Facebook is designed to manipulate you

Are you selfish for not being on facebook?

These are just my opinions. Perhaps these are just my own personal hangups that I need to work through, but maybe not. I know there are good some things about Facebook. It’s a way to keep in connection with people when travelling and for some it can help with promoting their business, but this two-part post is my experience of trying it and then deactivating my account.

A few months ago, I was encouraged to open up a Facebook account by a new friend, something along the lines of “Just do it already”. Well actually, I secretly already had an account which I opened in 2007 and then deactivated about a year later. It had been lying dormant ever since then. Like a time capsule. But with this recent conversation, I decided to log in again almost ten years later and see if maybe my perception of it has changed. Perhaps I was wrong. I was young then. We all make mistakes when we are young. So I dug out my old passwords and logged in. Cue the matrix.

First thoughts, at first, it was fascinating. My old friends were still active on the site, mostly friends from college. I saw pictures of new babies (congratulations), pictures of some of my old friends with girlfriends, who’d I’d never seen before, and countries where people were living. It was like a mini catchup without the actual human interaction. I didn’t write on anyones wall. I lurked silently like a stalker clicking through the various pictures. I wasn’t fully ready to plug back into Facebook yet.

I realised that a certain limbo was present in my Facebook account and that these friends represented the me of ten years ago. It even brought back memories and feelings of the person I used to be back then. I think we can all change into different people at different times of our life if we move to new places, do different types of work and meet new people. On reflection after all these years, a lot of changes had occurred and many new people were a part of my life today for which I am grateful.

However, after the initial interest and nostalgia had passed (after a few minutes), a strange uncomfortable feeling gradually stated to come over me. It may be that I am sensitive in this way, but I started to get the weird feeling that everyone’s life seemed to be much better than mine. Perhaps that sounds strange, but as you look at pictures of people’s lives, of all the smiles or the pictures of social gatherings surrounded by cheerful friends, or fancy locations, that feeling of “everyone seems to be better than me’ became more predominant and yet, objectively, there was no reason for it.

People will always try to portray the best sides of their life (as many of us do with wearing masks in society). I had no reason to compare. They had their life experiences, I have mine. There is no better or worse, just different. Just mine aren’t on display, that’s all. But then without me showing this, no one knows. A teacher on a seminar, I recently attended, said: “…because if you don’t put it on Facebook, it doesn’t exist”. The friend who advised me to “just do it already”, also said, “have you considered that it’s selfish if you don’t put things on facebook” implying you’re not sharing yourself with the world. Hmm, deep things to consider.

But as I looked at the walls of my friends, rather than ignore or distract myself away from this uncomfortable feeling, I chose to explore it. Maybe I do have some hangups from the past. Maybe I have a tendency to jealousy. But then perhaps that’s the same for me and so many others. Then again, maybe not. Nonetheless, Facebook was bringing out a negative mood in me.

In conclusion, I decided to externalize the reasoning for this negative feeling (because its better than internalizing it, blaming yourself for supposed weaknesses and making yourself sick). I decided that the reason I felt this so-called ‘negative’ feeling, was not because of an inner hangup. It is because it was an intentional feeling created by Facebook. Facebook is designed to make you feel like shit.

How can a computer programme do this? Well in a similar way that a fruit machine (UK equivalent of slot machine) is designed to stimulate a feeling of joy in the player. It plays on our desires, our emotions and weaknesses. Facebook is specially designed to make you feel that everyone else’s life looks better. It is also designed to help you portray your life in an outstanding way, like in the manner of a celebrity. So in this way we continue the cycle by continuing to engage with the machine. This is one of the reasons why the old school generation like my father in his 70s will never embrace the concept of Facebook. The idea of ‘showing off’ is completely alien to them. It goes against their ethos. I would say, the baby boomer generation would probably be more open to it if they were more comfortable with social media and technology, but in this respect, they’re not. So therefore, the mantle was started with generation X and will be further refined by Gen Y and the Millennials. Facebook encourages a cycle of one-up-man-ship. After contemplating this feeling and coming to this conclusion, I quickly decided I didn’t want this feeling anymore. Perhaps it will fade, if I continuing using, but there will always be an undercurrent of it there, manipulating me and creating a low-level feeling of being shit. I made the quick decision to seal up the tomb again and logged out again. Sayonara. Atto junen (Goodbye, see you 10 years later).

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…

In my previous article, I talked about my experience of attempting a reconciliation with Facebook after a ten-year hiatus. Like shacking up with an old beau, but soon finding out there still isn’t any spark there and nothing has changed. Perhaps this could be the plot of a cheesy Hollywood rom com.

