My family and I just got back from a long vacation in Hawaii, and as part of clearing my head during the trip, I decided it was finally time to delete my Facebook account. I've been pondering it for quite a while, but inertia is a strong force to counteract. I think that's one of the reasons that Facebook is so successful. Nevertheless, I decided to buck the trend and kill my account.
Why would I ever want to delete my Facebook account?
Well, there are a lot of things about Facebook that I don't really like, but the biggest reason is being more intentional about my social life and relationships. While you can't deny that Facebook is a very "social" tool, I personally believe that it adversely affects relationships. Facebook makes you "feel" like you're connecting with people, but the majority of the time, I don't really think that you are. A random comment/like here or there on someone's wall doesn't really "engage" with that person or build a relationship -- it's really just a reminder that "oh, hey, I'm still alive". Maybe I'm an exception, but if I look at my personal relationships with friends and family that I care about, I don't feel that my relationships have been at all enhanced through interaction on Facebook. In fact, I'm quite possibly less engaged now than I was before I really started to use Facebook.
Why is Facebook so ineffective at building relationships?
One of the most annoying things about Facebook to me is the amount of noise that comes with it. News Feeds are largely polluted with posts that don't add any value to relationships or community. If I had to roughly estimate, I'd say that I generally care about 5% of the posts on my news feed, and the other 95% is purely noise. It takes a lot of time to identify the 5% of posts that are meaningful.
Additionally, the passive, broadcast nature of Facebook promotes both narcissism and exhibitionism. Personally, I don't find either of these to be positive attributes of the social network
Won't I miss out by not being on Facebook?
There's certainly a possibility that this is the case. It's definitely a risk I'm willing to take, though. If there's something important regarding friends or family, I'm sure I'll find out about it through other means (otherwise it must not have been that important, right?). The biggest thing that I can think of are event invites, but I get those so rarely that I don't think I'll be missing much. Evite is a much better (and more commonly used) tool for event invitations than Facebook, anyway.
My goal as a result of all of this is to be a lot more intentional in my relationships. Do I really need to have hundreds of friends on Facebook (to feel popular)? Do I even really know most of those people? Instead of wasting time on Facebook, I plan to engage people in more meaningful ways. My approach will still involve technology and the Internet, but it will be much more focused in nature.
I'll continue to rely on email, IM, and Kik for messaging. I certainly don't need Facebook for messaging. We're starting to take advantage of Skype a lot more, as it is a great way to really keep in touch with family (particularly as the kids grow older with family spread throughout the country). I would like to use it more for connecting with friends, too. Oh, and I may even use the telephone (gasp).
Social networks absolutely still have a place, but I feel like they need to be more focused online communities in order to be effective and serve a purpose. I plan to start using LinkedIn more for professional, technology, and business networking. Our church (Mars Hill) has a fantastic social network called The City that we use to plan for community groups, other events, post prayer requests, etc. These social networks have a specific purpose, and they serve it well.
I'll try to start posting a bit more frequently my LiveCloud blog. I think a blog is a much better and richer medium for information sharing than Facebook is (and Facebook is most definitely not a blog).
Then, there's Twitter. I love Twitter and get a lot of real value out of it. News, information, wisdom, ideas. Twitter has an abundance of information, and I find it to be a great medium for sharing articles, nuggets of information, thoughts, etc. I would much rather spend time reading through tweets and linked articles than reading through my Facebook news feed. Since I've started to use Twitter more, I made the decision to decouple it from my blog on LiveCloud since a lot of what I'm posting now just doesn't make sense on my personal blog (since I'm not using Twitter for personal status updates for the most part anymore).
Family Interaction Online
We used to run our family site on Social Strata's social network called Groupee. Groupee was initially a general purpose social network with personal and group sites that we used heavily for keeping in touch with our family. A few years back, Groupee had been repurposed into a music-oriented social network that didn't make as much sense for a family site and caused some confusion within our family. Many members of our family had started using Facebook more commonly, and I didn't fight the flow of our users to Facebook. The group on Groupee dwindled to the point of being unused. We had even created a Facebook group for family members on Facebook, but the reality is that Facebook's groups are utterly pointless (especially when they're private). It literally never got used after it was first created. As a result of abandoning our private, walled family site, I believe the family is more disconnected now than it once was.
