Breaking the not-Facebook addiction

Why did I give up on Facebook years ago, and why did I decide today to come back? It's a long story. It started when I was a freshman, and got nothing but disappointment from Facebook that year.

My roommate went to a party school called Durham College, which happened to share the same dorms as my university's satellite campus. The matchmaking was an epic fail. He was in his fourth year of a 3-year program, had never even seen the campus library, and insisted on throwing a party the night before my first class, which I decided would be the worst time to show up without getting a full night's sleep first.

It was one of his party guests who insisted I open a Facebook account. The only people who friended me were the type my roommate tended to associate with -- extroverts who didn't believe in studying or being smart, and who were clueless about science and technology. Thus, I came to believe these were the only sorts of people who used Facebook, and all it was used for was wasting time. (This was back in 2007, so those beliefs may still have been widespread and partly true.)

After I moved into a single room, I stopped using Facebook. I thought, "Don't hate the players, hate the game." The problem was that by then, "the game" was almost everyone I could possibly ever come into contact with. For all practical purposes, "the game" was humanity.

Just as I was learning that smart people were out there (finding out about Transhumanism and Singularitarianism were a start) and that they used Facebook too, the horror stories started pouring in. Likejacking, cyberstalking, the online background check. Meanwhile, the Room 641A revelations were making my dad's ex-girlfriend's conspiracy theories harder to dismiss. Even though I used an anti-virus program and a browser that wasn't Internet Explorer, I felt safer staying off Facebook.

When Google+ came out, I was an early adopter. Finally, a social networking site from a company that had experience handling security and privacy, and where enough of the software engineers were old enough to know what they were doing! Alas, it never took off the way I hoped it would.

When the above "Not Google Plus" video came out, I watched it and commented, "I prefer not Facebook." But I didn't just prefer it -- I let it define me. It was how I stayed secure online, how I avoided distractions when I needed to study. In a sea of Facebook addicts, I was addicted to not-Facebook. Addicted, in other words, to being alone.

And then I wondered why nobody ever read my blog. (That's why I haven't posted much this winter -- I decided if I wanted to write stuff nobody was ever going to read, I'd work on my thesis.)

But things are changing:

  • Facebook has made some long-overdue privacy fixes, and ended the all-or-nothing fallacy of its social graph with an "Acquaintances" category.
  • A popular video has argued that social media can save the planet (highly speculative, but so are all the alternatives) and politics as we know it can't.
  • An expert argues persuasively that a lack of large teams is holding back progress in AI. Software has always been a field for extreme introverts, and AI is one of those fields where money isn't bringing us together in large enough numbers.
  • In two years, I'll need an advisor for a Ph.D. dissertation. I can't do it at the one university that already knows me, because they don't have a doctoral-level program in computing. Thus, I need to network with profs elsewhere.
  • I also need a girlfriend. As an undergrad, I decided to avoid distractions by staying single. But my biochemistry has changed to the point where being single is a distraction. (Which strikes me as a case of the tail wagging the dog, but maybe that's why it's called "getting some tail".)

Today I decided to give Facebook another try. It'll be a slow process, but maybe -- just maybe -- it'll be worthwhile in the end.
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