Greg Dixon 's Opinion

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Greg Dixon: About Facebook

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Status update? Mark Zuckerberg’s vampire empire can go to hell, writes Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is heading to his Facebook grave. Photo / Digitally enhanced Thinkstock, Getty Images
Greg Dixon is heading to his Facebook grave. Photo / Digitally enhanced Thinkstock, Getty Images

By the time you read this, I'll be gone. I will have ended it, I'll have popped my clogs, cashed in my chips, shuffled off this mortal coil.

That's right, I have deleted my Facebook account.

I call this an act of sanity. Others - many, many others - will view it as a form of 21st century social death. Well I don't care if it is. No longer will I find myself up to my neck in the warm, fetid pool of other people's holiday snaps, wedding arrangements or riveting stories about how their first day back at work was, like, you know, like hell.

No longer will I have to restrain myself from punching a wall when a Facebook friend shares "wisdom" such as "Silence is a place of great healing and power" or "Sometimes we have to forget what we want . . . to remember what we deserve".

No longer will I spend an hour fantasising about murder after getting into lame and pointless arguments with people about such amazingly contentious and important subjects as whether celebrity breast cancer should lead the news.

I can't tell you how relieved I am to no longer have to know that Friend A thinks this or that a celebrity is a "knob" or that another has had a baby.

I can't tell you how much lighter my heart is that I never have to get science-versus-religious nutter updates from another friend, or to find party political broadcasts about anything from anyone on my newsfeed.

But this isn't a one-way street of gratitude, of that I am sure. My retreat from Facebook has no doubt saved any number of people from having to un-friend me for being rude, catty or failing to be right-on enough about this, that or the other.

All of this was predictable. Some long-time readers will know that I have long been peevish about social media.

When I first heard of them, I hated the very idea of Twitter and Facebook and said so in dear old print about five years ago. I held out until February 2011 when I set up accounts on both social networks - I came around to the view that it is best to embrace change when you can - and threw myself into it with as much of an open mind as it is possible to have for something you neither trust nor see the real point of.

In less than a year (it was roughly eight months, I think), I quit Twitter.

I have read since that it is changing the way the media, in particular, works. Perhaps this is true. But in my experience, Twitter, in the closest analogy I can think of, was something like being in a very large room packed with a lot of people shouting at each other but very few listening.

Twitter's evangelists will say different, but it is mostly just an advertising medium for how smart you think you are to your "followers", either with your own alleged wit or - more usually - someone else's.

And that's all Facebook is about too. It is about you advertising your life - at least your self-curated life - to others: see how interesting I am, see how amazing/cute/talented my kids are, see what wonderful holidays I go on, see what great taste I have in music/films/art/etc, see how full my social life is. Please click "like" to confirm . . .

That I've stuck it out for so much longer on Facebook tells me that I'm as shallow and narcissistic - as much of a self-advertiser - as the next Facebook user. I, too, wanted the affirmation implied by others "liking" or commenting on my status updates or photos. I, too, compared my Facebook life to the Facebook life of others and struggled with the feeling that I was keeping up or doing better. I, too, suffered tiny nags of status anxiety at the thought that I wasn't. Well not any more. As of last Saturday, I've retired from the field of battle.

Facebook is in retreat too, at least a little. The Guardian reported in April that the world's largest social network had lost millions of users per month in its biggest markets, according to independent data, as users migrated to other, fresher social networks.

In the US, Britain and other major European countries, Facebook's expansion was said to have peaked and, in the month before the Guardian report, had lost 6 million US visitors and 1.4 million British visitors, drops of 4 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively. In the previous six months, Facebook had lost nearly 9 million monthly visitors in the US and 2 million in Britain.

A media analyst speculated to the Guardian that there was a boredom factor now dogging Facebook in mature markets, and that hardened posters of holiday snaps and cat videos were moving on to more newfangled social media.

Is Facebook dying then? Hardly. It has something like 1.1 billion monthly users worldwide, with a bit over half that number using Facebook daily. So it's not even close to becoming the next MySpace. But is Facebook boring? I would argue that it is.

