A thorny looking fence of brown metal protects a garden.

Eight Months Without Facebook

Eight months ago, I deactivated my Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp accounts. Four months ago, I deleted those accounts entirely. And now that I’m outside the Facebook bubble, I wanted to describe what that’s been like, for anyone curious about the other side.

Let’s start with a quick summary of the main points, and I’ll elaborate on a few things below.

  1. I quit because social media was stressing me out. I hated the way I kept compulsively checking it, and I was concerned about the Facebook company’s use of my personal data.
  2. Quitting gave me twitchy fingers. I felt like an ex-smoker reaching for the pack of cigarettes that were no longer there. And I felt guilty about inconveniencing my friends and family.
  3. I felt disconnected and lonely for a while after quitting. But as I’ve been more proactive with my friends (and they’ve returned the favor) my quality of life has gone up.
  4. Some relationships have faded away. Mostly those were acquaintances, or “friends” that I rarely saw in real life. I’ve come to see this as an acceptable trade-off.

Eight Months Without Facebook

Do you know what the best part of being off Facebook is? I thought it would be having more privacy, or feeling less addicted to checking social media, but what I love most is something else entirely. Now that I’m off Facebook, when I’m with my friends, I’m actually with my friends.

Have you ever had conversations like this one?

I see you went to Aruba, Bob.

Yes, it was a nice vacation. How are the kids? It looks like Billy is playing soccer this year?

He is. Thanks for asking.

(awkward silence)

Want some punch?

I don’t miss that bullshit! When we allow sites like Facebook to do the heavy lifting in our relationships, it seems that we turn into cardboard cutouts, even when hanging out in person.  I always hated that dynamic, and now it’s over.

Being off Facebook has also eliminated the accidental irritations that occur from oversharing. Have you ever had thoughts like these?

I hate (that politician) too, but do you have to rant about it every day?
Yup. Your children/pets are cute. I get it.
Thank you for the fifth workout photo this week. Yes, we all know you’re swole.
Why wasn’t I invited to that party?

When I spent a lot of time on sites like FB and Insta, I developed the habit of stereotyping people based on what they shared. I’d unconsciously tell myself that so-and-so is all about being a parent, and my other friend is super career-minded, and yet another friend is a world traveler. Our digital projections can become so strong that we don’t really see our friends (in all their complexity) any longer. And when that happens, it seems difficult to get beneath the surface.

I believe relationships take time. Conversations. Support. An investment in one another. And in that regard, getting off Facebook acted as a sorting mechanism. I found the answer to: Who will make time to hang out? For me that’s a small group but a treasured one. And sure, it can feel lonely while you look for your people in the flesh-and-blood world. But it gets easier the more you invest in your relationships.

Text people. Set up a coffee date. Schedule a movie night, or a game day, or happy hour. Join a book club. Get your butt out there. I’ve gotten pretty introverted these last few years, so it takes effort, but in the end, it’s worth it.

Thoughts about the Digital Future

Slowly, I’ve been backing away from the technologies that make me uneasy. In the past, I had a bias that said “if it’s a new technology, it must be good!” and I jumped in with both feet, eager to explore. But these days, I believe technology isn’t good or bad, any more than a hammer is good or bad. Better to ask yourself what you’re building with it. Are you making something beneficial, or harmful?

Modern as I am, I think the Amish have this figured out. They ask themselves what impact technology will have on their lives, families, and community, and only if they agree that it is beneficial will they adopt it. Naturally, I draw my lines in the sand very differently than they do (huzzah for electricity and my dishwasher!) but I admire their efforts to protect their way of life.

What “way of life” do I want to have? And how can I protect it? Those are questions I keep coming back to.

I’ll close this post with a few things I’ve learned since leaving Facebook.

  1. Making something easier doesn’t always make it better. (Human connection is one example.)
  2. Before using a technology, I want to consider the secondary consequences.
  3. It’s okay to opt-out!
  4. It’s okay to say “not yet!”
  5. Friends don’t disappear because you’re not on a website. Acquaintances might, and that’s okay.

I don’t believe quitting Facebook will “make you happy,” but if being there makes you feel unhappy, leaving might encourage you to connect with people at a deeper level. But doing so does take effort, and it’s lonely at first, and not everyone on your friend list will make time to connect in the flesh-and-blood world.

For Facebook skeptics like me, it’s important to remember that being against Facebook isn’t particularly interesting once you’ve extracted yourself. It’s more fun to be for things, and to bring more of what you value into your life. For me that includes:

More writing.
More walks.
More movies with friends.
More writing/books.
More coffee.
More conversation.
More philosophy.

Now, having banished some “unwanted tech” from my life, it’s time for me to take the final step and banish it from my mind too. I’m not here to tell you you should quit Facebook. It's a personal choice! However, if being there is making you stressed and unhappy I can confirm that life is pretty great on the other side of deactivation.

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