So, after I had decided Facebook wasn’t for me, I checked to make sure my account was still deactivated and then logged out. Goodbye. ‘It’s just not working, It’s not you, its me’ blah blah blah. But it didn’t end there.

I soon started getting email notifications about ‘friends’ who had posted something or the other.

‘Just log back in, take one quick look’ I could hear it saying to me.
‘It’ll only take a minute, go on….’ .

Even these notifications had an addictive quality to them, like the flashing lights on a fruit machine. ‘What if I missed something really interesting?’ I thought.

‘Go on, take the bait’. It whispered.
‘No, I must be strong’.

Once, I had shown the smallest bit of interest in Facebook, it wanted to get me hooked up again. Kind of like falling off the wagon just the once and then before you know it, you’re perched on a stool in the Rag and Bone Public house already on your second pint and its only just gone lunchtime. And who wouldn’t be tempted to sign back in and look at those new posts. I ignored them. Yet they continued to swamp my inbox. All I did was log in just once and now those notifications keep appearing in my inbox like a crazy stalker. Why won’t they just leave me alone? I am starting to feel like Clint Eastwood in the movie Play Misty for Me, where he is harassed by a crazed fan after he made the mistake of sleeping with her once. It didn’t end all that well for him. But, I’m not going to give it what it wants. I’m not going to log back in to try to find the settings to deactivate them. That’s just what it wants, so I take the cowards way out and set those mails as junk. Gradually, my junk mail gets filled up with Facebook notification after notification, ad infinitum. Perhaps my inbox will sink with the weight. I used to have a dream where I was chased by zombies. But that changed recently. Instead of zombies, I got chased by a mob of lowercase ‘f’s. Just leave me alone already.

It is like Roper says in the movie Enter the Dragon just after he is offered a job by the evil Mr Han to work for his opium empire:

Mr Han: “We are investing in corruption, Mr Roper. The business of corruption is like any other”.

Roper: “Oh yeah. Provide your customers with products they need and uh, charge it a little bit to stimulate your market and before you know it customers come to depend on you, I mean they really need you”.

I think it is those email notifications that was the final nail which made me deactivate my account in the first place ten years ago. I found that automatic notifications would be sent out automatically without my permission to people on my email list. Some of these people are business acquaintances. Some are just various people, who have little to do with me I don’t want them getting automatic notifications sent out like this from my account. My email list is private and for my use only, so I found this intrusion quite unforgivable. I was told that you can prevent this from happening, by clicking some setting, but I really shouldn’t have to.

I also wonder at the addictiveness of Facebook for something that should be a tool to be used by people, when in some cases it seems to subtly control people. Think Skynet in Terminator. Artificial intelligence that controls us simply by manipulating our weaknesses and our human desires. So for that reason, bye-bye.

I think I’m fortunate, I seem to have an immunity to Facebook. I think that the ethos of facebook is based on comparison to others. If I had to get biblical, I would say that it encourages the sin of envy and pride.

But there have been some good things about Facebook. I once connected with an old qigong teacher in Tokyo. He found me (by getting an automatic notification from my account) and by luck he’d recently moved back to Japan. He got in contact and inviting me to his class. I was able to go for a meal afterwards with his other students. That was good. I also know that some people have had success promoting their business or classes using facebook as a medium instead of email.

However, I’m more of a fatalist. In that I like to leave things to fate. If I am destined to meet someone I wasn’t thinking of, I believe it will happen naturally. And if I really want to meet someone I am thinking of, I will find alternative ways to get in contact and make it happen. And if not, I’ll just accept it. I also prefer to leave old friends in the past unless life brings me in contact with them again. This is because I want to make space for new friends to come into my life.

At heart, the principle of Facebook is great. It’s an easy way to be accessible without the formality of email or phone calls. So I’m not against it. I just feel its application is somehow tied in with promoting addictiveness to the service as well as an undercurrent of comparison with others, of which nothing good ever comes and which will only sink you down to a lower level of consciousness. Perhaps you disagree. Leave a message on my facebook wall. Ha.

And if anyone reading this has been considering unplugging from Facebook but couldn’t quite make the leap. Well give it a shot. It’s actually extremely difficult to delete your account, so it’s always going to be there after you deactivate it. It just requires your life energy to keep it going. Maybe take a holiday apart. To find the real you. There may be some withdrawal so perhaps if you’re interested we could create a facebook anonymous group to support people who unplug. We can sit in a circle in a dusty old community centre in the rough area of town, once a week. We can drink vending machine coffee from little brown plastic cups and take it in turns to talk about how it has been ‘2 weeks since I last logged in’ or “Im sorry, I had a relapse, I looked up an old high school sweetheart’ We could even promote the group on facebook. The irony.