50 not 500

Facebook, is finally getting the scrutiny it should have received a decade ago, and unfortunately it has become a game of personalities, attention seeking and to some extent media one-up man ship. Whether it is veiled attacks on Sheryl Sandberg or shirking of responsibility for its dirty tricks by Mark Zuckerberg, all of it is just a distraction from what is really a much larger, deeper and societal problem. A problem that can’t be addressed by Facebook, it’s team and particularly by its founder.

Recently, when having dinner with friends, many curious about my decision to nuke my Facebook account, asked me why I took such a drastic step. They had read my blog, but still wanted me to elaborate. My decision to jettison Facebook has little to do the amoral nature of Mark Zuckerberg & Co. It also had nothing to do with their data collection techniques and then turning that into an ad-product. It also had nothing to do with their dirty engagement focused product tricks.

Instead it was me — and how the product made me feel. The product called Facebook failed for me, because instead of making me feel social, it left me anti-social. I was anxious about my own life, and jealous of other lives, even though I didn’t care about things that others put value on. I mean, how can you be jealous of your friends and family.

How can you just be jealous of someone else’s life and not be satisfied with what you have. When you are faced with a constantly updated and highly curated “killing it” life, sometimes you get anxious about your own life. I come from a modest background and feel blessed to have what I have — and thus to feel envy and anxiety were the precise negative feelings I didn’t want from a friend network.

It has been a while since I nuked my Facebook account and since then I have reduced the number of people I socialize with — online and offline to about two dozen. Add to the mix, my family and coworkers, and the number adds up to about 50. And that’s plenty. I call or text or email all of them at least once a month, some I see everyday and others every other day for a coffee. Fewer the numbers, the tighter the bonds.

Yes, I miss out someone’s birthday. Sometimes I miss more momentous events such as passing of former colleague James Kendrick. But that sociability in the network is gone.  Facebook might have started out as a friends network, but it has become a network that amplifies a database’s idea of friendship.

It is about maximum engagement, whatever the cost it is to society or individuals.

Polemic and polarization are features not bugs, because they lead to engagement. Higher the engagement — the more ad impressions and more ad-impressions means more revenues. As I have said countless times before, it would be difficult for Facebook to change because the entire ecosystem is built around that logic.

Ever since I got off Facebook and reduced the social network to about 50, I find myself more in sync with everyone. Apple’s dashboard tells me that I used Twitter and Instagram for about 4 hours and 10 minutes last month, which is about 6 minutes a day — that is all I need.

Ironically, with my 50 not 500, I might be onto something. Even Instagram announced a close friend feature. 😉

December 4, 2018, San Francisco

A letter from Om

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