In retrospect if I’m being honest our relationship had been in trouble for some time.
Phone picture from Shutterstock
It had all started off innocently enough, sharing some photos of my latest trip or cycling exploit, exchanging stories and reconnecting with old friends.
I was even learning about events and discoveries relevant in my professional life, picking up on conference talks and learning about grant outcomes and important dates.
Before I knew it “she” knew everything about me, my wife, kids, mother, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces. She also knew where I worked, who my friends were, and what I Liked!
Then last month she started sending me unwelcome messages saying that she wanted access to my phone’s address book, camera, and the ability to send SMS messages. For the first time I said I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.
But she wouldn’t take no for an answer! I started getting messages saying that our old way of communicating was no longer going to be supported, and that she needed unfettered access to my phone and that she wanted to be able contact anyone in my address book!
How could I explain to her that I’m not sure I trusted her?
She was also getting more pushy and sneaky about her products and trying to tempt me to have extra-marital affairs with young women in my area despite knowing about my wife and children.
Then I found out that she’d been manipulating the updates people saw in a “social experiment” to see if they could make them happy or sad. Was there nothing she wouldn’t do?
If she was just a person I could have explained to her my problems with the relationship, but she was Facebook, the multi-billion dollar company that makes money by knowing everything about you.
It’s not all laughing babies and selfies
Although I enjoy seeing pictures of my friends enjoying themselves, Facebook isn’t all beer and skittles.
The recent Israeli-Palestinian and Russian-Ukraine conflicts had divided my friends in two. Should I be taking sides or might that affect my grant outcomes? How did this all get mixed up?
Despite being a big supporter of its work, Amnesty was continually letting me know that if I was feeling too happy that day it had another example of the misery that mankind inflicts upon itself that I should be concerned about.
Then one day while reading an online newspaper, an advertisement for a small hotel I stay at 650km away came up. I started realising that I was leaving my digital fingerprints all over the web and that companies like Facebook and Google were not afraid to use them for commercial gain. I felt exposed.
My dependence upon Facebook had snuck up on me. Why was the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing at night to check my “status updates”? Was www.facebook.com an involuntary reflex action during times of boredom?
Was my mood and self-esteem invariably linked to how many “Likes” I’d recorded that day?
Were my posts about me, or about “Facebook me”, some idealised being that jet-sets around the world using gigantic telescopes, setting PBs on heroic cycling endeavours to out-do his other middle-aged (mostly male) Friend’s physical exploits, is the ideal family man and yet still wants his football team to win?
Was there a better use of my time? Did I like what Facebook was making me become?
My own social experiment
So one day I just stopped checking my Facebook status to see what would happen?
Some of my friends probably think I’m dead.
I had to delete the app on my phone, my tablet and resist going to the website. For some reason the tablet app kept reinstalling itself? This was going to be harder than I thought!
Facebook doesn’t want to let me go. It started emailing me telling me about everything I’m missing!
Apparently I have two messages and 12 notifications! Four of my Friends Like another’s photo. Two of them Like a status update!
The message from Facebook is clear — by not Facebooking, I’m missing out!
On one day I received not one, but six emails telling me that I’m really missing out and should immediately check my status.
You see, since I am no longer checking my status updates or clicking on advertisements Facebook is losing revenue. If everyone was like me, they’d soon be no Facebook.
The unethical advertising vigilante
Unlike many users, I do partake in a practice that may be contributing to the unseemly advertisements that I sometimes receive. I like to think of myself as an anti-unethical advertising vigilante.
If ever Facebook advertises something on my page that I detest or think is unethical, I click on it launching another tab, and bang, it costs the advertiser money!
So if someone thinks it’s okay to advertise introductions to local women to married men, or some annoying owner of an online gambling company wants me to fritter my money away because I don’t understand statistics, I hit them! With each click they lose money.
One downside of this practice is that Facebook must now think I’m a gambling womaniser.
My wife thought that it was unfair of me to stop talking to everyone and so posted a status letting them know I’m okay and just doing an experiment.
I missed my nephew’s wedding photos.
My sister has told my daughter to tell my other daughter to tell my wife to tell me to get back on!
One of my best friends had to send me an email so we could go for coffee.
I felt bad about not “talking” to my mother so I rang her up to say hello for the first time in six months and we talked for a change rather than exchange Likes.
Yesterday I almost missed a touching post from my daughter on Father’s Day — luckily my wife is still connected so I got it.
Perhaps I’ll give in and start providing Facebook with what it wants, another client for its advertising. Or perhaps it should be paying me to provide clicks for its advertisers?Matthew Bailes is Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) at Swinburne University of Technology.. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.