For our second installment in our Awkward Conversations With Anonymous Friends, we address the issue of Facebook, social media, and the drain it has on people. Personally, I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with it for the past year, so I thought it’d be enlightening to discuss it with someone who has left the Facebook world, and is all the better for it. In this conversation, I sit down with a friend of mine who is a well known musician. If you’re a regular reader of The Recoup, and a fan of alternative rock, you’ll know this person’s music. I asked them to share their thoughts on leaving Facebook, and when I suggested this anonymous interview they quickly agreed, and we had a nice long Sunday afternoon chat about it. So long, in fact, that I’ve split it into two parts. This first part is dedicated to their side of the story and their reasons for leaving Facebook. The second part, which I’ll publish next week, is more about my own personal feelings about Facebook and social media, as well as some lessons for young artists about interacting with fans. I hope you enjoy it; it’s certainly an engaging and thought-provoking talk.
You left Facebook four years ago.
Has it been that long? (Pauses) Gee, I guess it has! (Laughs) It’s funny the way the Internet has warped our concept of linear time. On one hand, it feels like it makes time pass by so quickly, yet when looking back at the past, things happen so quickly on the internet that what may have only been a few months ago seems further away than it actually is. When I was socially active, my manager would warn me about talking about upcoming releases, that it would not be wise to reveal any kind of information to my followers or friends or what have you, especially in terms of calendar dates. He said that it made headaches for him and for my label, because, well, just because you say something in passing doesn’t mean it is set in stone, but there will always be people who will see this and hold it as gospel, and then will get impatient with you and with your label and on your social media sites because you have’t kept your “promise.” (Groans.) I let it slip once about an EP we were working on, it might not have been set in stone per se but it seemed to be firm enough I was comfortable letting the information out. But then things happened within the band and with the label and my feelings about the record and it didn’t happen, so we scrapped it. The month it was to be released, we had a lot of people saying, “Where’s the record,” and “what happened, did you break up,” and all sorts of things. I’m thinking to myself, I only mentioned it once six months ago, and never brought up the subject since then, so why do you think it’s still coming out if I’ve not made one mention of it since? (Laughs)
That must be conflicting: it’s nice to have people who are that devoted to you, yet frustrating that they hold every word you say as gospel truth.
Right! You don’t want to hurt their feelings, because so many of them are quite sincere and curious and love your music. I get that—I’m a fan, too, and I want the people I like to put out new records. And when things don’t pan out, it’s disappointing, but that’s how life is, right? I’m lucky, in that the people who like my music and my band are very understanding. But one’s always going to have that one person who doesn’t understand.
Was it hard giving up Facebook? Twitter?
Not really, no. From hearing from friends who are also ex-Facebook users, I sort of thought it would be as bad as giving up smoking. But surprisingly, that hasn’t been the case.
I sort of envy people who can walk away from these things because they really have no strings attached to them, because they don’t have serious, legitimate business reasons to be connected. If I didn’t have The Recoup and my other writing outlets, I would turn my back on it all, and I wouldn’t feel one ounce of regret in doing so.
Oh, how true! That was hard for me as well. What made it harder was that there’s a perception of “niceness” about it all, that somehow if you’re not interacting with fans and people on social media, that somehow you’re not a nice person that cares about their fans. Far from it! I am extremely happy that people have responded to my music and have bought my records over the past two decades or so. It’s an honor; I’ve invested my life and my soul into what I do. Yet I also remember my formative years, when I started releasing music in the mid-eighties, when the only social network was via word-of-mouth, and you only made your fanbase through interviews, reviews, and playing live. I always hate talking about “the good old days,” because I don’t want to idealize an era that was radically different from the present, as I don’t think that one is better than the other. You really can’t compare. For instance, on one hand it was cool to put three bucks in an envelope and in return get a single or two from a band you’ve never heard of before, simply because you saw an ad or a review in a ‘zine and wanted to check it out. Yet it’s equally cool to read a review online and click on a link and instantly hear the music in question on Youtube or Bandcamp or wherever. True, the experiences aren’t the same, but the feeling of discovery—I think both are cool in the same way.
Was there a particular experience that led you to make the decision to leave Facebook?
In terms of having a singular bad experience? Compared to other musician friends of mine, no. Other friends haven’t been so lucky, with all sorts of bad things happening, from stalkers, violent fans, trolls, hacking, fake profiles, identity theft, and even property crime. Mainly, though, I was aware that Facebook was a place where one had to be very careful about what one says. I know people who have taken to Facebook and Twitter and have simply let everything out, a transformation into a full-on open book. I could never be that way. When I first joined Facebook, my manager suggested that if I wanted to keep it low-profile and strictly on a real-friends-only basis, that I create an alias and limit accepting friend requests of people I knew—family, work acquaintances, fans I could trust. That worked for about a year; it was nice. I didn’t get bombarded with people wanting to friend me.
