christopher patrick bruton

Reinventing my digital life (or why I'm leaving Facebook)

January 31, 2021

Facebook used to be fun. I joined in 2006 and for many years it was a nice way to interact with and share photos with my friends. There were ads, yes, but they weren’t obnoxious. There wasn’t as much of an emphasis on outside content, videos, and memes.

Lately I have realized that Facebook just isn’t much fun anymore. It has become hyper-focused on monetizing my behavior and manipulating me to just keep scrolling and clicking. There is more content in my news feed from business pages and advertisers than there is from my friends. When friends do post, it’s most often a link to something else, instead of their own original photos or writing. I’ve been spending just as much time on Facebook as I always have, yet I don’t enjoy it anymore—I visit out of habit or boredom and the algorithms keep me scrolling.

There are also privacy concerns and questionable ethics. I know I’m about 15 years too late but I have finally decided that I don’t want advertisers knowing everything about me. The number of sites across the Web that include Facebook trackers is kind of horrifying. So Facebook combines my browsing history with everything I post and everything I click on (or hover over, or linger on) to create an advertising profile and deliver “sponsored” content to me.

I’m obviously a fairly tech-minded person and there are ways that I can (and do) defeat tracking by Facebook to an extent. But my friends? Family members? Not everyone has such awareness or skills. And by participating in the site I am essentially complicit in the erosion of their privacy and manipulation of their behavior.

Enough is enough. I’m leaving. At least for now. I am going to deactivate my account. Why not delete my account entirely? Because I’m human, and I know I might change my mind later. I have 15 years of history and content on the site and I’m not 100% sure I want to give that up yet. So deactivating it is. I commit to staying deactivated for at least 6 months. After that, I will evaluate and decide what to do next.

What about other social media? Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? …TikTok? The short answer is no, none of those either. I had very inactive Twitter and Instagram accounts which I have already deactivated. I never got very enthusiastic about them in the first place. Mastodon? I like the federated concept. And I’ve tried it—it’s certainly ad-free and more ethical than commercial social media, but the user experience is much like Twitter and it’s just not a style that has kept my interest. I would be willing to give it another try some day, though.

So what now? If I’ve eliminated nearly all social media from my life, what will I do with that extra time and energy? Well, I’m not becoming a hermit. I will find other ways to keep in touch with my friends in family. More texts, emails, and even phone calls. There will be some people that I lose contact with, yes. But that has been happening anyway, despite our activities on Facebook. I want to focus on strengthening my relationships with the people that are closer to me.

I want to write more. This journal/blog is my starting point. I don’t intend this to be particularly polished, professional, or topical. I want to provide some insight into my life while also improving my writing skills. I offer this journal as an alternative for anyone who misses my occasional Facebook updates.

I want to read more. There are many personal/independent bloggers, especially in tech spheres, who write interesting content without trying to monetize my views. I have set up my own instance of Miniflux to use as a free feed reader accessible from anywhere. I also want to spend more time on aggregators such as Hacker News, and yes, even Reddit, albeit with a carefully chosen selection of subreddits to avoid getting sucked into time-wasting silliness.

I want to spend more time on my hobbies, both online and off. I have started playing piano again, and I’m trying to learn some new pieces (right now Beethoven’s Bagatelles Op. 119 and Schumann’s Kinderszenen) and actually improve my skills a bit. I’m learning Swedish and Latin. I want to do more coding/software development, maybe learn Go, Ruby, or Rust. And of course continue reading novels (in paper and audiobook form).

And I’m not holding my breath, but I’m hoping eliminating social media will make me more productive at my day job. We’ll see 😅.

I recognize that in 2021, leaving social media is a privilege. I do not rely on Facebook for my income or my career. I live with my spouse so I always have someone to hang out with, despite the pandemic and geography. I’ve talked to a few friends who have said that social media is still an important part of their social life, and they would be lonely without being able to engage with people online. I respect that, though I encourage everyone to carefully consider if there are ethical alternatives that could meet that need instead.

Whether you’re a friend, family member, someone who followed me on Facebook, or even a complete stranger, let’s keep in touch. Bookmark this site or add it to your feed reader. I’m aiming to post at least a few times each month. And you’re welcome to send me an email if you want to talk or to tell me about your own blog or website.