I have been mostly Facebook free for about six months now.
I do still visit on occasion to watch public meetings of local governments, but that’s it. Soon as the meeting is over, I close the tab and get out of Dodge.
There’s nothing else there for me anymore.
Not memes or videos of cats or even catching up with old Army buddies. Most of them have long since left, anyway, after the new wore off. Not community sites littered with the negative pronouncements of the perpetually irate or offended.
Not old girlfriends, who tend to have beer bellies now. Not family or friends, either.
They’re there on social media of course. A lot of us are. There are an estimated 223 million Facebook users in the U.S. in 2020, out of a population of somewhere around 330 million. So, only about 107 million of us don’t use Facebook. That’s startling. And while I can’t speak for others who’ve never signed up or walked away after a while, I can say I haven’t even missed it at all. I don’t miss it now.
For one thing, there used to be a time when we were taught not to argue politics or religion in public. There was also a clear line between fact and fancy, as well as news and opinion, and most adults operated under the assumption it was best to keep our politics to ourselves when we were out among people we didn’t know well, or among people we did know who had different opinions.
Not to try and sneak anything past anyone, mind you, but to be polite to others. It was called being courteous.
Those times are disappearing, while the contrary to manners runs rampant on social media if you let it.
As social media gets bigger, other things fade, too – not least of which is an ability to distinguish fact from fiction and too much information is just what it says it is. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before and seem to know less than we ever did.
Maybe Facebook exists because of our inherent narcissism. Or it’s a byproduct of the self-esteem movement, which taught many in a generation they were excellent and everybody else was only average, at best.
Or maybe it’s a result of being marketed too all our lives by people trying to sell us something, and told we can “have it our way,” and the “customer is always right.” Truth is, we can’t always have it our way and we’re not always right.
Or maybe it’s because of something inherent in our natures, something the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said back in the 1800s: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
Judging solely by some of the lunacies one sees on social media and about free speech these days, he’s not wrong. Granted, there is what I think is irony in a newspaper editor in his weekly opinion column rambling on about opinions expressed on social media, and how glad he is to be away from all of that mess.
Perhaps I am being hypocritical, and if so I apologize for it. I also note that I don’t blame Facebook for its worst elements, just as I don’t blame Ford Motor Company for that idiot in an F250 who nearly ran me off the road the other day.
Facebook and its cousins Twitter and YouTube and Google are true marvels, and they open up so much to all of us. At its best, social media can be a uniter, can inform people faster than newspapers ever dreamt about and the opportunities it provides to learn or connect with others are endless.
What’s more, there are many good-souled human beings I know who handle Facebook with aplomb and grace and humor (my wife is one, Pembroke luminary Alex Floyd is another). But at the end of the day it’s like any other machine or technological advancement we use as a tool to make our lives better or richer or safer. Look at guns.
In the right hands, they provide safety and can free a people. In the wrong hands, they can be used to steal or shoot up a school or keep a people in chains. They’re tools. And how they’re used says more about the person using them than it does the tool.
So, anyhow, I’m glad I quit. It doesn’t matter much in the great scheme of things, but it matters to me.
Whitten is BCN editor.