so, one of the scenes at the end of the latest season of Pose reminded me that I haven't had a book of meaningful contacts since around 2007. that's when facebook started to serve me as a convenient replacement for my address book/rolodex/contact list/etc. the book of faces. i went to governor's honors program in my junior year of highschool and at the library at valdosta state university i remember creating my facebook account. i uploaded photos i had taken with my digital camera to my fb account. i added people who went to GHP that I hadn't gotten the chance to meet. that was my first binge of facebook adds, and over the years a similar binge would follow most large events, parties, conferences, conventions.
in the 12 years since, i've changed. i worked in digital marketing for a few years, i started working at brand and digital agencies. i entered and left and re-entered and re-left marketing, consultant and hr business. and I started organizing locally for queer liberation, for economic & racial justice, for abolition and transformative justice. and i watched my friends & co-organizers get banned on fb for telling white supremacists to take a seat on social media. or for sharing pictures of their tiddies in private fb messages. the number of times i've had a black trans femme friends get banned for saying "white people" is absurd. facebook is now a place I begrudgingly use due only to its ubiquity, despite acknowledging that it's net harmful in my life and the lives of lots of other marginalized folks trying to organize for social change.
there are other tools. for events, for groups, for sharing messages, for video chats, for chat, for creating and sharing original content. i know, i've worked in tech for my entire adult life at this point. i do tooling and operations consulting for a living, and like alice, "i often give myself very good advice, but very seldom follow it." after clarity conf in 2019 this year in san francisco, and after meeting with javi from the bay area transformative justice collective one of the things heavily on my mind is both what accountability in tech looks like for bad actors like facebook, and what self-accountability looks like, for people like me who feel like hostages of a ubiquitous system of convenience, who seem to have forgotten we actually have the keys to our cells in our pockets. literally, in many ways.
two of my good friends have completely divested from facebook, so when I was using fb events to schedule a party and went to try and add them to the event, I noticed they were no where to be found. first i filled with envy & then joy (they escaped!) , and then it occurred to me...this is the moment where facebook's lie of convenience is revealed. it's only convenient if i'm operating in economies of scale...where it doesn't matter WHO i'm inviting as much as HOW MANY i'm inviting. Sure, there are more people who can quickly receive my event invitations on facebook, but if all the specific people I care about inviting aren't on facebook....facebook isn't a viable tool for community organizing. those two friends clarified to me how facebook wasn't just failing to reflect my network of care, but how it had been silently pruning my network of care to only include people on facebook.
so, i did what i always do. i talked to people about it. and this time, every single conversation that i've had (so far) all 125 of them, i start with this message
Hi [friend's name]. Could i have your phone number and email address? I'm divesting from facebook and would like to be able to contact you in other ways.
Over the past couple of weeks I've touched base with so many people I had been maintaining a relationship of osmosis with, where i felt connected mostly through absorbing the memes they reshared and declarations of their political outrage, grief, or annoyance, and their occasional joys. But mostly my friendships felt like indirect meme osmosis. turns out all those friends have been living lives all this time!
when I think about staying off of facebook the fear that if I'm curious about someone I won't have a window into their life has started to transform into excitement...i can use the physical pang of longing for my friends to reach out to them, and hear from them, and maybe plan to see them, and share embodied space with them, and hear their stories one on one, in private, in resonance together. we can connect. i so so miss connection with so many of my Facebook "friends". how did hyperconnectivity do this to intimacy and to all our physical cues of connection and nurturance hunger? how did a text box read in solitude come to be our way of sharing grief with our community? i get so much bad news alone on my phone. i've learned to swallow the heat behind my eyes that preambles grief because you can't just break down into sobs over a facebook post on the train, even if it's a story of a mass shooting or perhaps that your family member passed away. how did facebook come to redefine how we even conceptualize of "community"?
I decided to UX my own needs for contact info. as a community organizer most of the time i'm trying to build strategic containers for work to get done, and I need people with specific skills, special interests, at a variety of intersections. i also need my contact info to serve me to map the intersections of my social groups, and i need my family and communities of care represented, and my organizer and fiscal partners represented. and i need all my blood kin and folks who haven't even been on facebook all this time represented.
since I'm working with data that needs to be filtered easily in a variety of ways that needs to be easily accessible, I decided to use airtable to create my new contact book.
by making use of the multiple select custom field "groups" i can create tags for each of my contacts. those tags can then be used to create focused views of my contacts. this is an example of what it would look like to create a view that filters the contacts to only display people i've tagged as part of my "pod". these filters can create as many special views as you need. maybe i want to convene with all my latinx, queer organizer contacts, even though they haven't all met before. being able to see this kind of data about my contacts makes me more effective and intentional in the way i build social bridges and target outreach efforts.
i've since discovered that Signal works internationally for a lot of the same reasons WhatsApp does. i've transitioned to using signal whenever it's available and speaking to the people in my life about the transitions i'm making and why. i'm hoping to learn and build from dialogues around this work, and i'm relishing every step i take out of facebook land.