Some months ago I threatened to drop Facebook, Instagram, and others and published a post about my intentions. Now, months later, I realize that I never finished the follow-up (this post) nor had I posted it, so here it is.

I know I sound like a crazy person. I am reminded of an article I read about a computer programmer in the mid-90s that went off grid completely for fear of what computers (and their operators) were able to do. That act has resonated with me ever since, over the past 25 years, and now it’s my turn. However… I’m not as radical. I recognize my desire to be a part of the greater society that surrounds me for all its ills and am willing to cede control over my personal data should that be required, but first, I’m going on a diet.

Brian Acton, one of the creators of WhatsApp, is now recommending people delete their Facebook / WhatsApp accounts. And he’s not alone. Other well informed technology leaders are making similar, grave recommendations and predictions and that, combined with what is happening in the AI world, should have any reasoning adult more than a little concerned.

Over the course of the next two weeks I am going to delete my Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp accounts and request to be forgotten by those networks. This might not seem like a big deal but in all honesty, these networks, WhatsApp in particular, are at the center of my social life in a very big way.

The decision to drop them from my life has not come on a whim. It is the result of repeated warnings and events that have convinced me that they are not worth the risk. Basically, I do not trust Facebook to not abuse my data, and me by extension. I don’t think Facebook are malicious but AI is rapidly evolving, faster than most companies and people can keep track of and it seems increasingly likely that mistakes will be made.

Choosing to drop tools like WhatsApp is not easy. For example, where I live, school uniforms are no longer available until a new provider is found. Since I know the woman on the board that decides, in part, who to work with, I thought I should send her a WhatsApp to ask if I could make my own t-shirt while we wait for a provider, and then I wondered: what will I do when I no longer have WhatsApp? I can always use SMS (but it turns out phone companies are even worse than Facebook re: client privacy) so I won’t be doing that. And then I thought about it, how important is it that I resolve this right now? In fact, is this really even something that needs a micron of my attention right now? Obviously, the answer is a resounding NO! Chalk one up for the diet.

Since first drafting this post, I’ve dropped Facebook and Instagram but I’ve chosen to hang on to WhatsApp, not because I need everything right now, but because, where I live, literally every single person with a phone has and uses WhatsApp constantly (except my children…) and there is a high likelihood I would miss out on genuinely important things, like friendship, were I to chuck it into the dustbin. For WhatsApp, I’ll reassess at the new year. For now, though, dropping Facebook and Instagram has been GREAT!

I have two children about to enter puberty. They already have phones (no SIM cards though). They are already generating a digital tail. Google already has dozens or hundreds of recordings of their voices as they use the voice search regularly. I created G Suite accounts for them so I could control what they were doing online but I now regret, somewhat, having done that.

In thinking about my own habits, experimenting with AI, and the details the big social networks have on me and my children, I feel compelled to try to take some control over things. So, I’m going on a diet…

Yes, that’s right: I’m going to give up the Facebook habit. I’m going to go back to a time when my time (and data) was mine. A time when if I was bored, I would read a book, write an email, or write a blog post! A time when I didn’t have to worry what kind of evil machinations were taking place behind the curtain that would come back to bite me, or my children, 10 years down the line.

The main reason I’m calling this a diet is because I am not giving up everything. I will continue to use Twitter and Google products, G Suite and Google search in particular, but will make Firefox my new, default browser. I will continue to try to use DuckDuckGo as my main search engine.

Dropping Facebook will be easy and a pleasure. They’ve provided me with all the tools I need to retain all of my content, rescind our agreement and delete all of my info from their databases. And I have to thank legislative pressure (or the threat of it) for making all of that possible.
Dropping “Insta” will be easy. I haven’t posted anything, only liked a few things… Really dislike the UI…

Dropping WhatsApp will be a bit of a challenge. I live in a world where everyone uses WhatsApp, except one person I know who still has a Nokia phone. Friends, touting Telegram’s open source client insist it is the solution, but they failed to notice (or care) that all of your data actually lives on servers in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida), and the Telegram team don’t seem to have a headquarters and instead, travel from country to country looking for one that will allow all of them to live and work there. Their location as of this writing: Dubai. This does not inspire a lot of confidence that my personal communications are really mine.

About a year ago, maybe more, I came across Keybase. At the time it didn’t impress me much as a desktop app. I wasn’t even sure what it was intended for. Now, however, it’s looking pretty awesome and will be, for the foreseeable future, my WhatsApp replacement. I’m actually really looking forward to using it.

Also, like any diet, I’m not going to drop the big three at once but rather, in a scaled fashion. Instagram will be the first to go as it is utterly unimportant in my life. One week later, Facebook, and the week after that, WhatsApp. Along the way I may drop one or two other services I never (or rarely use) but those three are the ones that worry me the most and I’m really, really looking forward to being Zuckerberg free!

And finally, as with any diet, none of this would be possible without the support of my life-long partner (my wife). She has agreed to use Keybase to communicate with me and the burden of participating in all the WhatsApp groups (school groups mostly) will fall on her, until I can convince them all to drop WhatsApp and use Keybase instead!

Interested in joining me? Follow me on Twitter or Keybase and share your experiences dropping the garbage.