A step toward replacing Facebook

One of the things I noted when I left Facebook was that I ended up outsourcing my social labor to my wife. Sarah Jeong wrote a great piece for The Verge about her experiences without Facebook, and found similar gaps in the Facebook-less life.

The real problem only began to present itself much later. I missed big personal news from people I knew. I missed dance parties and house parties and casual get-togethers. I was the last to find out about births and the last to see baby pictures. Classmates got engaged and married and I didn’t find out until after my hiatus.

The epitome of this phenomenon was when I sat down to interview my friend Dia Kayyali, an activist organizing against Facebook’s real names policy. “You’re coming to my birthday party, right?” they said, as we were leaving the cafe where I had interviewed them.

I froze in my tracks. “What party?”

“Oh,” said Dia. “I forgot you’re off Facebook.”

Please read the whole piece. The subtitle is “Facebook is an emotional labor machine, and if you want to leave it, you’re going to have to start doing a lot of work.” It’s a great look at why a thoughtful person would still use Facebook, despite it’s drawbacks.

I believe that distributed and remote workers need to take responsibility for social plans. Maintaining social ties is literally a matter of life and death. I am out of sight and out of mind and not the center of anyone else’s world.

How do you keep up with folks without Facebook? One way I’ve found is Monica, an “Open source personal CRM.”

You can use Monica to log when you do something with a friend, and get reminders when you haven’t talked to someone in a while. Want to go out for lunch or a beer? Take a look at who you haven’t seen in a while. Since it’s open source, if you don’t trust them with your data you can run it yourself.

The drawbacks are that you need to maintain the data yourself (instead of Facebook) and that it focuses a little too much on phone calls.

If that’s too much, another trick I’ve used is to create a Trello board with the months of the year on it. Put a card for each friend in the column for your last contact (however you define that) and you can see at a glance who you should catch up with.

I’m not perfect about keeping up. If you are reading this and realize we haven’t hung out in a while, please invite me out. I’ll say no because in May I’m going to London for a work trip and moving to Ann Arbor, but we’ll catch up after the dust settles. And I’ll be sure to log it in Monica.

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Leaving Facebook

Now seems like a good time to talk about when I deleted Facebook in January of 2016, and why I came back.

It started off with buying some boxed wine.[1] I texted my wife a picture of the options to find out what she wanted.

A couple days later, I started seeing ads for boxed wine on Facebook. That freaked me out. I had never looked at boxed wine online. I had never bought boxed wine online. I had no relationship between my online identity and boxed wine. I try to limit what Facebook knows about my browsing habits. [2]. Yet here was an ad for boxed wine, online.

My first thought was that Facebook was looking at the images in my text messages and using that for ad targeting. It's a simple but wrong explanation, like the idea that Facebook is eavesdropping on microphones,  Both errors come from anthropomorphizing Facebook, assuming that Facebook uses the same senses that we do. The scary fact is that Facebook et al have enough data on us that they don't need to listen to us or watch us.

Did you know that Facebook ads have a "Why was I shown this ad?" link? I wanted to know why I was seeing boxed wine ads, so I clicked it to find out.

If you don't have experience buying online advertising, let me translate: DLX gave Facebook a list of personally identifiable information (PII) and calls it an audience. Facebook then links that PII to accounts, and uses it's ad algorithms to decide who to show ads to.

DLX, it turns out, in Datalogix.  They get a list of the things you buy with loyalty cards, and then matches those purchases with your online identity. If you take a look at that link, it has this line: "The company reports that it keeps the information anonymous and gives consumers the option to opt out of data collecting and reporting by selecting the opt-out option on their website."

Here's what I saw when I clicked the Opt Out link on Facebook:

If that's gibberish to you, it's basically screenshots showing that Datalogix's opt-out process is really broken and neglected.

So my options are either stop using loyalty cards (and pay more for groceries), or stop giving value to the data that I'm generating. I made a step toward the second, and deactivated my Facebook account. It was deactivated basically from February to November of 2016.

I don't have too many insights about my life without Facebook. I didn't miss it really. I had one person contact my wife to ask if I'd blocked them over something, and we then had a good email conversation.

I came back partly due to the election. I felt that maybe my "no politics on Facebook" rule had been part of the problem – assuming that we wouldn't elect a nightmare. Maybe my voice needed to be heard. I wouldn't swing an election, but if I spoke out maybe I wound help convince a couple friends who were on the fence. Naive, yes, but I was looking for something to do. Anything.

The other reason I came back was because I was basically offloading a lot of social labor on my wife. She was now the sole invitee to events because our friends couldn't invite me on Facebook. She would tell me news from friends that I couldn't see elsewhere. My subdivision uses a Facebook group to share community news, which I had to get from my wife. I wasn't completely off Facebook, I had unconsciously delegated it. So I rejoined.

After all the recent news, I'm off Facebook again. I'm trying to ween myself off of algorithmic timelines (in favor of chronological) since they are dopamine addiction machines. Also, the snooping they do on phones, how they are polarizing the country, and the newsfeed being largely garbage all made the decision pretty easy. I may come back again, but for now I'm sticking to RSS feeds and (non-algorithmic) Twitter.

1: A boxed, collapsible bag is a pretty great packaging system for non-carbonated beverages like wine. It keeps O2 out while letting you have as much (or as little) as you want. Like beer in a can, it's a great package that has undeserved quality connotations.

2: Firefox just launched a really cool plugin that will segment your Facebook browser identity from your other browsing. Highly recommended.

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