Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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21 Jan 2008

Why I’ve Closed Down My Facebook Account.

facebookI hadn’t even thought about having a Facebook site, but then recently I started getting lots of emails from people asking to be my friends on Facebook. An interesting concept. I had always avoided things like that before, thinking that anything that might in any way add to the tsunami of email that washes over me every day is best avoided. However, motivated by a curiosity about this new medium, and the ease of setting one up (just list your favourite things and stick a nice picture in), I set one up. Then, after a couple of weeks, I read Tom Hodgkinson’s piece With Friends Like These in the Guardian last week, and after some reflection I have deactivated my Facebook site.

His excellent article begins;

>”I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as “a social utility that connects you with the people around you”. But hang on. Why on God’s earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?

>And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn’t it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk? A friend of mine recently told me that he had spent a Saturday night at home alone on Facebook, drinking at his desk. What a gloomy image. Far from connecting us, Facebook actually isolates us at our workstations.

It is an odd concept, this one of collecting friends in a virtual world. My friends are people I see from time to time, and those friendships are something deepened by time spent together, evenings round camp fires, offering shoulders to cry on, help with babysitting, people you sit down to meals with, argue with, play football with, laugh, dance and cry with. The idea that people you barely know want to be your virtual friend is all a bit odd really.

Hodgkinson’s article also explores who is actually behind Facebook, and their neo-con, libertarian values. The site is worth a phenomenal amount of money. The idea is very simple. You pander to people’s self absorbed interest in writing about themselves and their preferences and interests, make it easy and attractive for them to do so, and then you have an astonishingly enticing resource for advertisers. But it gets worse, with Hodgkinson linking Facebook to the information gathering culture that is emerging in the US. A lead article in The Times last a couple of days ago offered an insight into how technology is developing, so that when you sit at your workstation, your employer assess your competence, productivity and well-being. It began;

>The Times has seen a patent application filed by the company for a computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolism. The system would allow managers to monitor employees’ performance by measuring their heart rate, body temperature, movement, facial expression and blood pressure. Unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer’s assessment of their physiological state.

In this context we are also supposed to be posting our personal data online, into the hands of neo-con US billionaires, in the belief that we are cementing friendships and building our popularity. Talk about using our sense of personal insecurity to boost GDP! Hodgkinson for one, and now me, have decided that actually our quality of life will be increased by removing this pointless nonsense from our lives. He writes;

“For my own part, I am going to retreat from the whole thing, remain as unplugged as possible, and spend the time I save by not going on Facebook doing something useful, such as reading books. Why would I want to waste my time on Facebook when I still haven’t read Keats’ Endymion? And when there are seeds to be sown in my own back yard? I don’t want to retreat from nature, I want to reconnect with it. Damn air-conditioning! And if I want to connect with the people around me, I will revert to an old piece of technology. It’s free, it’s easy and it delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information: it’s called talking”.

So there we go. There is a very good button on Facebook called ‘Deactivate’. I clicked it. However, seeing as one of the main purposes of Facebook is to allow you to show off all your favourite records and books and so on, and I have now got rid of my Facebook site and deleted it all, I thought, in the same spirit of narcissism that probably attracted me to it in the first place, are my Facebook lists of all my favourite things, just so you know what a groovy guy I am and why you should all be my friends.

In the unlikely event that anyone else in the world should be even slightly interested…

**Personal Info**
**Activities:**
Transition Town Totnes, Transition Network, fatherhood, insulating my loft.
**Interests:**
Transition energy descent peak oil stuff, walnut trees, raised beds, my kids, football, books, digging up potatoes on a frosty morning, making good compost, cob walls, crop circles, 7″ singles, good food.
**Favorite Music:** (note, not *favourite*)
Can, DJ Shadow, Neu!, Josef K, Fire Engines, Velvet Underground, Jurassic 5, Radiohead, Subway Sect, Beatnik Filmstars, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ronettes, the Fall, PiL, Buzzcocks, Aphex Twin, Joy Division, New Order, Cocteau Twins, Magazine, Public Enemy, Brilliant Corners, Jeff Buckley, Television Personalities, Nick Drake, My Bloody Valentine, DJ Cam, June Brides, early Wedding Present, the Egg, golden nights spent at the EEC Punk Rock Mountain, early Primal Scream, 23 Skidoo, “Brainfreeze”, “Product Placement” & “Hard Sell”.
**Favorite TV Shows:**
‘Behind the Green Door With Kevin Turvey’, ‘LOST’.
**Favorite Movies:**
If, The Big Lebowski, Crude Awakening, Control, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Delicatessen, A Night on Earth, Gregory’s Girl.
**Favorite Books:**
‘Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability’ by David Holmgren, ‘Peak Everything’ by Richard Heinberg, “Possession: a Romance” by A.S. Byatt, “Little, Big” by John Crowley, “Liberation in the Palm of your Hand” by Pabonka Rinpoche, “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “What’s Welsh for Zen” by John Cale.
**Favorite Quotes:**
“When do we live, that’s what I want to know”.
*From the film “If”.*

