Facebook’s been under serious scrutiny lately.
People have been cutting ties with the tech monolith faster than you can say “Cambridge Analytica” and we’re not talking run-of-the-mill luddites. Silicon Valley wunderkind Elon Musk pulled the plug personally before deleting Tesla and SpaceX's Facebook accounts. Even more notably, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak announced he’s leaving Facebook because of concerns over the platform’s carelessness with private information.
The backlash comes after Facebook announced an estimated 87 million users may have had their public profiles scraped using a feature that allowed people to search for other users with their phone numbers and email addresses. This may also have included private Facebook messages, Wired reports.
The Cambridge Analytica breach is just the most recent backlash against the social media hands that feed us.
While privacy in all its forms is important, the broader social impact of Facebook and other platforms is largely ignored. They’re not just mining data to manipulate our attention and shopping habits; they are also taking away our capacity to show up in real life.
Think about a typical day.
If you’re like most people, you charge your phone next to your bed within arm’s reach. That glossy rectangular companion is the last thing you say goodnight to and the first thing you greet each morning. You likely check your email and scroll Instagram, clock into Facebook or give Twitter some attention, all before getting out of bed.
Your phone probably sits with you at breakfast, keeps you company on your commute, and follows you to your daily meetings. When you return home, it reminds you the day is not over. There’s more work to do.
It calls attention to the half dozen headlines you missed on your commute home, the distant cousin that just had a baby, and the person you love to hate who’s lapping up sunshine in the Maldives while you sit staring at your neglected grocery list.
Here’s why so many of us fall into this pattern:
Our devices and apps are not neutral. The reason the average person keeps their phone within 2 metres of them for nearly 90% of the day is because they are designed to addict us, right down to the colours and vanishing content.
Real-time Facebook updates, Instagram stories, WhatsApp streaks. All of these contribute to us spending time on the internet in ways we don’t intend to. We hop online to simply verify plans via Facebook Messenger but, in the blink of an eye, we’re consuming videos on YouTube and catching up on Twitter.
Why? We want to be known, heard, informed, connected, prepared, validated, entertained—these are all normal desires. Social media has the capacity to appease many fundamental human needs.
But the price tag on appeasing our needs is our attention, and the longer we linger on social media, the more data we provide. This data is then sold for a price to ventures like Cambridge Analytica whose self-proclaimed mission is to use data “to change audience behaviour.”
Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist and co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology, states plainly that,
“When you use technology, you have goals. When you land on YouTube, it doesn't know any of those goals. It has one goal, which is to make you forget those goals that you have.”
Because we spend so much unintended time in these social spaces, we are robbed of precious time and energy to accomplish what actually satisfies our fundamental human needs: meaningful work, quality time with loved ones, restorative rest, and creative expression.
What if we politely parted ways with social media, at least to some degree, and enjoyed different routines?
What if our phones slept outside the bedroom and we woke up refreshed? What if we greeted our bedside book or journal instead? What if we spent time in bed with our partner or children, or simply alone with our thoughts?
What if breakfast entailed quality time with or without company? What if we engaged in friendly banter with our barista? What if commuting involved singing or learning a language in the car? Or for those riding transit, what if we paid attention to the needs of strangers and helped one another?
What if we entered meetings prepared and relaxed because we weren’t exhausted from combatting the tyranny of the urgent? What if our morning routines set us up to thrive instead of draining your limited social, mental, and emotional resources?
What if by the end of our days, we possessed the capacity to properly connect and engage with those we love most?
Our online habits are robbing of us more than our data.
We’re being robbed of a clear picture of reality. We are being robbed of achieving our goals. We are being robbed of time with loved ones. We are being robbed of rest. We are being robbed of confidence as we perpetually compare ourselves to others online.
It’s time to ask ourselves if the information and attention we’re trading for time-saving apps and social platforms is worth it.
The data breach matters. Surely our lives matter more.