I itch to check my phone. I look for it on my bedside table when I wake up in the morning. I reach for it in my coat pocket when I’m walking to the supermarket. But it’s freeing not to be able to constantly check it and spend hours browsing garbage on the internet. S. tells me about an app that blocks internet browsers and the ability to unblock them. She says she’s installed it and shows me how it works, why didn’t you tell me about this before? I say. I did, she says, you must not have been listening. I was probably on my phone, I say.
I toy with the idea of deleting my Facebook account, which I haven’t logged into for months anyway. Then I would truly be cut off from all the contacts on my phone whose email addresses aren’t in my Outlook address book, and dozens more. Real people who’ve been part of my life for good and bad: friends, acquaintances, enemies, relatives. Getting rid of social media on your phone is one thing, but Facebook? Yet all these years it’s been tracking me across the net through its icon to sell ads through real-time auctions, and still is, even though I never log in. All these years, reducing my friends and me to saleable data points, filtering our feeds, guiding our eyes to what’s most valuable to its interests…
To wean yourself off your skewed allegiances. To work yourself out of your fear of missing out and need for acceptance, the empty pleasures of instant communicability, in whatever way works for you. These are practical things that can be done at least. Futile gestures maybe, but what if enough people did it to reach negative critical mass: simply refused?
I haven’t yet dared to delete my Facebook account, but at least I no longer have Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter or the ability to browse the internet on my phone, and it already feels like a relief. I don’t carry it around with me everywhere at home; sometimes I even forget about it. I bring it on my walks to the supermarket and around the fields, but I don’t pull it out of my coat pocket as often since it only beeps when I get an email or text, and I know I can’t browse the internet when I’m bored or standing in a queue.
I left my phone at home for the first time in years and didn’t check it until a couple of hours after we returned. There were no emails and notifications anyway. I realize I don’t miss social media at all, perhaps because hardly any of what happened on them was meaningful in the first place. (Many of the meaningful events of my life may have come about through social media, it’s true, but I struggle to think of any that happened on them.) They create a feedback loop of desire, insecurity and validation that you only crave while you’re inside it. Delete the loop and it vanishes like the mirage it was. We knew this instinctively in the early days of the internet – when it was embarrassing to admit to being on social media, to have found a partner on a dating site and so on – but we forgot it as the virtual became normalized and our lives diminished.
The social media designers and bosses – those hijackers of the mind – know this better than anyone. In fact many of them use their platforms less than you’d think, and many won’t let their own children use them.
(I find the following statements online.
Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook: ‘I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won’t allow. I don’t want them on a social network.’
Facebook’s former vice-president for user growth Chamath Palihapitiya: ‘I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit.’
Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker: ‘When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, “I’m not on social media”. And I would say, “OK. You know, you will be”. And then they would say, “No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy”. And I would say, “We’ll get you eventually”. I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or two billion people … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains… The thought process was … how do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? … It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology…. The inventors, creators – it’s me, it’s Mark, it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people – understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.’)
S. has left her iPad on the sofa and on a whim I pick it up and log into Facebook to check my messages. There’s only one, from a friend asking if I’m coming to the party she posted an invite for, am I still living ‘out in the middle of nowhere’. When I try to reply a window pops up asking me to install the Messenger app. I refresh the page, try again and the same thing happens. That’s enough. I refresh again, click Settings and look for a ‘Delete account’ button. There is none, of course. I close the window and my eyes are immediately drawn down the page of status updates, pictures and comments. I catch myself, scroll back up and find the Help search bar, type in ‘delete account’ and am taken to a window where I can submit my account for deletion within fourteen days. I click the button. Who knows whether they’ll delete all the data they’ve collected on me through my likes, messages, the posts and pictures that other people tagged me in and so on. Perhaps it’s already out there anyway, being used, and deleting the account just hinders further collection. Luckily I don’t think I ever signed up any other apps or services through Facebook. I google what happens to your data after you delete your account, click on a link to a forum where someone has asked the same question, but the page is blocked by a sign-in page that requires me to sign in through Google or… Facebook. I turn off the iPad and put it away.