There we go. I’ve satisfied that urge. Now to go and spend some time with my friends. After all, in an energy descent culture, I’m going to need them.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

29 Comments

Tom Atkins
21 Jan 9:46am

Hi Rob – I agree! The ‘walled garden’ sites (e.g. Facebook, Bebo etc) will (I believe) become footnotes in internet history. Or, at the very least, ghettos of outdated profiles and lonely people trying to relive former lives. Do you remember ‘Friends Reunited’ – if you go there now you’ll find thousands of profiles that haven’t been updated since 1999. It’s like a time capsule. I think that to some extent Facebook will be like that in 10 years time.

Whilst I 100% agree about the prime importance of a real life before an internet life, the web certainly adds a lot to the richness with which we can share information about our lives. I love the fact that I can post photos, videos and thoughts about what I’m up to. You and I are lucky – we have our own spaces to do this. Talking with some friends, who are begging me to get involved with Facebook, made me realise that Facebook is the only way they know about for themselves to create an online presence. The hype and spare time (lives powered by oil) have them sucked in. Both these factors will decline!

As time goes by, the internet will grow up and I’d hope to see something like the people at dataportability.org are promoting. This video does a good job of summarising what the web might be like in a few years time if such initiatives come to fruition.

OK – I’m off out to saw some timber and chat to Alex!

Robert
21 Jan 9:25pm

You can take this unplugged business too far, though. For instance I’ve been wondering how to submit an article to Tom Hodgkinson’s magazine “The Idler” for ages, since there’s no phone or email on their website (I suppose I should be grateful they have a website). What’s the point of having a computer if you don’t link up to the rest of the world with it?

But the fact is that for many people, the internet is the best available way to link up with like-minded souls – maybe they live in a cultural desert (or a real desert). Hell, I’m posting on this blog now, should I be going to the local bar instead? Trouble is, if I started talking about climate change everyone there would look at me like I was speaking English (I live in the Basque country).

gareth
21 Jan 10:28pm

As Donald Sutherland character “X” said in JFK “Who Benefited?”. Did anyone ever believe Facebook were doing all this for the good of humanity. Did Facebook’s founders? Zuckerberg may have been a good nerd once but the venture capitalists have turned him to the dark side good an proper.

A lot of nerds do things for free for the good of all – “Tux Paint” for the kids anyone? Trouble is there is always a Bill Gates in the group. He probably starts out with good intentions but ends up looking after his market share at the expense of all else because “that’s business”.

Mind you, at least Bill’s lot create something. One sad thing amongst many is that the main way they want to make money is by selling advertising/marketing data. Is that what gets young Zuckerberg excited when he talks about how they will “spread information through the social graph”. How depressing.

I don’t think we should throw out this technology, just the implementation. It is excellent for activism. Interesting dataportability.org link above shows the way to go. Trouble is the big companies will undermine it every way they can – see Yahoo’s “support” for OpenID which is an attempt to tie people to Yahoo and undermines the whole OpenID principle.

Mark Forskitt
22 Jan 6:03am

Despite decades working in bleeding edge software and research technologies, I have also assiduously avoided facebook and its imitators. I too don’t subscribe to the ‘social’ element – the raisob d’etre.
I am well aware of the benefits of networks of contacts especially so when living on a small island and not having the option of frequent travel to meet in person, as I do. I have found that linkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) does it about right – professional network links sufficient to maintain contact, but not a social replacement. I’ve even noticed a few other transition town and peak oil activists there.

[…] the interesting Irish blogger from Totnes(!) has a nice article about the stupidity of Facebook. After reading it, I thought that if you have […]

Jason Cole
28 Jan 8:27pm

I think Tom Hodgkinson is writing utter carp. His description is more pertinent to “Second Life” than it is to the likes of Facebook. To me, anyone who despises the likes of Facebook should also desist from blogging. It’s just another communication tool.

