Was it just me, or was Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress this week less than reassuring? I wanted to feel better than I do about Facebook.
I deactivated my account several weeks ago (before Zuckerberg’s testimony) and haven’t missed it … much.
If you tried to contact me and couldn’t find me, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t because I blocked or unfriended you. I just disappeared one day. Interestingly, no one called to ask if I was okay, which is probably a data point I should pay attention to.
I read somewhere that one in 10 people in the U.S. have either deactivated their accounts or deleted them altogether, presumably because of recent headlines. I wasn’t ready to take that more drastic step, but I’m not entirely sure why not. For now I’m simply inactive. All of my data is still out there.
My decision to deactivate was not all that difficult. Like many others, apparently, I was angered by revelations that my data was being shared widely, even more widely than I knew. And beyond that, I wondered whether Facebook was really adding anything to my life. I like hearing from friends (most of them), but I was tired of the political stuff. Never mind that I share the views of my friends, I was just tired of seeing the same stuff everyday – different verse, same refrain. It was getting old.
Do I miss it? Facebook, I mean. The answer is, Not really. My life seems to be unfolding just fine without it. I have more time for other things (including Twitter and Instagram). What I worry about is my brand. And what I mean by that is I used social media at the beginning so that I would have a presence, so that I could create an online identity as a pastor and author – photos, inspirational quotes, witty comments, occasional commentary, and – most important – marketing for my blog and books.
A few years ago, especially during my first months in Switzerland, my blog readership soared, a few thousand unique views each month, and Facebook was the way most people found me (I know that because of Google Analytics). I only shared what I wanted. And the rest was private.
Or so I thought.
I have been naive about this, as I have been naive about other things in my life, but in this case my naivete has had more serious consequences – at least that’s my fear. And of course it’s not just Facebook that has made extensive use of my data. I now realize that Google has done pretty much the same thing, even if the founders weren’t called to give testimony this week. When I write email on my Gmail account or post photos on Facebook, all of that information gets scooped up, sorted, sifted, and analyzed for … who else? Advertisers, of course, who want to sell me stuff.
For several months I would see online ads for theological seminaries offering advanced degrees. I didn’t recognize the names of most of these schools. Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology? Really? Yes. It’s in Rockport, Indiana. I could go there and meet many young, attractive, and smiling classmates for conversations about Jesus.
And then there were the young Russian (or Ukrainian) women who wanted to date me. This went on for a long time, and in their photos they were always looking over their shoulders at me. They all seemed to have nice hair too, but I’m pretty sure that if they met me, they would want to head back quickly to Russia (or Ukraine) or wherever young men must be in short supply. Trust me that the last thing I need is a young Russian woman around the house, even one with very nice hair.
But somehow my personal data and online searches suggest that I might, perhaps, be tempted – either to further theological education or to an exciting new relationship.
To be honest, I don’t know what to do. I’m conflicted. I like advertising my stuff, my brand, but I realize that it’s not free and never was. It comes with a rather steep price, and I’m still considering whether or not the price is worth it.
On the other hand, there isn’t much about me that the whole world doesn’t already know.
(Photo: I thought about putting up the Facebook logo, but they don’t need more product placements. So, the photo above is my La Pavoni espresso machine which I sold on eBay two weeks ago. You’ll never guess how many ads for new La Pavoni espresso machines are now showing up on my screen.)