Why I’m Not on Facebook

I can’t remember exactly when I left Facebook. I’ve been off it for a few years now, and I don’t miss it – but it sometimes feels strange, knowing there is a whole social world that I’m not part of. But, even while I’m social-distancing I am not going back.

  • Social media breaks my concentration – even if I’m not actively engaging with it. I’m not disciplined enough to resist an engine designed to distract and addict me.
  • There are severe ethical problems with social media. Facebook’s convenience is at the cost of allowing dangerous and divisive misinformation to be transmitted. While this has been bad in the UK and US, it has proved lethal in some countries.
  • Large social media companies end up enforcing ‘community standards’ in terms of art, acceptable speech, identity and anonymity. These are sometimes patrolled by machine learning which is a rather blunt tool.
  • Some social media uses algorithmically-ordered timelines, which sort posts according to various metrics, including their ‘engagement’. In practise, this means commercial goals can override social needs, with some friends and updates being hidden for being insufficiently enticing. It’s the Situationist nightmare, with the spectacle taking over social relations (“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images“).
  • While Facebook makes it easy to stay in contact with hundreds of people, I think this is at the cost of short-circuiting deeper, direct interactions. Facebook is convenient but it does not offer proper human contact.

It feels a little strange to cut myself off from something that is important to so many people. I do feel that my quality of life is better without being on Facebook. Many of my views here were inspired by Cal Newport’s recent books on social media, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.

I do occasionally miss events and announcements, and it’s certainly harder to promote things when few people seem to stray outside of walled gardens like Facebook. Overall, though, I am far happier not being on Facebook.

Monthnotes – October 2020

October ended with the announcement of another lockdown, which makes me grateful that I did a little travelling. I visited Shropshire, Oxford, the Forest of Dean and spent a couple of days on the South Downs Way. The clocks going back brought in an abrupt winter and I’m now trying to get used to the daylight finishing before six.

This month, I’ve reduced the amount of live news that I’ve been consuming as it was making me anxious for little benefit. I’m still reading summaries and longform pieces, and I’m not missing much by not following every minor update.

My walking total was a fairly low 402,082 steps, with only one proper walk in the month – an average of just under 13,000 steps a day, and a maximum of just 34,727. But, despite the weather and my feelings of lethargy, I am still managing 10,500 steps a day. Just about.

The trip to Shropshire was a great chance to relax, and got me back into reading actual books. I managed to finish six this month, relatively high for 2020. Among them was Nick Hayes’ The Book of Trespass and Gareth Rees’ Unofficial Britain, both excellent.

I’ve watched a little more TV than usual. After a disappointing middle, Lovecraft Country rallied to finish its season on a very high note. The Haunting of Bly Manor managed to be incredibly tense and spooky, despite falling apart at the end. Walking Dead: The World Beyond is loathed by most of the critics I’ve read, but is a great show so far, and the apocalyptic mood is perfect.

On the PS4 I’ve mostly been playing The Last of Us Part 2. I’ve wanted to like this game so much, given the glorious scenery and strong ruined-world energy. In the end, the linear world design and grim murders have proved too much and made it all feel like a chore. I think I will be back to Death Stranding in November.

I saw three films: rewatches of Arrival and The Craft, and Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix. The last of these was stunning, with some great performances. I find Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman fascinating and loved the portrayals of them.

Retreat Day 232 – Back into Lockdown

And, on Halloween night, the government rushed out an announcement about a second national lockdown. This has felt inevitable, but even as recently as two weeks ago, the Prime Minister was brushing aside Labour calls for one. Everything about this pandemic feels shambolic.

Now that the initial shock of the announcement has worn off, I can see that I’m not practically affected by what has been announced. I’ve not been socialising indoors much anyway, I’m working from home, and most of my shopping has moved online. I’m not going to be practically affected.

The main effect is on my morale. We seem so far away from solving this issue. Wuhan is mostly back to normal. Thailand, New Zealand and Taiwan have sustained low caseloads. Australia has managed a day without new caseloads. Meanwhile Britain blunders through different approaches and announcements, with numbers rising.

The Prime Minister claimed to be optimistic about the future, promising renewed, faster testing. Which sounds great, but everything the government has done related to tracking and tracing so far has been a disaster. Every target set has been missed. Mid-March: we’ll turn the tide in 12 weeks. In May, we were told we’d be near normality by July. September, it was back to normal by Christmas.

Mistakes are going to be made during a crisis of this scale. But there seems to be a failure of leadership, with blunders and cronyism at all levels. I’m tired and I am angry, and I can’t see when this is going to be solved. We can only hope that the Johnson government is handling Brexit rather better than they are managing Covid, otherwise January’s Covexit is going to be a disster.