On Leaving Facebook

I decided to leave Facebook 25 weeks ago. The decision was inspired largely by a beautiful N+1 post, that I shared in my life moment on Facebook announcing my decision. I turned to the social network Everest, that I had been using for several months, to share that I had decided to leave Facebook. It was what is referred to on Everest as a milestone moment: one of the most important moments in a journey, which is how posts were organized on Everest. Two members of the Everest team appeared in the comments on the post to thank me for sharing the N+1 piece and asked me to elaborate. Below is the email that I sent to them.

A few weeks ago, I opened the Everest app to see that the company was closing down. They could not garner the number of users needed to support the app. I am so sorry to see Everest go.

Dear Rob and Julian:

First, it has been really nice to see the both of you on Everest lately. I’m so glad that you took the time to read Facebook Adé, and even more that you both loved it. I have no way of knowing how many of my Facebook friends, when they saw my life event, clicked on the link and read the whole piece. (I also have no way of knowing how many people saw my life event at all; within 10 minutes it had disappeared from the news feed.) I do hope people are thinking more critically about the social networks that they use.

Oddly enough, a great deal of what I treasure about Everest right now is that no one I know uses it. I am getting an entirely new experience of myself using a social network, and that’s really exciting. I get to see what things I want to share, what moments I want to document, and how I want to present them. Glancing at my Everest, I see things that might seem small or insignificant to someone else, but that are very dear to me. They are also not things I felt comfortable sharing on Facebook; not a single moment is “cross-listed”.

I spent some time thinking about this. The urge to acknowledge, record, document is strong with us these days. And this isn’t something I reject by any means. The right tools could channel this urge toward profound mindfulness, and the wrong tools toward profound shallowness. We choose one tool from among several to acknowledge, record, document the moments of our lives, and in that decision, the tool in turn informs our experience of those moments. Our social networks are not passive; our decisions to use one or another are not benign. They are, in fact, of central importance, and they have consequences. Thus, we must choose wisely.

When I joined Everest, it was set up so that you could start a journey with the steps that made up those journeys, and cross them off as you went through life. I started using it primarily to help me conquer my impostor syndrome, to have a record of how much I actually do. As I used it more, and definitely as the app itself changed, it became a record of things that were personally important to me but that didn’t feel “socially” important, i.e., not appropriate for a social network as historically or traditionally conceived. Rob, the Human journey that you started today is probably the closest thing to what Everest as a whole is for me: a celebration of me as just this human who is trying to do these things.

A great deal of what I treasure about Everest is also captured here. That celebration of ourselves is kind of the idea. It isn’t something we should avoid to avoid the judgement of others, or something that we should judge in others. Instead, celebrations of ourselves, big and small, deserve a tool that can help us know ourselves better, to like ourselves more, to achieve more.

On Everest, I feel that I am sharing moments, first and foremost, with myself. I find myself sharing the moments that I want to remember, the parts of myself that I want to celebrate. In this simple way, Everest encourages me to reflect and to celebrate from the center of myself, if that makes sense. I am not reflecting on and celebrating only those moments that I feel are “socially” important; rather, I am reflecting on and celebrating those moments that I feel are personally important.

If Facebook was the only tool available to me, I would reflect on and celebrate only those moments that I felt were socially important. (Or, as the incident with my life event showed, those events that Facebook felt were socially important.) I would experience and respond to the feedback of my family and peers on only those moments. My sample of my self, of my life, of my experience, would be woefully biased.

I would lose my sense of the personally important.

Ultimately, the deliberate and systematic obstruction of self-knowledge perpetuated by Facebook’s model of human interaction became intolerable, and I gathered myself and left. (It feels, in some ways, like a breakup, and I think that feeling deserves some further investigation!)

I hope all of this has been useful, and perhaps insightful. I feel I should clarify one thing before I end: I’m not going to leave Everest when other people I know start using it! The new experience of myself that I’m having on Everest is totally possible around the people I know with the right tool.

The ethos of Everest is solidly centered on its users’ experiencing themselves in a more mindful way, and the social aspect is getting to experience others experiencing themselves in a more mindful way at the same time. And I love that.