Now perhaps someone could establish a Transition Town on Second Life 😉

Graham Burnett
28 Jan 8:48pm

Tom Hodgkinson would be a good ally of the Transition Movement, fits well with his agenda as laid out in The Idler & his book How To Be Free, both of which we thoroughly recommend to students on our Permaculture courses! Lets work on getting him onside (well he already is onside,but just comes from a different perspective), I did try to explain the whole peak oil/Transition Towns thing to him once with a view to getting something in the Idler, he replied with something along the lines that that slow food, local distinctiveness, allotmenteering, doing permaculture, hanging out in the local pub, supporting local business, valuing quality and craftmanship, sleeping in sheds, etc, etc and all the other things that fit well with TT are intrinsically ‘better’ than Rat race, corporate culture, and can’t understand why people simply don’t just choose to live that way rather than being motivated to change by some kind of global threat…

Cathy Bryant
13 Apr 8:36pm

How lovely to be rich enough to have a garden, to be able-bodied enough to dig up those potatoes, to be able to afford evenings at the pub, and in short to be living a healthy middle-class existence. I’m not knocking it, it sounds great. But for those of us without the cash for these activities, or for me and my disabled pals who have found Facebook, Myspace etc to be very helpful in contacting each other because we can’t visit in person, for those of us who are simply too broke to buy that local food or quality craft, please don’t knock our lifestyles either. Tacky these sites are – and yes, the endless Facebook applications set my teeth on edge – but they fill a gap and serve a genuine purpose.

jj
22 May 5:24pm

The sad thing, Cathy, is that none of those networks are actually trying to fill that gap you mention. They don’t care sh*t about you. Facebook doesn’t try to find a solution to a problem, but to make money out of the problem, or even out of a problem many didn’t know they had—but facebook reminds them.

Everything I see in facebook/myspace/etc is about showing off.

To connect with people you have forums, irc, mailing lists, etc. It’s been there for years. In a forum site, the point is to talk with others, not to put glitter in your profile page. Facebook et al prioritise the profile-glitter.

Leanne Veitch
24 May 3:07am

I opted out too. So you’re not alone. I realised I had better things to do than deal with vampires on Facebook. And you’re right – I spent heaps of time e-talking to my friends but no time face to face with them. We became a pack of sad geeky lonely people stuck in front of our computers all day. Addicts.

I’d rather go out and plant a tree for my very real children than buy a fake e-tree for $1 on PayPal for a ‘friend’ I don’t know.

Real vs fake. Life vs. Facebook. I decided I wanted real life. That’s about it really 🙂

Steve Atkins
12 Jun 12:45pm

I agree.
Facebook/ myspace/ Bebo/ chat rooms, etc aren’t real life.

But if this is where alot of local people are spending their time then surely it is a good place to advertise the TT’s events?…inviting people back to real life activities.

I’m currently promoting Transition Town Dorchester on facebook, if nothing else then maybe the TTDorch carbon footprint logo will get seen often enough so that people take more notice of posters and flyers when they go shopping?

x steve

p.s…Transition Town Dorchester is currently in No2 position on ‘Bowling Buddies’ (sorry, i couldn’t resist! )

Justin
25 Jun 5:49am

1 – “Why on God’s earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? “

Connecting with people that may have been ‘around you’ via a work or school relationship becomes difficult when those ties are severed by time. Facebook helps people keep in touch or get back in touch with people who they may have an otherwise much more difficult time contacting. It is actually fun and easy to find these kinds of people, not arduous like it may have been in the past. Do you have any idea how many people 35+ years old (who are for some reason against making their own account) have asked me to find their old friends on Facebook? We all would like to get in touch with one or two people from our past; Facebook makes it easy.

2 – The sad thing, Cathy, is that none of those networks are actually trying to fill that gap you mention. They don’t care sh*t about you.

Actually, Facebook cares about its members about as much as the barkeep at the pub, or any other establishment that would host a social connection. Facebook is all in the computer, and therefore less personal – so I guess there should be some trade off right? Sure – Facebook is free. Don’t tell me they are all crooks trying to make money off me.
IT’S FREE.
They aren’t ‘crooks’ any more than any other business or monopoly.

3 – “To connect with people you have forums, irc, mailing lists, etc. It’s been there for years. In a forum site, the point is to talk with others, not to put glitter in your profile page. Facebook et al prioritise the profile-glitter.”

I really can’t believe this one. People said the SAME thing about E-Mail vs ‘snail mail’…and now E-Mail and forums are okay but Facbook isn’t? Forums are personable but Facebook isn’t? Isn’t glitter and ‘showing off’ a LOT more personal than writing in a forum or blog like this one? And if you think Facebook is all about showing off you’d better take a peek at MySpace. Facebook is the 3,000 acre Tuscan Estate to MySpace’s crime-ridden ghetto.