When we were actively using our family site on Groupee, it was a great place for us to "gather" privately as a family to share news, plan events, and keep in touch as we lived our lives. Once people moved to Facebook, instead of people intentionally sharing with family, the mentality was completely different since the majority of people broadcast nuggets of news and information to a much wider audience. The connections were diluted substantially as a result.
Over time, we (Social Strata) eventually repurposed the Groupee social network into a LiveCloud personal blogging network and a separate community platform called Hoop.la. Hoop.la is an absolutely perfect platform for a family site! Our family site that once was on Groupee has now automatically become its own independent Hoop.la site, complete with our full history of blog posts! All we need to do is start using it again! And I plan to do just that. It'll be the perfect place to plan family events thanks to Hoop.la's new Calendar feature. With the latest Clips release, it's also a great place to share and organize photos, videos, and any other types of files. Hoop.la also supports your own dedicated iPhone app for your community, so we'll be sure to take advantage of that, too.
The best part of it all? It's totally secure and private. We don't have any privacy concerns to deal with that are inherent with Facebook. We (my family) own the data, too, as opposed to Facebook who uses your data for profit.
The (Not So?) Surprising Reaction
I posted about deleting my Facebook account on my Facebook wall when we were on vacation, and I was somewhat surprised at some people's reaction. People wondered how would we ever keep in touch without Facebook? "How will I know what's going on with the family if we aren't all on Facebook?" "It was nice knowing you!" To me, these types of comments simply expose Facebook's biggest flaw: they're building a dependency within individuals to communicate primarily through Facebook (which is understandable since that is what is best for Facebook). This dependency is what ultimately degrades the quality of relationships and causes more separation. Instead of sitting behind a computer all day "disengaging" with people on Facebook, I'd rather be intentionally using tools that ultimately help me engage in a real way offline. Sure, Facebook could possibly be that medium, and lots of people may use it that way, but for me and what I've seen on Facebook, it just doesn't work out that way in practice.
What about my data?
The biggest downside I could see from deleting my account was the loss of all my data. As it turns out, there are easy tools to download all of your data so that you don't have to lose anything. First off, Facebook has a pretty good tool for backing up all of your data.
Account Settings -> Download Your Information. Your backup will take some time to prepare, so you will be emailed a link when the backup is done and ready to be downloaded. It's in a nice HTML format so you can see all of your posts (with comments), as well as photos, messages, etc.
That works for a lot of your data, but it doesn't include photos other people posted of you and tagged you in. I also thought it might be useful to archive those pictures, and it turns out that there's a tool for that, too: PhotoGrabber. This tool just downloads all of the pictures according to your preset settings. I used it to download pictures I'm tagged in, but it can do even more than that if you want it to.
Since I'm an information nerd, I set up ThinkUp on my website for importing and analyzing Facebook and Twitter data. It's a fantastic tool developed by Gina Trapani for analyzing activity on social networks. I'll use it actively going forward for my Twitter account, but it's just another archive of my Facebook data, too.
Delete My Account Already!
Deleting your Facebook account is pretty easy once you figure out how to do it. Facebook makes it pretty easy to "deactivate" your account under Security Settings. This just disables your account and allows you to come back any time to re-activate it. If you wish to permanently delete your account, though, you must submit your request using the Permanently Delete Account form. Then, you will have 14 days to change your mind, after which your account will be irrevocably and permanently deleted (and presumably all of your data is deleted with it, but who knows, right?).
The Bottom Line
After I deleted my account, I felt a sense of relief. Facebook can be stressful. I won't be burdened by it anymore. I also hope to engage in more meaningful relationships with people now, too, by intentionally connecting with others through more direct means of communication.
Note: I'm not trying to start a trend or encourage anyone else to abandon Facebook. If you use it and like it, that's great! I just wanted to share my point of view and perception of what Facebook has become and why I've made this decision.