"More than machinery, we need humanity."

Douglass Rushkoff Quits Facebook (surprising nobody)

Apropos of my post about the smart phone (here), it is incumbent upon me to mention that if the filing cabinet on you is your smart phone than most of the files inside will be come courtesy of Facebook.

Your phone may be filled with contacts and PIN numbers but nothing lays out your social connections and interests better than a social network account over which you have labored for hours in order to best construct that digital representation of “you.” Your iPhone may say “I know these people” a social network gives the “how,” “why” and even the “how much.”

Or, as media theorist, Douglass Rushkoff put it in a recent blog post titled “Unlike – Why I’m Leaving Facebook” (it was originally posted on CNN {which is kind of funny}):

“Facebook has never been merely a social platform. Rather, it exploits our social interactions the way a Tupperware party does. Facebook does not exist to help us make friends, but to turn our network of connections, brand preferences, and activities over time – our “social graphs” – into a commodity for others to exploit. We Facebook users have been building a treasure lode of big data that government and corporate researchers have been mining to predict and influence what we buy and whom we vote for.”

Rushkoff’s piece runs through many of the oft-mentioned problems with the black hole, I mean, social network, that is Facebook: it sells your data and connections, it opens you up to unwanted surveillance, you are the product, you can’t trust it, you didn’t agree to it’s current form when you first signed up for it, and so forth.

It is an interesting piece (hence my linking to it), but I must admit that I write this post with a sort of mild amusement. For one thing, I’m sure social networking sites can predict that those who follow the work of a writer like Rushkoff (I include myself in that group [though I have never “liked” him on a social network]), are likely a group who are already skeptical about much technology and the Internet.

After all, criticisms such as those that Rushkoff is voicing do not seem at all surprising coming from him, as he writes in his second paragraph: “Today I am surrendering my Facebook account, because my participation on the site is simply too inconsistent with the values I espouse in my work.” In other words, Rushkoff isn’t suddenly emerging from Facebook adoration to a critical position, he is simply taking an already held critical position and acting on it.

It is Rushkoff choosing to get off Facebook that is significant. And the real question that his piece raises is at what point do those of us who dislike Facebook actually deactivate our accounts?

How many people (myself included) know that they should deactivate their accounts? Know that the site clashes with their values? Know that they use it so little that they might as well just delete their account? And yet…their account remains open, even if it is just because they do not want to jump through the hurdles involved in quitting the site.

I imagine that most of those who follow Rushkoff’s work are already predisposed to positively view a push to get away from Facebook, which makes it all the more disappointing that Rushkoff’s posting comes off so weakly. Let me explain.

While Rushkoff’s post raises many important critiques of Facebook, the piece seems partially like a move to scare up some viral self promotion, as Rushkoff writes after noting that he is leaving Facebook: “In my upcoming book Present Shock, I chronicle some of what happens when we can no longer manage our many online presences.”  It lends Rushkoff’s move a somewhat “stunt like” quality, and sadly deprives his action of some of it’s merit. Granted, by posting about this I am in some small way (very small) helping Rushkoff achieve his goal of getting some publicity out of his leaving Facebook (I was planning on reviewing the book for this blog when it comes out).

In the past Rushkoff has produced some very interesting critiques and I am sure that his new book will be quite interesting. I think that Rushkoff is a well-situated thinker to push for people to get away from a site like Facebook, and to perhaps build better (more open, non-corporate) social spaces.

But Rushkoff’s post is not a rallying cry. Alas it is a sale’s pitch not a call for pitchforks.

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

2 comments on “Douglass Rushkoff Quits Facebook (surprising nobody)

  1. Douglas Rushkoff
    March 5, 2013

    Not sure I agree with the conclusion. I’m not asking other people follow me. I’m not at war with Facebook. And I’d be able to stay on their as a person, were it not that I was stupid enough to let some readers create a page for me as a *author*. I just wrote a book that basically explains why people get so screwed up by having uncontrollable identities. It is *only* in light of being about to come out with such a thing that I have to leave FB as an author. I am closing my regular account, too, just to be consistent but I don’t think they were doing mean things to *others* through my personal account.

    Or, more simply, I am coming out with a book that basically says Facebook sucks in ways that are bad for you. I think it’s inconsistent for me to use Facebook to promote that book – especially when it makes my readers (not me) vulnerable to having their identities abused.

    • theluddbrarian
      March 5, 2013


      First off, thank you for your comment. We at the Shipwreck had always hoped to use this blog to advance conversations, even if it is over disagreements with our (sometimes poorly drawn) conclusions.

      As I hope I made clear in the above post, I agree with your criticisms of Facebook, and I was glad to see these criticisms advanced in a forum as public as CNN (which I’m sure reaches a relatively broad audience). I did not mean to suggest that you were asking people to follow you in quitting Facebook, which is largely the point of my post: because I really wish you had asked people to quit Facebook with you. In other words, I kind of wish your post had been titled “Unlike – Why I’m leaving Facebook, and why you should too.”

      I have not yet read your new book (as it has not been published yet), but in your comment you write that it “basically explains why people get so screwed up by having uncontrollable identities,” or, as you also write, you are “coming out with a book that basically says Facebook sucks in ways that are bad for you.” Again, I agree that people get “screwed up by having uncontrollable identities,” (and I’m sure that this particularly impacts public figures such as yourself) and I also agree that “Facebook sucks.”

      I appreciate your ethical consistency in not wanting to use Facebook to promote a book that says “Facebook sucks.” Likewise, I don’t think that you were “asking other people to follow” you, and I definitely did not mean to suggest that you are “at war with Facebook.” I believe that your criticisms of Facebook come from a valid place, and likewise I do not doubt your sincerity in wanting to prevent your readers from being “vulnerable to having their identities abused.”

      Which brings me back to my point: if Facebook is a place where your readers (myself included) run the risk of “having their identities abused” wouldn’t it be a good idea for them to follow your example and leave Facebook?

      I haven’t read your new book yet, but based on the description of it posted on your site, I imagine that it features the full argument behind your criticism that “Facebook sucks in ways that are bad for you.”

      I give you tons of credit (tons!) for publicly leaving Facebook and giving a solid explanation for why you did so. I just wish that you had used your post as a rallying cry. Because it is sorely needed.

      Thanks for your comment!

      – Zachary (aka The Luddbrarian)

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