4 – “I spent heaps of time e-talking to my friends but no time face to face with them. “

How, pray tell, is that Facebook’s fault? Sure opt out if you want but that does not support an argument that Facebook is a bad thing. It’s called personal responsibility – take responsibility for your own social agenda. It’s a free website. It’s can’t make you do anything.

5 – “It’s free, it’s easy and it delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information: it’s called talking”.

Facebook is free. Facebook is easy. Facebook delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information.

Seriously, get over yourself. Facebook is a social additive; not a substitute. If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and walk by an alcoholic on the street, do you quit drinking? I hope not. In my mind there is little, if ever, logical justification for the “swearing off” of anything in life. And by the way, computers and digital connections are part of life. Times change.

6 – Facebook is not that big of a deal. In fact, it’s popularity has profound implications on the structure of our society; it CAN be the evidence, NOT THE SOURCE, of a misguided youth culture, and it is also a fantastic tool for people to stay in touch when they may be separated geographically.

Me
21 Jul 3:36am

totally agree with the above comment. Sure people have insecurities and facebook is definitely making money off me, but so does the pub. I was once against joining fb or myspace, but only because already into video games and other escapist technologies and I didn’t want be “into” something else. But never once did I look down on those that are into it. Sure, for some it’s just another venue to reveal vanity. But I’ve gotten in contact with people from high school (10 years ago) that i haven’t spoken to in years. And its quick and easy. I understand what and why you do what you do. That’s your freedom, but don’t patronize other’s for having a different choice.

sez
17 Aug 9:52pm

john,did you live in manchester in egmont st??
please let me know
thanks
http://www.myspace.com/brodydalle7

email me there thanks!

SSquo
3 Sep 12:36am

It took me very very long to finally create a Facebook account. It was a decision I made consciously as my Inbox continued to be bombarded by invitations from friends to join FB. Finally, after about 2 or 3 years, I succumbed.

I am of the same belief that holds a personal relationship very dear to me and cannot subtitute a phone call or a meeting with a note on someone’s Facebook account.

So I joined FB and now I do what I am comfortable with. I have altered my settings so that I allow people to see only what I want them to. You can stay your ground or get carried away and post pics of you in a bikini for all the world to see, it really is what you want out of it!

I do think that I have been able to find some friends of perhaps 5 or 10 years ago whom I really liked and have actually been in touch and met when she visited my city!

So, i guess there’s always good and bad, you take what works for you – I have to still deal with that ‘unknown friend request’.

Zac
11 Sep 10:59am

I disagree.

Facebook does connect you to the people around you. If used correctly, it is very easy to use it as a tool to inform friends of events, parties, etc. It has actually given me a way to connect to a few people who I had gone out of contact with, it is now so easy to communicate with these people and draw lines for things to happen in the “real world”.

It should never be seen as an alternative to socializing: and was never posed as one. Look at it as an updated phone book.

Jean
13 Oct 9:06pm

I think, in principle, your theories are correct. And they hold true if you live in the same place for a long time and do a great job of keeping track of people who move away, move on, etc. But after moving 3,000 miles and 3 time zones away from my family and friends, I find Facebook to be an amazing and wonderful way to keep tabs on what everyone is up to, and letting everyone know what I am up to. It is no substitute for phone calls or visits, but at least it allows me to feel like I am not so far away after all.

zenity
22 Oct 9:44am

I believe Facebook is just another fad that will eventually die away when the “next best thing” comes around the corner. It’s great having connections and being able to find old acquaintances (can you really still call them a friend?) by searching.

Oh, Jimmy Wales (found of wikipedia) is supposedly creating something that will challenge Facebook… this will be interesting!

PS. I still love snail mail. Nothing like a hand written, full of sentimental value, letter.

Forrest
17 Dec 11:08am

Social networking sites can be extremely helpful for those who have friends or family living elsewhere. I have many good friends and family members that live in other cities, even outside my state. Without facebook/myspace, I would mostly lose touch with many of them.

It is indeed sad when people waste their lives away in front of the computer, but it is their personal choice… Maybe they are happy with the decision, and who are we tell them otherwise.

Larry Saltzman
17 Dec 6:29pm

I am a software developer from California and couldn’t agree more with Rob’s position, I refuse to touch Facebook and related technology. Last week I got an invite to “play in the sandbox” (translation spend hours learning how to set a ning site) from somebody who is trying to set up a “ning” site for Transition Towns in the U.S. I thought about it and spent Sunday with my wife and members of the community as we helped convert a lawn in a member of our community into a backyard food forest. I have no question which sandbox I would rather play in.

