My Summer Without Facebook

I deactivated Facebook on June 24—the first time I have been without it in my adult life. After going almost three months without seeing the sickly blue logo or having a red notification alert invade my online workspace—and consciousness, I can definitively say that disabling Facebook was the best thing I could have done for myself this summer.
I was an “early adopter,” and once sang the praises of a technology that had the potential to connect strangers who should be friends. After all, technology pulled me out of depression at a time when I was almost completely isolated from my peers. I owed a lot to the concept of its ability to connect humanity, distracting us from the inevitable conclusion to life which is dying alone. But the way Facebook has been developed to abuse and manipulate the public over the past decade has stirred such a deep disgust in me that I can’t ethically continue to use it, regardless of how large my “audience” is there (a term marketers use to describe the people they can force their product in front of).
On a more personal level, I recognized that Facebook was contributing to the distressing form of sensory overload that I regularly face when returning to the US from long journeys abroad. It is a form of PTSD, and quitting Facebook did more to ease its negative symptoms than any pharmaceutical intervention could have done. Simply put, being connected to Facebook made me feel like a tea bag, being steeped in America’s myopic bullshit, over and over again.
Several people have told me that my travel posts were something they continually looked forward to viewing on Facebook, and it did feel a bit as though I was punishing my readers by disconnecting in this way. But I think I did us all a favor in the long run, because I am a better writer and thinker, a better me, without Facebook in my life.
Though I will post this link on Facebook today (my account was reactivated without my direct consent when I updated my credit card information on Spotify, a service that uses Facebook’s API for login purposes), I won’t contribute my writing to this corporate silo the way that I have in the past. You’re going to have to click that extra click, or even search from scratch to find my words on the internet. Publishing on Facebook is the equivalent of unpaid labor, and often the people who are the loudest on there are the ones no one would pay for their writing otherwise. So I will be quiet on there, but loud on platforms that appreciate my professionalism and experience as a writer, and invite my contributions to the public sphere.
From an ethical standpoint, Facebook is among the worst of the worst of tech companies manufacturing technological addictions. It incepts into thinking that the only way to live without it is to suffer alone, out of the loop, out of the immediate reach of friends and loved ones. They make it seem like to leave Facebook is the equivalent of death. One Facebook employee even taunted me on Twitter when I expressed how nice it was to be without:
You don’t need it. Even their employees know it’s the worst, as many have personally told me they are only there for the paycheck and will leave as soon as they have the opportunity to do so. After all, they are making millions off your free labor, giving away the details of your lives for them to package and sell to anyone they want without you even knowing about it. The benefits of Facebook have long ceased to outweigh the costs, but we keep working for our dopamine drip of likes. Why? Your neurons aren’t so tainted that they can’t go back to finding release in the simple pleasure of the natural world again. The anecdote is simply deactivation, and redirection of your online attention to more worthy resources.
Life wasn’t hard for me without Facebook—the people who wanted to contact me chose one of several other pathways to do so. The danger is that if we continue to choose Facebook over alternatives, life will be impossible without it. They are already lobbying in Africa to make sure it is the only “internet” available to people who can’t afford cellular data plans, creating a dependency in a way most Americans can’t fathom. Right now, it’s merely inconvenient to not have access to Facebook, but if they have it their way in the future, quitting could very well kill you, perhaps by cutting off your primary income streams.
The exodus has begun. Right now, it may not seem like we have much choice about what social network to use, as the other options haven’t reached critical mass or have been deliberately squashed by Facebook and other tech giants. But soon choice will emerge once again, and you’d be wise to choose the option that prioritizes you as a user. There are thousands of people in the world working to build alternative mechanisms for people to communicate via the internet. I am one of them. By opting to use other platforms to carry out your technological tasks, you will pull your social currency away from Facebook to those other places and decrease the power of Facebook to act unilaterally and with impunity regarding your online experience.
So here is my challenge to you: Every time you have the impulse or feel a necessity to post something on Facebook, post it somewhere else first. Link to it on Facebook if you must, but let that content live somewhere outside the confines of a corrupt organization that has absolutely no obligation to preserve or maintain your content or privacy. Start to initiate the process of removing yourself from its death grip, because soon, there will be a viable alternative to the connectivity we crave, and it will be pure and unadulterated.
I still believe that the internet can set us free, but nobody in power has ever just given up that power because it was the ethical thing to do, and you’d better not expect Facebook to do that now. Just like all revolutions of the past, we will have to carve our technological freedom out for ourselves.

