Professor Joe Goldblatt
“I thought you were dead!” Whilst attending a recent garden party my 92 year old friend looked me in the eye and made the pronouncement of my suspected demise. She actually looked astonished that I was sitting beside her still breathing.
When I recovered my composure I asked her why she would have suspected by premature demise she replied “Well, I could not find you on Facebook. I thought that because of your age perhaps the worst had happened to you.” I suppose this is one of the risks of leaving Facebook in the same year as I turned 70. To some folk, when you leave Facebook you become a man of mystery or you cease to exist.
I explained to her that I had left Facebook when it became the Metaverse because I did not agree with their new policies for curating content. She wrinkled her brow in confusion and said “Right, well, I am glad to see you are still alive!”
I suppose for some folk leaving Facebook is an indication that a human being has suffered some terrible fate such as illness, injury or even death. When I made the decision one year ago to depart from Facebook, very few people contacted me through other more ancient technologies such as the mobile phone, to express their concern. However, over time, I have noticed that as the pandemic retreated and I began to meet more and more people in person, they seem surprised to see me actually still alive and hopefully looking well.
I now have become curious as to why one’s disappearance from a social media platform such as Facebook causes such concern and even alarm. My disappearance is not insignificant. According to the parent company of Facebook, Meta, between 500,000 and 1 million daily average users have left Face book since the fourth quarter of 2021.
In 2019, a rigorous large scale study by Stanford University and New York University researchers in the USA found that people that quit Facebook actually spend much less time online overall and this could improve their mental health. It is also believed that people quit Facebook due to their privacy concerns, the banality of the content and other negative impacts.
Therefore, I began to examine my own motivations for leaving this platform and wondering if I had unintentionally caused distress to my “friends” throughout the world. My sole reason for leaving Facebook was the ominous description of the new ambitions Mark Zuckerberg announced for Meta of which his original first child, Facebook, would be the leading accelerator. He announced that it is a “reasonable construct for the metaverse to be a time, not a place.” This inferred that in his view of the world of the future he imagines we shall as a human society become more digital than physical.
Although I am a digital immigrant, I also understand how intoxicating the digital world has been in luring young people in large numbers to spend an inordinate amount of time on their screens. I do not believe this is the best way forward for authentic and positive human connection.
A young friend once said that he got to see, meet and chat with more people on Facebook in one week than I that I was able to similarly experience in one year. We then discussed the quantity of human connections versus the quality of these experience. I smiled, we shook hands and then I congratulated him upon the birth of his first child. I then asked, “Did that conception happen on Facbook?” He blushed.
When I made the instant decision to leave Facebook following Mr Zuckerberg’s decision to create Meta, I did not in my wildest dreams imagine the strong reaction I would receive from others. Now I realise that if I was to decide to leave other social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn I would first announce my eminent departure prior to my leaving the room. Perhaps by preparing my followers of my decision, the shock and resulting confusion may be somewhat minimised.
However, I do not now plan to leave these rooms anytime soon as their owners not yet decided to create a Metaverse themselves that would seek to replace the personal physical experience with the anonymous digital avatar. If they do move in this direction, I shall then reconsider my life on line and perhaps notify others that I have finally decided to commit digicide.
Having written with two of my younger students the first text book in the field of meeting and events technology, I understand all too well that on line technology has many great advantages for humanity and it also contains many dangerous trap doors. Therefore, I have decided to for the time being, to continue to use these platforms to enhance my social connections. At the same time I shall try and avoid as many future trap doors as possible. I suppose this is one way that I may in a small way continue to contribute to society . Perhaps some, but not all of my current and former “friends” will hopefully see me now as even more well in the future.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Professor Emeritus of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is the co – author of The 21st Century Meeting and Event Technologies (Apple Academic Press).