I like to think that I’m a thoughtful person. I like to probe my choices. Prioritize. Reshuffle. I like to think I’m the type of person who does a thing because I’ve weighed it on the balances and found it worth the doing. But not this time. It didn’t really happen that way.
Even lending the hours it will take to compose an entire blog-post on the subject (The Subject: Quitting Facebook,) makes me cringe in awareness of how lame it is (It: Facebook. Quitting Facebook. Talking about Facebook. Talking about quitting Facebook…) A classically Facebook way to introduce the topic would be to say something like, “A lot of people have asked me”(…why I left Facebook.) So maybe I should do it that way. But the truth would be, “A few people have asked me”(…why I left Facebook,) and so I gather my reasons here, post-facto. But what’s even MORE true is that I was going to write this anyway. Not before my decision (since these thoughts were probably, largely, subconsious at that point,) or during (when I was detoxing from needing a million, extra, tiny, distracting voices in my mind,) but after – since it seemed like I was being pinged with confirmation from every direction, in a way I am starting to find almost eerie, and certainly worth acknowledging, and finally, worth sharing.
I have frequently left Facebook. I have taken breaks, and fully deactivated my account – always coming back (and definitely never publicly declaring that I was leaving for good – first, because that seems a bit narcissistic. Me: “Well, all, I’m leaving!” All: “K, Bye! No one cares!” and second – because, who wants to eat the crow that one must eat when one caves and just comes back? Not me. And I knew I would… come back.) I’ve also tried other ways of getting a handle on the issue. I deleted my app so I wouldn’t have easy access on my phone. I even deleted my browser when I found a way around that first app-deleting move. Remember this post, from not too long ago?
Anyway. About 6 weeks ago, I deactivated my account for what I wholly determined would be the last time (here it is – in Pen and Ink. Not that I believe you need to hear it, but I believe I need to declare it, because of that crow-eating part I have already mentioned. I typically try not to eat crow, so this is going to have to be the real thing.) I just deactivated it in a moment of “Ugh!” It was not premeditated. Just, in that moment, I decided I was done.
If you use Facebook you probably know “Ugh!” by many names. I can’t remember the specific brand that day, honestly – because part of my departure was also going to encompass my need to share my thoughts and goings-on with 500 “friends.” So I didn’t even think about how I would let those “friends” know I was out. I just was – cold turkey – And I thought about it later. A lot.
Here are some “Ugh!”s that it might have been:
1) Did an hour of my life just vanish to the vortex of perusing the public broadcast of the lives of “friends” I haven’t seen in years, and in some cases, decades (or, worse, of people I’ve met once, or possibly, never.) Then, later – Did I just lose ANOTHER hour?!
2)Did my child really just do something cute, after the occurance of which I spent the next 30 seconds thinking of how to susinctly phrase the retelling to maximize the humor of it when publicly consumed?
3) Why don’t I talk to that really good friend for REAL any more (using the term “for REAL” loosely here, as I live in Africa, and talking “for REAL” can still include an email or even a text.) Why? Because their bulletin-board-style snippets on facebook, (meant to run the gammit anywhere from Grandma – to Person-I-met-once-somewhere,) somehow in the most surfacy way, satiate my need to “catch-up.” So we never do anymore.
4) There are people I love, doing things together without me. Even though I live on another continent, I now feel irrationally left out.
I have lived in Africa for 14 years. There was a time when I had to put emails to my MOM on a floppy disk – put it in a mailbag – put it on a bush plane on a dirt airstrip two weeks later – hope it didn’t get wiped clean by the magnets in the security scanners at the airport on the other end. Then wait another two-weeks for her reply to come back, through the shared account in Nairobi, then for it to be printed off in hard-copy to send, on the plane, in the mailbag, back to me. That was a month turn-around for one email and one reply from my mama. I would go away, come back a year later, and miss people (of COURSE) but never know how they’d spent those months I was away, until we sat down and plugged in. And I mean plugged in to EACH OTHER.
So, you may say, “it’s just nice to know what you’re up to.” And maybe so – but it’s not better than the old way. That is what I’ve decided.
Living so far away from most of my loved ones, my view has been that – if I can’t have the Real Thing – I would settle for this. Eight years (of using Facebook) later, I think my view is becoming – If I can’t have the Real Thing – I’ll wait. If I haven’t drifted so far from genuine human experience by now, and if memory serves, the Real Thing is totally worth waiting for.
5) Am I trying to make myself seem awesome?
I hope not, but probably.
6) Those people are just trying to make themselves seem awesome.
How small I feel when I have a thought like that about people I value.
I want to stop briefly to say that my thoughts here are in no way a high-horse from which I plan to peer down my nose on all the world’s social media users (Facebook recently celebrated 1,000,000,000 unique users within a 24-hour time period… so that would be an awful lot of people to judge!) -but I did want to try to understand my own reasons. Or purely to understand MYSELF after eight years of incorporating so much noise into my sense of Me.
I recently listened to a Harvard Business Review on forming habits, and a psychologist named Gretchen Rubin described the difference between Abstainers and Moderators.
“Moderators like to do things like, have a cheat-day, or be healthy 80% of the time and unhealthy 20% of the time, and Abstainers are like, ‘I can’t do that. I can have NO Thin-Mints or I can have 10 Thin-Mints. I can NOT have 1 Thin-Mint.’ So the Abstainer’s like, ‘ Please, we can’t have [Thin-Mints] in the house. I can’t resist [them.] And the Abstainer is like ‘Why should I not have [Thin Mints] in the house. YOU need to learn to manage yourself better.’ But for an Abstainer, that’s just very very difficult.”
I heard this explained to me well after making up my mind to leave Facebook (and not to replace it with anything else either,) and it helped me understand why I couldn’t really find the healthy middle ground I was looking for. I had certainly tried. Friends who stayed with us recently wanted to know why I’d left Facebook, and our friend suggested that I try using it like he does – more as a broadcasting forum to share their news, but without feeling the need to check in after that, or even to read the posts of others. I’m a zero or 30 Thin-Mints kind of girl.
I was also a user. I had to get ahold of a friend via email recently (caveman style) and let her know why I was using that method in stead of FB, and her response was, “YOU?!? Off Facebook?!?) We can note here that responses like this have firmly solidified my resolve! But the point is, I wasn’t someone who creeped on your lives and refrained from sharing mine. I interacted and engaged, and internalized my relationships and experience there as a dialogue I started to weave, unconsciously, into my sense of SELF. But it rarely made me feel good.
Gretchen Rubin from HBR’s Set Habits you can Keep, again:
“… The danger comes from thinking there’s One Magic Solution. That there’s a one-size-fits-all answer, and so this is the right way. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s whatever works for YOU. So you really just have to take it back to yourself and say, ‘Well, what kind of person am I? What are my values? What are my interests? What am I like?’ And to really work with THAT. I think a lot of times, people fail because they are trying to do things in a way where they’re not setting themselves up for success, so then they feel discouraged when they don’t succeed… but if they had tried it in a different way, they might have had a different result.”
This has given me pause to really consider my personality and my tendancies. I cannot even taste one KERNEL of the popcorn I make for the kids’ snack each day – or I might as well eat it with my HAIR! (Envision my head, burried up to my neck in the bowl.) I had failed because I had only tried to moderate. