Accountability

- Project Vanish

If I’m doing this thing, I’d like to do it right, and that means I need some accountability beyond just saying, “Well, I’ve done this, and trust me, I’ve been extra-double-super thorough.” My first thought was to publish a master list of my accounts, subscriptions, and services, striking through each of them as I either wipe them out, clean them up, or add them to the small stack of things that are necessary (professionally, financially, etc) to maintain. But that would be horribly, incredibly stupid.

Considering this whole experiment is about cleaning up my digital life, my first consideration is privacy. What information is out there? What should be out there? What should never be out there? “Every service you have an account with” is probably pretty high up on that “should never be out there” list.

So I’m trying to think up a different way to publicly mark my progress and maintain a bit of accountability without the recursion nightmare of making the project itself just one more thing I have to clean up as part of the project.

I don’t have a solution for it yet, but I’m open to suggestions.

Hint, hint.

The kickoff

- Project Vanish

My cousin had a baby last month. Adorable, chubby thing. Thicker head of hair than you normally see on a newborn. A new cute photo every day, which I won’t be able to see anymore.

Today at around 4 AM (I’m a night owl) I deleted my Facebook account. And I already feel like I cheated. Instead of a clean break, I scoured my messages, saved a handful of them to text files. Then I asked my friend Jen to look through my profile and make sure I wasn’t missing anything important.

Then I asked her if I was making a mistake. Because people don’t text you pictures of their baby on a daily basis, no matter how chubby the cheeks or sleepy the head. That would be weird.

But Jen reminded me, ever so gently, that I really do complain an awful lot about Facebook. Despite using it as rarely as possible, I am an incredibly prolific whiner. I hate the iPhone alerts that fire off even when you are sure you’ve disabled them. I hate the emails that never stop coming, no matter how many boxes you untick. I hate the pace at which the security options change, requiring you to reapply and reconsider privacy settings again and again and again. I hate being pestered on sites that are not Facebook to log in with my Facebook credentials. I hate that the service tells people as soon as you’ve read their message, starting an invisible timer on the response you now absolute have to write.

I’m a massive curmudgeon, apparently. But…babies! Right?

…right?

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What the hell?

- Project Vanish

On Monday, September 9, I will delete as much of myself as possible from the internet. I will chronicle the process here.

Some accounts I will reclaim and reactivate, some I will happily abandon. Some contacts I will lose and some I will maintain. Ultimately, though, it will be less a culling than…a tidying. An accounting. What, for instance, is the value of a third email account, or a second Twitter account, or a first Delicious account? (Jesus, why do I still have a Delicious account?)

I’ll maintain my Twitter handle (@ProbablyJames), as a digital lifeline. I’ll probably scrub it clean and start fresh, though. Clear my tweet history. Either unfollow a ton of accounts to pare it down or just unfollow everybody and start slowly rebuilding my list of people whose minute-to-minute updates matter most to me.

I haven’t decided about Facebook yet. I might maintain it for an extra week, just to keep from dropping immediately off the radar of those friends who use it exclusively for communicate. (An impulse that I will never, ever, ever understand.)

The plan is to write about the process of starting over. The challenge of cutting myself off only to selectively reestablish ties. The weighing of whether or not it’s worth it. The plan is to write about the tech that I use and the tech I’ve dropped. About the accounts I need or don’t need to lead a comfortable online existence. About the minutiae of changing some habits.

That’s the plan. We’ll see if it changes.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably my friend. And if you are my friend, then this (all of this, this whole thing) is my explanation of why I unfollowed/de-friended/unliked you online and then disappeared, only to (maybe) reappear a week or a month later to re-follow, re-friend, and re-like you.

I still love you all. There will just be fewer buttons for me to click to prove it.

A few notes:

Despite the ridiculous name I’ve assigned to this task (Project Vanish? Really? My only excuse is that I started mentally referring to it as such, in a tongue-in-cheek way, and now that’s just how I think of it. It’s brain-stuck.), I don’t actually think I can make myself vanish from the internet. Every-fucking-one keeps logs dating back to the Great Depression these days. It’s annoying. But I do plan to scrub away as much of the cruft as possible. You don’t care about the Facebook status I made in college (“JB Mulholland is…listening to Counting Crows’¬†August and Everything After¬†on repeat!”) and neither do I. I want to make sure that my digital life is completely relevant, to you and to me.

Before anybody else can bring it up: I’m not trying to make some kind of statement, or pull some weird technological stunt (“My year as a Luddite: linkbait in twenty-three installments”). It’s just a thing. A thing that I am doing.

I’m aware that there are “Tweet It” and “Like It” buttons on the individual post pages. I’m aware that this seems wildly hypocritical. I don’t really care. Some people like to share stuff socially, even if I don’t. No skin off my nose, no skin off yours. All of our noses should maintain the appropriate amount of skin in this equation.