Love, Etc. #2: Deleting Facebook / Digital Commons
Whatever your relationship is with Facebook — and the beyond-obvious joke of “It’s complicated” is inadmissible here — Facebook is in your relationships.
In the midst of another news cycle about Facebook’s behaviour as a corporate citizen, one that’s spawned a “#DeleteFacebook” mini-movement, some disillusioned users have been dealing with what it means, or would mean, to delete their profiles on the platform. Facebook is the closest thing we have to a secular, green-grassed commons, digital or otherwise, and when so many people you like and love are still on it — and are they ever on it — then leaving, or deleting, isn’t just about whether or not you want to.
Like anything that gets blamed for everything that goes wrong between people, Facebook isn’t fundamentally good or bad for relationships. Every delight in a rediscovered kindergarten bestie is matched by that moment of horror when you see what the actual what someone you like or love has posted. But so much of what’s supposedly “happening” is basic, banal information repopulating itself with urgent velocity and volume.
I half-abandoned Facebook as it started to look more and more like a supermarket flyer advertising stay-at-home moms alongside dish soap and yoga pants; to me, it’s a neo-noir maze of blinking memes, grainy looping gifs of animals doing something sad or weird, and high-def, high-speed helicopter cooking videos for food that viral articles about plant-based diets would advise against eating. I feel lost when I click a notification only to have opened something like a cartoon bazaar called “Marketplace,” I think, instead of a note from my mom. When someone does message me (don’t message me), and I have to download the messenger app, again, it feels like embarking on a quest of logic puzzles and trickery. And, look, everyone’s algorithm spins a different timeline (and I have spent real time “hiding” people on Facebook whose content does not indicate a respect for the empathetic reserves of others), but mine is a fusillade of try-hard normalcy and show-offery, which are sometimes the same.
I don’t like it, but I still have it. I love seeing posts from, like, my friend Ben, who hands out peanut-butter sandwiches to whoever wants them while he goes on megawalks around Toronto; before the last U.S. presidential election, I unfriended some people (you know why), and in so doing, acknowledged that I would probably never see or hear from them again, which, who cares. Pari passu.
It’s a privilege to be connected enough not to need Facebook. (Relationships might be developed, re-established, or performed on Facebook, but an online platform is no kind of cure for the for-real loneliness epidemic.) The only thing I would actively miss would be general creeping, but Instagram has better intel on who my ex-boyfriends are dating. Facebook has always really been “for” Gen Xers and Boomers and whatever my parents are. When they all eventually got on Facebook, so did my family’s cache of content, mostly the cute stuff of various kids, cats and dogs, and much of my family’s communication.
Deleting Facebook would mean missing out on the steady, small-time, quantity-style interactions with my family, that the rest of them would still get. Facebook’s digital commons is also a micro-commons for a family, and when someone doesn’t use the shared platform, or doesn’t use it in the same way, stuff — cute stuff! — will get missed.
Facebook itself is a living elegy for the kind of connection that is flying off me like social debris during the domestic-rocket-trajectory of my life right now: the close-by family, forever friends, anything resembling a church or service group or bowling league, or other stability-source that millennials just don’t … get. I already deleted What’sApp in a surge of productivity, and lost the fun group chat with my sisters and our cousin that bopped between dating, holidays, food and politics. Now, I don’t really know what’s going on with anyone. When you lose the little stuff with someone, you end up losing most of it.
The "Love, Etc." column also appears in the Toronto Star.
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