, dark secrets in great detail and many words on this very blog. But the casual disdain with which Facebook treats my data is shocking. It seems like twice a week, they make some change to the way they handle my personal data (making sure that I’m opted-in by default, whether or not I want to be), and then forgetting to close some security hole that lets the friend of a friend of a friend find my home phone number even though I’ve set it as being visible to only my family.
Watching all of this go on for years and years now, I’m beginning to wonder why I’m still taking part. I don’t enjoy the time I spend on Facebook. Yet I’m going back several times a day, every single day. I don’t want to know every little thing that goes on in the lives of people I barely know. I don’t want them to know how to get ahold of me on a moment’s notice.
So, this week, I’ve decided that I’m leaving Facebook. I don’t like what it has become and what it is becoming. I don’t like using it. I don’t trust them. Regardless of what you think, Facebook isn’t free. You’re paying to use Facebook…just not with money. And for me, the cost isn’t worth the benefit anymore. I already live my digital life within the Google ecosystem. They have just as much (if not more) personal data on me than Facebook ever will, but I get so much more out of it. I use Google search, Gmail, Google Voice, Google Music, Google Docs, Google Shopping, Google Reader, Android, The Android Marketplace, Google+, Picasa, Picasaweb, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Finance, Google Earth, and probably a bunch of other products I don’t even realize. If I’m going to sell my personal identify and online privacy, I’m at least going to do it for a good price. And Facebook can’t meet the reserve.
I’m leaving my Facebook account open, with only the barest of personal information available. And my blog will still post links to my new blog posts in the status update field automatically. But I’m done with Facebook otherwise. I’m tired of living in a world where I’m drowning in the minutae of other people’s lives. I’m tired of inhabiting a universe where every millisecond of my attention is being vied for by tickers, and blinking lights, and scrolling feeds. I’m tired of a computer algorithm telling me what I’m most interested in. And I’m tired of trying to negotiate “friendships” with the woman who sat next to my mom in church one Sunday 15 years ago, and decided that, because she knows my name, we’re now BFFs.
Life is short, and Facebook is stealing too much of it away from me. So I’m leaving. And this time, it will probably be for the long haul. I won’t say never, but I just don’t see the benefit anymore.
I will still be on Google+ (which is a much better “social” network experience), and available via email at matt (at) mattarmstrongmusic dot com. And of course, I’ll still be here on the blog, spilling my guts to the anonymous world. I mean, it’s cheaper than therapy, right?