Chris
22 Dec 5:42am

I fucking hate facebook so much, It’s just filled with attention whores, who actually think people give a rats ass about how their day went.

geo metric
22 Dec 10:42pm

im a 21 year old college student, i meet people out in the real world, then friend them on facebook. this utility helps social interaction immensely. i use it for social interaction at times when im un-available to be in peoples lives. i have met many people out of state and out of country, facebook helps me keep in touch, what am i supposed to do fly to sweden everytime i want to talk to this cute swedish chick i met while there?? right now shes planning a trip out here, so instead of forgetting this girl forever, facebook has helped me arrange future social interactions in the real world.

if you were smart you wouldn’t reject this tool available to everyone. i dunno i like having friends, meeting new people, communicating with those i love in every way possible and feel like i have a positive outlook on facebook rather than a negative “its the debel!” outlook. come on people. also if you were smart youd set up a separate email account for utilities like facebook.

its kinda like saying the invention of the telephone was evil! it discouraged real interaction and made us disconnected from eachother. this essay is ridiculous, your blaming the computer and software for your inability to operate the computer and manage your life correctly

LisaF
17 Feb 4:51pm

Sorry for reviving this old discussion, but some “new” info on this topic might provide further illumination for those who care. This relates to some important recent changes in facebook’s terms of service:
http://consumerist.com/5150175/facebooks-new-terms-of-service-we-can-do-anything-we-want-with-your-content-forever

john P
24 Feb 1:07am

I have to differ in my opinion. I have used Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family I cannot see due to distance. I also have connected with virtually physically with an entire group of people from high school that I would never had conected with, without Facebook. YEs it can make you more isolated if you let it..

Katy Duke
24 Feb 11:08am

It’s a great way to promote events & invite people, eg. the Peoples Premiere of the amazing new film by Franny Armstrong ‘Age of Stupid’ – facebook page here – http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/event.php?eid=51703039404&ref=mf, website here – http://www.ageofstupid.net/

Rupert Wolfe Murray
24 Feb 1:06pm

You are absolutely right, facebook is crap. I was persuaded into signing up by my brother, so I could see his pictures, and other people, and I was contacted by lots of relatives and people I once knew. But I would much rather see these people rather than just see their silly messages. At first it seemed addictive and then I realised it is a waste of time. If I want to find someone I can just find them via the google search engine. Why do I need Facebook? My way is to move on and not look back, which means one inevitably severs the close relationships one had because you’re in different locations, and no amount of emailing can really change that. The upside is that you form new connections at your new location, make new friends or start a family and make your own little friends (as I’ve done, and my kids are whom I want to spend time with). Down with facebook and its ilk, up with the pub.

Burl
17 Mar 7:17pm

Facebook is optional. If you don’t want it, don’t use it.
The argument that it is an evil/artificial mediation between people could also be applied to the telephone. And I’m sure it once was. Hey, if you don’t want to use the internet, just don’t. If you don’t like cell phones, don’t buy one. If you object to other people communicating that way because you think it’s ‘artificial’ and the pub serves you just as well, well, then go to the pub. I’m going to keep my facebook account. It’s handy.

Donnie
26 Mar 3:23am

FYI… Facebook is not THE internet, nor does it replace a phone. It is not a higher notch on the evolutionary scale of communication. In fact, it makes real communication less difficult.

On a phone, you can’t tweak and edit your message until it perfectly, accurately describes how you want others to hear you. Facebook is a practice in narcissism, and what once was.

If you’re going to communicate, do it. Don’t just fill out a bunch of forms on a database and tell me all about who you want me to think that you are. That’s not communication. If you want written online style communication, text, use Twitter, IM, or use the phone.

David
27 Mar 6:06pm

Same conclusion, different experience – I just deleted all my posts off mine, and I’m going to take it down in a week after everyone gets used to my absense. I was invited by a friend I really haven’t spoken to in 15 years, so I set it up, and even found/connected to some other people else I haven’t spoken to in about the same time, and I was having fun with it, but it didn’t take long to begin getting annoyed.

I’ve been posting everyday for weeks now with links, comments, photos, replying to my freind’s stuff, with no replys or any feedback at all from the very person who invited me. Now after I say ‘see-ya’ That will probably be the absolute end of our relationship, as well as the other people I connected to, but I want out of this stupid thing.

B4 you set this thing up, consider everything.
It could have the reverse effect that you’re hoping for.