Consider the moth

Today I was in the kitchen when I heard water splattering in my living room. This happens every day when my upstairs neighbor waters the plants hanging off her pseudo-balcony. And like I do every day, I rushed over to close the sliding door separating my unit from the courtyard so the water wouldn’t splash onto my desk.

With the slam came a fluttering of wings, and a disoriented moth landed on the glass inside my apartment. Over and over, it thrust itself at the glass. I watched its futile attempts with pity as the water cascaded down the other side.

Oh to be that moth: jolted out of your reality, fighting to get back to your place of contentment, but there is an invisible barrier between you and your preferred state of being. Everything is blurry and you don’t understand why, but you suspect maybe this is the end. Life is life.

Also, there is also a giant monster behind you.

I waited until the water droplets stopped falling and slid the door a little bit open, but the moth remained fixated on its point of reference on the glass. Its delicate body bounced off it over and over as it tried to pass through, as if hoping its own confusion of the physics at work would give way to an equally confusing but advantageous escape.

I slid the door further open, but didn’t want it to get stuck between the doors, so I grabbed a piece of paper and gently encouraged it to move to the left, toward freedom. Not trusting the monster, it kept trying to exit through the glass with greater urgency. The more I tried to help it walk onto the paper, the more it went the other direction, until it flew to the top pane of glass, exasperated.

I stared at that moth and considered the implications. Overwhelmed by its most basic instincts for survival, the moth was actually increasing its chances of death. And sometimes life is like this. Perhaps it is like this for all creatures living in artificial worlds. How ironic that the behavioral traits which would have ensured our survival in a world without man-made constructions, that the behavioral impulses that would have deemed us most fit, are sometimes the factors that can now put us at the gravest disadvantages.

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The Tidal Pool Treasures of Thailand

There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.

It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:


It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.

While eating  breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.

Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.


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Rainy day wander in Kyoto

Nijo castle garden | Olympus Pen EP-5 | Arikia Millikan

The rain sounds different when it hits the tops of houses in Kyoto. I woke up and listened to it for an hour today, then went downstairs and watched the turtles in the inner garden pond. Animals here are not afraid of people. They don’t run and hide the way animals who have learned the hard way what humans are all about do. Even the little birds don’t mind. The only ones who run from people, my house mate told me, are the cats. Given the obsession with cats here, this strikes me as wise behvior.

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On honor culture in Japan

I arrived in Kyoto today around 7pm. I should have gotten here earlier but I went the wrong way in the Osaka Loop train, which didn’t really matter, I just had to wait for the longer side of the loop. When I finally got to Osaka Station, I switched to the Kyoto line, tossed my bag on the subway rack and just zoned out into my headphones.

A nice thing about Japan is that people don’t steal things from other people here, at least overtly and rampantly like they do elsewhere. I learned from my friend who’s an English teacher in Osaka that kids get moral training in elementary school, where they are given different scenarios and have to pick the more ethical choice. It permeates the culture.

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“You picked your mother”

When I was in Thailand, I studied Buddhist meditation in the jungle with a runaway princess. There are many stories to be told about what happened there, but today is mother’s day so I will tell you just this one.

In the US and other Western cultures, we sometimes say “you can’t pick your parents.” It comes up in times of familial strife, when things aren’t all Hallmark ad-like and you wish you had a different life with different people in it. It’s to remind us that, nope, we can’t. Our lives come pre-fabbed with certain people in certain roles, and nothing can ever change it. You have to deal.

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The Plight of the Permalancer

The following text was originally published on Facebook. I am reposting it here at the request of a friend who wanted to send this to John Oliver.

I’ve recently been informed that I owe a couple Gs to the IRS from when I was working at Wired full-time. I was the youngest editor on the masthead, running not one but three online verticals of, sometimes not leaving the office until midnight and commuting an hour to get home alone through the subways of NYC at night. I was being forced to spend my time dealing with eye-gougingly incompetent adsales people from corporations who were making probably 4x as much as me but couldn’t think of a new idea to save their lives.
Meanwhile Wired was using its own editorial employees to pressure me and other editors to be more lenient in allowing them to insert advertiser messaging into content so as to not disrupt these big ticket ad sales that would let our thick-necked jock of a VP win his internal betting ring against GQ and other Conde Nast publications. I thought I was working for a technology magazine, not a sportsball team–I turned in my cheerleading uniform years ago. But when I protested my editor yelled at me, the only time he ever has, and told me to just “keep my head down.” So I did what he said.

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