I Deleted my Facebook Account

I can’t remember where I heard this, but I really like the interpretation of the hellish upside down world in the Netflix series Stranger Things as a stand in for the internet. As in the upside down world of that show, the internet has become a very dystopian place lately. Monsters unleashed in the virtual world of the internet regularly come to haunt us in the real world. Those same monsters abduct us into endless hours in front of our computer screens.

Let me first say that I’ve been reluctant to write this post. It’s a privilege to be in a position where one can delete a Facebook account. Many people have to use Facebook at work or because they are part of a group that uses Facebook to communicate. Ironically, the less fortune in our culture are more likely to be chained to services such as Facebook or doing a computer’s bidding (think Uber or TaskRabbit). But there are many more of us, such as myself, that thought we had to use Facebook (in my case a promote books and a blog) who, in fact, could do quite well without it.

The heart of the problem
My issues with Facebook began long before the recent scandals. I spent the period of Lent, not giving up but, instead, meditating on my relationship to social media. I used this period to question my motivations. If I had the urge to post something on social media I first asked myself why I wanted to do this. I also read books, articles and listened to podcasts by media theorists exploring the mechanics of social media. In the end I came to the conclusion that the privacy problems of social media are minor when compared to the spiritual and psychological ones.

It seems to me that the main systemic problem of Facebook and other social media platforms is that they have taken the entwined vices of individualism and narcissism and made a business model out of them. You post something and then you want to immediately check back to see if you’ve been “liked” or commented on. The tech bros of Silicon Valley have figured out that if you harness this addictive narcissism you can, as a side benefit, harvest a lot of data to sell to advertisers.

One could accuse this blog of having the same narcissism problem and in my worst posts you’d probably have a point. But there are important differences. I don’t harvest your personal data when you look at or post a comment on this blog. I do try to provide useful information rather than just seeking approval for my latest harebrained homesteading project (though, admittedly, I sometimes fall short).

Facebook claims to not be about individualism but instead to bring us all together. Mark Zuckerberg, in his recent testimony to a bunch of clueless and out of touch senators kept repeating that Facebook is about creating community (which I think he actually believes). But Facebook does just the opposite. It leads to the illusion of community while actually encouraging many hours spent alone in front of a computer. Since deleting my account I’ve found myself setting up in-person meetings with people I don’t see very often rather than just looking at their Facebook posts.

But it would be wrong, I think, to blame Facebook for pulling us apart. Facebook, as Patrick Deneen put it, “elicits loneliness from a deeper set of philosophical, political, and even theological commitments,” namely the “do it your way” consumerist cult of the individual that dominates both the ideologies of the right and the left in this country. The reason those clueless senators could not get to the bottom of the problem with Facebook is that they aren’t even aware of their own shared philosophical assumptions about individualism.

I could go on. Even if you subscribe to a radical individualist take on the world, the creepiness of Facebook’s business model should scare you. I’ve been reading Jacob Silverman’s book, Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection. It’s a sobering 429 page nightmarish list of social media’s many sins. Then there’s Jeremy Ashkenas who, in a series of tweets, dug up some of Facebook’s patent applications. As others have pointed out these patents read like Black Mirror episode summaries. If that isn’t enough, there’s Facebook’s attempt to exploit depressed teenagers for advertising revenue.

Ironically, much of the privacy intrusions of Facebook are probably pointless. When I downloaded my Facebook data prior to pulling the delete button, I found a fair amount of on-target information. Facebook knows that I’m an epee fencer who practices urban homesteading, reads Rowan Williams and goes to Nick Cave concerts (damn, that’s all pretentious!). But it also seems to think that I’m an African-American who grows with hydroponics, rocks out to the Queens of the Stone Age and loves Honey Baked Ham. I suspect much of the data Cambridge Analytica gathered was, similarly, off-target and useless.

How to #DeleteFacebook
As many have noted, if something is free on the internet you’re not the customer you’re the product. But the solution is simple. You should consider paying for access to quality information on the internet. I’ve spent the last year doing an intensive self-study of woodworking. Towards that end I have an online subscription to Fine Woodworking. Their website is an encyclopedic compilation of articles and how-to videos all vetted by that increasingly rare bird known as an editor. I’ve also subscribed to the online version of The Idler magazine (which readers of this blog will enjoy). And I support my favorite podcast, the C-Realm as well as my favorite YouTuber Garden Fork via Patreon subscriptions. None of these websites or podcasts are addictive. They don’t harvest your data. They provide useful, thought provoking information and live up to the original promise of the internet as a place to share and learn. And let me also thank the Patreon subscribers of Root Simple at this point as well as all of you who have bought our books or attended one of our workshops.

