Excalicauldron: Origins - Issue #1
Why a newsletter, why now, and what to expect from Excalicauldron.
Simone Heng, The Human Connection Project
Stepping Out of the Facebook Zeitgeist
Back in 2018, I wrote a post about quitting Facebook. And I did. But like a bad relationship - prior to and post that article - we kept doing the on, off, and back together again dance for years more. I’d pull away, intent on leaving for good this time. Only to be lured back in by the yummy prospect of staying updated with what’s happening in the lives of everyone from my nearest (since social media came to replace 1:1 conversations, which at the time seemed totally legit) to all the dearest folk I’ve crossed paths with and exchanged connections requests like it was a bond clicked in blood.
However, Facebook’s algorithms have long since meant that I hardly get to see posts that aren’t dictated by pages I liked 10 years ago, groups I joined that were relevant occasionally, or profile pic updates with 300 likes. Hardly the social connectivity that originally warmed me to the platform
In 2016, writing about the merits of such platforms, I reflected:
“Social media is an evolution of human behaviour, and it evolves us by handing us a mirror that reflects to us who we are and who we might want to become.”
A lot has changed. We’ve evolved, but continuing with the bad relationship analogy, one person on a growth quest and the other locked in stagnation spells doom. While this applies to the broader social media context, Facebook is particularly problematic. In no small part due to its Ayn Randesque god-like powers as the unscrupulous ruler of a digital nation of 2.91b profiles, eclipsing the total number of citizens of the world’s two largest countries - India (1.38b) and China (1.43b) combined, with room left to fit my current base of Viet Nam (97.33m) and Namibia (2.54m), neighbour to my native South Africa.
Zuckerberg on conquering the world
There was a time when Facebook lived up to its ideals of connecting people and fostering relationships. But if power corrupts, then access to Big Data corrupts absolutely, and the recently rebranded Meta is leading the pack of hungry hyenas. Facebook’s appetite for do-evil, while once a necessarily deal with the devil for the insider connections it got you, can no longer be ignored. (Tellingly, as illustrated by Facebook’s hiring crisis, top-tier developers refuse industry-leading opportunities, citing ethical differences).
In crypto, an anti-Facebook trend has been a mainstay for years, with nine out of 10 tokens having zero presence on the site. Of those that do, the follower count is marginal. (Case in point: At AdLunam, our public presence still largely in stealth mode, our Twitter to Facebook follower count ratio is 13,500:10. I haven’t even bothered inviting friends.)
In other industries more intertwined with the platform, the boycotts have been louder and more dramatic. Outdoor B-Corp company Patagonia implemented an ongoing Facebook and Instagram advertising ban in June 2020. Ethical beauty brand Lush went the extra mile, removing the company’s presence from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok over concerns about the role these platforms play in users’ mental health. The estimated £10m loss in sales because of this move is a small price to pay, according to CEO Mark Constantine, if they are to operate as a business that lives its ethos of being a caring company.
Divorcing Social Media
In a sense, Facebook is like Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave. (Not only because your social network’s still on there - threads like these illustrate that deleting your account can be a Herculean feat.)
Instead, what seems to happen with many of us is that we withdraw from the inside out. We’re still (technically) on, but we’re really not. Those of us who manage to find other places and spaces to have meaningful conversations tend to have emotional affairs elsewhere until the day we decide to publicly announce our separation.
Typically, this follows after a long period of internal turmoil and heart-to-heart discussions between our pro- and anti-Facebook selves. (Or joining the #DeleteFacebook movement on Twitter.)
Thus, by the time we’re able to change our relationship status to divorced, emotions no longer run so high and we’re happy to add that we’ll be co-parenting the dog and sharing use of the camper. For people who don’t set out to discover greener pastures, the split will be more drawn-out and thus more painful, like being stuck in a relationship gone stale.
Facebook has come to embody the lyrics, “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”. Personally, it’s time for me to move on. Hence this newsletter, and the first issue focusing on The Issue. I stopped actively using Instagram in 2018 and have barely opened the app since (I’d check, but there’s a new live video verification requirement that not only creeps me out, but I keep failing. Apparently I’m not a real boy after all.)
With Facebook, it’s not that clear-cut. There’s grief. Friendships that moved to, continued over, or even had their beginnings on the platform. It’s important to remind myself that I can’t remember the last time I actually saw a friend’s post, though. I can, however, tell you how many times I saw an ad for skin-whitening treatments over the past month. As someone who gets teased over being “so pale it’d hurt a vampire’s eyes”, Facebook’s clearly outlived its usefulness in my life.
Invoking Meaningful Connectivity
Central to break-up grief is the realisation that you won’t get to share small daily wins and hug-friendly shoulder cries with your former partner.
While intentionally out of public communication circulation for the past two years, I continued to muse on Facebook, a combination of Facebook Memories’ future time travel visits and the fact that I wanted to keep a meaningful relationship with my circle intact.
However, despite my efforts to show up there, having to open the app and sidestep an endless onslaught of notifications of zero use to me (from groups, ads, and friend requests from personal profiles trying to grow their coaching businesses) in order to view comments on my posts - people I want to hear from - was mentally taxing. It sapped my energy and slowly, even my attempts at connection failed… I simply couldn’t continue the conversation after my initial post.
What has made the prospect of a split so hard is that many people with whom I’d love to stay in touch haven’t moved their own dialogues elsewhere. In the absence of a collective alternative, and with me having largely withdrawn from social platforms already, it’s hard to tell who’s gone where and where best to wait for those who haven’t yet made the shift.
As someone who prizes my privacy (from the general public - app privacy is a misnomer) while valuing intimate personal conversations that matter, Twitter has always been too public and too cerebral. This is a perception I’m open to changing, but in the interim, a weekly newsletter - in the spirit of Queen Atossa of Persia, who in 500 B.C. wrote the first-ever letter and inspired a wave of literacy across Persia and the known world - hopes to re-establish the connection that Facebook fostered, then tethered.
My vision? That, sometime soon, mindless scrolling on social apps will be replaced by mindful online engagement with the thoughts and lives of those we care about.
To that end, my objective with this newsletter is as a repository of snapshots. A selection of stills captured in weekly roundups. I’ve tried Weeknotes over the years, but I kept finding it fueled the focus on toxic productivity I’ve been working (that pun was unavoidable) to lessen, despite covering topics such as the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation (basically, safeguard your identity from becoming all work and no play) and negotiating activity/pace scaling.
Whereas Weeknotes were dutifully reporting on the week like field notes from Ground Zero, Excalibur will be brief stolen moments in front of a bay window in the afternoon sun, selectively highlighting a happening here, a thought there. Nothing too unmanageable for me to keep up or for you, dear reader, to digest (unlike this one!)
See you next week!