Some Facebook users quit with little fanfare - Many of them said using the site became an alienating experience
By Wailin Wong
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
7:14 p.m. CDT, June 9, 2010
Facebook still has plenty of friends.
Even amid last month's firestorm, which forced executives to hastily revamp the site's privacy settings, the social-networking juggernaut has held steady in membership and traffic. "Quit Facebook Day," an online campaign on May 31, resulted in about 30,000 departures — a negligible percentage of the platform's nearly 500 million active registered users.
Yet people do quit Facebook, often without fanfare. Their personal stories are varied, but there is a shared sense that what started as a personal, close-knit community turned into an alienating experience as the site began adding millions of members and more ways to share content.
This cycle is a common one in the technology world, where early adopters discover a cutting-edge platform only to grow disillusioned with it once the masses arrive. But admitting to being a Facebook malcontent represents more than smugly declaring a trend to be passe. For some defectors, the decision to leave is part of a broader debate about the role of social media in shaping the values of a Web-tethered generation.
"Once (Facebook) started getting mainstream … there was a culture that came on that's like the fast-food culture of quick and easy and cheap," said Joseph Dee, a 33-year-old Web strategist who co-founded Quit Facebook Day and deleted his account after about three years on the site. "There was definitely not a lot of real depth to the social interaction I had on there."
Kory Farthing, a 25-year-old Californian who recently quit the site after a nearly seven-year stint, said he initially signed on two or three times a day to check updates and send messages. It was only after graduating from college that he became uncomfortable with how the site blurred his work and family lives.
"In my opinion, Facebook is a childish, insecure way to publicize one's personal life," said Farthing, who still uses social media to publicize his fitness training products business. "My personal life should not be broadcasted to the entire world. … Nothing bad has ever happened to me because of Facebook, but over time I found it to be less and less appealing."
Leaving Facebook was easy for Farthing. It wasn't that way for Mary Jane Skelly, who tried unplugging when she realized that her friend list was dominated by people she barely knew. Skelly's hiatus lasted three weeks. She rejoined Facebook, although she pared her friend list from 250 to 50 people.
"I really think a lot about getting rid of it altogether, but I can't get off it because there's constantly pictures of my nieces up on Facebook," said Skelly, 28, who lives in North Carolina and is pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience. She said her younger sisters use Facebook in lieu of e-mail.
Because the site's utility spans everything from birthday reminders to organizing events, leaving the site can require some adjustment.
"People would have parties and they'd invite you via Facebook," said Ani Alexanian, a 21-year-old graphic designer from Michigan who quit during her junior year of college. "I remember when I first deleted my Facebook, people were actually calling to tell me, 'Ani, I can't find you on Facebook.' I'm kind of old-fashioned, where my friends know they have to call me to make me feel invited."
Alexanian found Facebook to be a distraction, rather than a useful social tool. This experience also resonated with Alex Hoffman, 23.
"Toward the end, the reason I quit was because I was wasting so much time on it," said Hoffman, a graphic designer in Illinois. "I think it was the fact that it was constantly updating. Not everything was necessarily entertaining or profound, but just knowing when you logged in, you would find something new and that would take a few minutes. … I realized it was just visual noise, mental noise."
It wasn't always just noise for Dee, whose exploration of new Web technologies is both a job and a personal pursuit. He enjoyed meeting people through Twitter in the early days of the microblogging service and once used it to organize a fundraiser. But Dee is now pulling out of Twitter because he sees it as another online platform where vanity runs amok.
Dee said he's not sure how to grow an online community while keeping the conversation meaningful. He's still looking for an answer, though not on Facebook.
Quit Facebook Day "wasn't two guys in their basement, saying 'Wanna quit Facebook?'" Dee said. "We're two guys extremely invested in this world of the Web, who build it and passionately believe in its potential and how it's transforming us. The amount of stake Facebook has in that future, with the amount of users and data they have and the nature of the interactions on there, is huge."