The students behind Mass Deactivation presented a challenge to the Bowdoin community this week, urging students to deactivate their Facebook accounts for exactly one month starting on February 8. The premise of the experiment is to re-experience what life would be like without the social network, and creators Tyler Patton '12 and Ruiqi Tang '13 think that Bowdoin—as close-knit as it is tech-saturated—is the perfect environment in which to do so. And they're right.
There could not be a better time to participate in this experiment. Facebook just filed a $5 billion IPO to become a publicly traded company, which means that starting this spring it will be beholden to shareholders, and must find ways to increase profitability by selling even more user information to advertisers and other third parties. With change afoot, perhaps we should examine just how much of our private information we really want to be converted into currency.
We are also the last generation of college students that will remember what it was to socialize without Facebook. Our lives were probably not any simpler without Facebook, but they were certainly less plugged-in. We had to go to greater lengths to meet people and to keep in touch with friends and family. Perhaps we took more active roles in building personal relationships before we had a mini-feed to tell us what our friends were doing.
The most compelling aspect of this experiment is its call for collective action. As the site points out, deactivating a Facebook account does not completely disconnect you from the online world. You will inevitably still be surrounded by people posting photos, liking statuses, and creating events. And as Facebook reminds users who attempt to deactivate, your friends might miss you when you're gone. As such, this experiment "could literally be the last time for the rest of your life that you and the people around you exist without Facebook." What would it be like to attend a party no one will see photos of the next day? Or to approach someone at that party without having done some reconnaissance on their profiles first?
To achieve the mass participation that will make this experiment meaningful, its creators must extend their advertising campaign such that it reaches more people. They must push beyond those who already harbor misgivings about Facebook and attempt to attract heavy users who might notice the greatest difference in their lives without an account. While the cryptic flyers simply reading "massdeactivation.blogspot.com" are intriguing, they do not explain the very exciting nature of the project. It would be unfortunate to lose potential participants just because they forget to look up the mysterious URL upon returning to their dorm rooms.
Additionally, we urge the creators to survey participants at the end of the experiment and to make the results public. Did people find that Facebook enriches or compromises their social lives? Did they feel more or less lonely, bored or connected to people when they did not have an account? Collecting and distributing this information will be thought-provoking for those who participate in the experiment, as well as for those who choose not to join, and may even prompt similar experiments elsewhere. Facebook does not make the path to deactivation obvious, but we believe it is worth following, if only for a month.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Nick Daniels, Carlo Davis, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, and Zoë Lescaze.