Have a look at your news feed. All down the right hand side are ads which are supposed to be targeted, but in my experience aren't. Meanwhile, on the newsfeed itself there many more ads: for businesses you were stupid enough to "like", plus there are ugly, stupid or irrelevant "suggested posts" which are more ads courtesy of Facebook itself, and ads called "related posts", courtesy of friends who appear to have done some deal with some business.

On top of all that, if you happen to access your account through a tablet app, you also see advertisements for stupid, ugly or irrelevant tablet games too.

(The ubiquitousness - and pointlessness - of many businesses using social media was wonderfully mocked by the Onion website recently in story with the headline "Local Laundromat Employs Social Media Co-ordinator" . . . "Dan's role is essential to Sudz Cleaners because he not only manages our Facebook and Twitter identities, he also keeps us on top of the latest trending topics and makes us a part of the global online conversation," said Bill Dunn, co-owner of the self-service and drop-off laundromat.)

Among all the advertising static on Facebook it's a miracle if you find any self-advertising from your actual friends, including pictures of them at a party to which you weren't invited.

Facebook, for me anyway, had a couple of small compensations. I was able to keep in touch with friends and family overseas (or in other cities and towns) - this would seem to be the only real point of Facebook - and, because I was a "friend" of my local city councillor, I was able to pester her if I needed to (she always responded so she'll have my vote this year). But what was the point of the scores of other posts, the hundreds of other words?

Samuel Johnson said it best: no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. I am already paid - to the consternation of those who send me hate mail - for most of the words I write, so why the hell should I bother banging out more sentences for no money on a social network?

This was just one of many ways that I was ultimately unsuited to Facebook. Another is that I am 47. Shouldn't 47-year-olds have better things to do than post pictures of donkeys or link to "hilarious" videos on Facebook?

But it isn't just the piteous nature of what I (and everybody else) mostly stuck up on Facebook. It's what has happened to it that really gets my goat. Yes, yes, we all know that future (or present) employers will search our social network presence for signs of drunkenness and stupidity. We all know that anything we post on the internet is there for all time. But on Facebook everything you post belongs to Mark Zuckerberg, and he and his vampire empire are constantly looking for ways to make money from it. Well not from my asinine posts, not any more; as of last Saturday I am no longer just another zucker.

My final act on Facebook - well the final act other than deleting my account - was to post a final statement. It read: "Goodbye". But here's what I should have said:

"I, Greg Dixon, being of sound mind and body do hereby make, publish and declare this, my Last Facebook Will and Testament. I declare that I am making this Last Facebook Will and Testament of my own free will, being under no threat of coercion or duress from Zuckerberg or his minions. I hereby bequeath nothing on my Facebook page to anyone because I have never owned any of it. It belongs to Mark Zuckerberg. But don't worry. If you're interested in any of my old posts and photographs (including that fantastic one I took of a donkey in Ireland and that one of our cat with her leg in the air), he'll probably sell them to you because that is the business he is in, exploiting people's personal data for profit. Well, I hereby refuse to help him make any more money. I mean, he's already worth in excess of $16.6 billion. Isn't that enough? Apparently not. Anyway, boo-zucks to Zuckerberg. To the rest of you: see you in the real world."

- NZ Herald

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

It has been said the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are a rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Despite having none of these things, Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and North & South and Metro magazines. Although it has been rumoured that he embarked on his journalism career as the result of a lost bet, the truth is that although he was obsessed by the boy reporter Tintin as a child, he originally intended to be an accountant. Instead, after a long but at times spectacularly bad stint at university involving two different institutions, a year as a studio radio programme director and a still uncompleted degree, he fell into journalism, a decision his mother has only recently come to terms with. A graduate of the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) journalism school, he was hired by the Herald on graduation in 1992 and spent the next eight years demonstrating little talent for daily news, some for television reviewing and a passable aptitude for long-form feature writing. Before returning to the Herald in 2008 to take up his present role, he spent three years as a freelance, three as a senior feature writer at Metro and one as a staff writer at North & South. As deputy editor of Canvas, his main responsibility is applauding the decisions of the editor, Michele Crawshaw. However he prefers to spend his time interviewing interesting people -- a career highlight was a confusing 15-minute phone interview with a stoned Anna Nicole Smith -- and pretending to understand what they're going on about. He has won awards for his writing and editing, but would have preferred a pay rise.

Read more by Greg Dixon

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