Should you come to the same conclusion I did here’s some instructions on how to delete Facebook. It wasn’t that difficult but you do need to first review any website or app you may have used a Facebook login for and change your login information. You can also download a copy of all your Facebook images and posts which will also show you some, but not all, of the information Facebook has gathered on you.

Facebook doesn’t let go of you easily. If you login to Facebook within a few weeks of deleting your account, Facebook signs you back up. When I tried to delete my Instagram account, I found that I would have to log back into Facebook to do so and that would sign me back up for Facebook. Should you not want to delete your Facebook you can also deactivate it temporarily to see how things work out.

I haven’t missed Facebook one bit. As for book and blog promotion I’m planning on starting a sporadic newsletter that you can sign up for that will also list events and some fun off-topic stuff that I think you might all be interested in. Stay tuned. Together we can shut Mark Zuckerberg’s inter-dimensional portal.

Saturday Tweets: LA’s Grim Streets, Being the Change and More Medieval Marginalia

How to Size a Breakfast Nook Table

There exists a long list of bedeviling problems outside the short attention span of our mainstream cultural gatekeepers who busy themselves with such frivolities as “how do we get to mars?” and “what’s Justin Bieber tweeting about?” Readers of this blog have more important concerns such as how to keep tomatoes alive or how to justify some ridiculously complex project such as liming your own corn for homemade masa or distilling your own essential oils whilst your household comrades complain about the tardiness of dinner.

Our long list of unsolvable problems at the Root Simple compound includes such things as bad posture, contaminated soils, middle age paunch and, of course, squirrels. But I can proudly say that we can cross one small dilemma off the list of east of Eden indignities: I can reveal the secret to how to size your breakfast nook table.

If you have an enclosed breakfast nook like we do, you should make your table three quarters the size of the bench. You should also put some sliders on the bottom of the table so that you can push the table back and forth to make it easier to get in and out of. This conclusion comes from 20 years of horrific breakfast nook sizing mistakes. Our first table was the same length of the bench. It was difficult to get in and out of and caused considerable complaints. Version 2.0 of the table was considerably shorter. So short, in fact, as to be useless.

A lightbulb went off in my head when I discovered this table in the 1925 Pacific Ready-Cut home catalog. Not only did it seem just the right proportion but it also had a interesting, if gimmicky, hinge to make it easy to slide side to side.

Having set up a new wood shop I set out to make a new table top and used a base that I found in an alley. Rather than that strange hinged mechanism I just used plastic sliders on the bottom of the table to make it easy to move the table back and forth. I chose hard maple and included breadboard ends for a traditional look. Flattening the table top was an excuse to learn how to use hand planes, the bicycle of tools in that they are simple, elegant and capable of saving the world (also like bicycles in that people seem to have weird hangups about them). Between the planing and the joinery, it was so much work that I wished that I had opened my wallet a bit more and chosen a more interesting wood at the lumberyard.

Now with the ease of moving into the breakfast nook I can sit, look out the window and contemplate a thousand more projects and the ever present riddle of the squirrel.

Lessons from the 2018 Theodore Payne Garden Tour

The gardening equivalent of Beyoncé’s triumphant 2018 Coachella performance took place on the very same weekend. Theodore Payne’s annual garden tour reunited pollinator friendly plantings, low water use and great design in a sort of horticultural equivalent of the return of Destiny’s Child. Lush and traditional garden design even made a Jay-Z like cameo appearance at the stunning stunning Wilson/Leach garden in Altadena (seen above). Native plants gardens in Southern California don’t have to look like a desert!

An ad in the back of the tour brochure neatly summed up the vibe:

In: Architecture-Enhancing Designs Out: Boring Expanses of Lawn
In: Vibrant Climate-Compatible Blooms Out: Stuffy Rows of Annuals
In: Lush, Leafy Native Foliage Out: Heat-Amplifying Gravelscape
In: Materials that Go with the Flow Out: Stiff, Straight Patios/Drives
In: Taking Design Appeal to the Curb Out: Conformist Parkways
In: Enjoying your garden

The big takeaway for me from the garden tour this year was that sometimes you’ve got to call in a garden design professional unless you have a knack for design (and I don’t). Our ticket contest winner (who gave us the most beautiful basket of home grown fruits and preserves ever–thank you Donna!) came to the same conclusion.

We’ve hired a designer, which is why our backyard looks like a strip mine:

A crew took out an ugly concrete patio last week and has been digging down to lower the level of the new patio they will install. The old patio was above the level of the sill plate and was causing the back part of the house to rot. I’ll post more in-progress photos over the next few months. We’re also working on the inside of the house. When all is done we hope to have some events here and open up the house for idling and entertaining.

If you can’t afford a crew to do the work you can, at the very least, hire a designer to do a consultation and offer some suggestions. I really wish we had done this 20 years ago when we bought this place!

Saturday Tweets: Touch Your Opuntia