But then the secret got out, that hey, this mysterious person was, in fact, me. I tried for a time to keep up the persona, but it made me feel so dishonest and distant. It didn’t help that someone came up to me in a concert and asked me why I didn’t accept their friend request. I was taken aback! I didn’t really have an answer—I’d known this person for several years, even though their name escaped me. I said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not really on all that much”—which was partially true, but the implication that I was lying to them bothered me. They were cool about it, but it still bugged me. It didn’t help that when we went out on tour shortly after that, at almost every show I kept getting asked this same sort of question. Turning down friend requests suddenly felt wrong. So when I got home from tour, I deleted the account and started a new one with my real name. I tried to be diligent about checking out the profiles of people who sent friend requests, but it just became too overwhelming. I couldn’t keep up!
Then the funniest thing happened: I started having people send me messages questioning my identity! (Laughs) People were saying—and even reporting—that I wasn’t who I was claiming to be! But I ignored those and started to try and have a “normal” interaction with my Facebook crew. I didn’t have too many trouble makers, thankfully. So I let my guard down, I became more comfortable about posting and interacting. I tried to be somewhat open, even feeling comfortable enough to post pictures and videos of my family; I’d been reticent about it, because I wanted to keep some things pure and private. Plus—there are weirdos out there!
I sort of stopped being too personal on there, though. I posted a video of my then-ten year old son’s garage band. It was cute, and it was fun, but then people started to get too inquisitive, especially because two of his friends in the band are the children of a rather famous person. Their parents were cool—they simply asked that I not say who they are, which I respected—but the next thing I know, the video started to appear outside of Facebook, with the kids’ identities revealed. Their parents were mad, but I learned a lesson about sharing things. Apparently the person who did “leak” this video out on Youtube and Tumblr had been stalking my friends online for a year or so. It wasn’t something I was aware about at the time, and when he told me about it, I felt super-guilty, but no hard feelings. This took place in 2012, and between it and the insanity of the Presidential election, I started to feel that Facebook wasn’t the place for me.
So what caused your eventual split?
(Laughs) This is going to sound so stupid, and I’m almost embarrassed, but it’s how it happened! (Laughs). Every August, my family goes on vacation together, right before school starts. We do it because I always throw myself into work every fall, because the kids are back in school and I can focus. Well, in 2013, we decided to do something different and take an ocean cruise to Alaska. We would get back on a Saturday morning, the kids would rest up, and then they would go back home and I would be heading to a month-long writing retreat at a friend’s lodge.
So it’s the second day of our cruise, right? There’s an announcement made about dolphins and whales on the starboard, and so me and my son go to check it out. We don’t see anything, so I kind of lean over, and… (laughs). I think you can figure out the rest, right? (Laughs) No more iPhone, no more internet! (Laughs) So I figure, since I’m going into isolation in about a week, I’ll just pick up a cheap cell phone when I get back, no frills. That way, I’d not have any real distractions and I would get things done, yet still have a way to keep in touch with the family.
So for about six weeks, I’m away from the world, save for the calls from home and my manager. I enjoyed it! Life was really productive, and when I got back home, I didn’t go on Facebook for about a week. After six weeks away, i just sort of realized that I didn’t really need that distraction in my life. I had way too many messages and comments to respond to—something like 300 messages. I didn’t have the energy to respond to them all, especially as most of them seemed to be of the “Where are you, are you okay?” variety, and the ones that were pressing, the senders often had a way to get to me outside of Facebook.
So I stopped posting and interacting, and after a month of two of non-posting, I decided to just completely withdraw. New Years Eve, I deactivated my account, and haven’t really looked back. There are official pages for my band and for me; my cousin runs both of them, and any pressing or personal messages get sent my way. Plus, I’ll interact about once a month or so, which is fun, and I think feels makes for a much more personal relationship and interaction with the people who like my music. I have a twitter account, and I tweet occasionally, but it just isn’t something I’ve fully gotten into.
No temptations to return?
Honestly? No. There was a point during the 2012 election where I would spend so much time getting engrossed in reading my feed, and I sort of started to realize that I really dislike these people. I started to dread reading it because sometimes seemingly likable people were saying the most hideous things, and I simply was sad at thinking about these people I otherwise liked being really horrid people. That’s not a healthy way to live. I’m glad I’m no longer willingly subjecting myself to that.