Jim Letourneau's Blog

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Forswearing Facebook

Last week I had an email from a friend with the subject line "you left facebook."  I took some time to respond as I didn't sound like a crazed conspiracy theorist. Here is why I left Facebook.

At first I thought that there was no specific incident that caused me to leave Facebook on June 5, 2017 but upon quiet reflection, it was my sampling of Scott Adams' Persuasion Reading List.

Exposure to the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky ("Thinking, Fast and Slow" and "The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds") primed me to examine Facebook more critically. A quick summary is that System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach" and System 2  is “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” It turns out System 1 runs the show. People will tell you that they are rational but they are often guided by the irrational System 1. Just like Michael Lewis and "Moneyball", you've written about irrational behavior. He wrote "The Undoing Project" partly in response to a review of "Moneyball" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

Also, there was a promo article for a book called “The Hacking of the American Mind." that came out in early June.  While the book wasn't published until September 12, 2017, the title was enough motivation for me to pull back from social media. I subsequently learned about hormones from the hacking book. Dopamine is bad and serotonin is good. Facebook triggers dopamine. I'm also pretty sure there was a nice morning shot of cortisol in my morning Facebook hormonal mix. According to hormonal obesity theories, cortisol can trigger weight gain. 

My experience was that in spite of my efforts to control my news feed, it was controlling me instead. If I want to argue about something on Twitter, I have to put in some effort.   

I was still on the fence about rejoining Facebook until I saw a headline zip by about a speech Mark Zuckerberg gave in Chicago on June 22, 2017. 

“It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, the network reported. “That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”

“A church doesn’t just come together,” he continued. “It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A Little League team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us. […] If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.”

It was obvious to me that he was blatantly lying and that put me into the Facebook is evil camp. I'm sure some of the problem is with me, but I haven't seen the world brought closer together by Facebook. I have seen seemingly normal people get instantly radicalized on subjects that they have not taken the time to reflect on.

In the red corner, sounding the alarm, are people like Tristan Harris and his Time Well Spent project:

“How do you ethically steer the thoughts and actions of two billion people’s minds every day?”

In the green corner is piles of money money money (insert an O'Jays, Abba or Pink Floyd meme here):

  • Facebook - $531 billion
  • Google - $724 billion

  • Plus Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest LinkedIn etc. that run $10-30 billion each. They're all fighting for our attention. 

The negatives of quitting Facebook are that it is harder for my parents to see what I'm up to. It is harder for me to see what my friends are up to and vice verse. I had to change how I login to most of my Internet services. Once every few days or so, Julia shows me a photo of friends or family members. Sometimes they are interesting. 

My decision wasn't random or reactionary. I just wanted to feel better while I'm using the Internet.

Now Sean Parker, the former CEO of Facebook and billionaire, is conveniently claiming to be a  “conscientious objector” of the platform. In a recent Axios interview "Sean Parker unloads on Facebook "exploiting" human psychology", he makes the following points:

It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html
How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html
And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you ... more likes and comments.
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html

I can always go back but just like the casino,  I know I will be giving up something if I do.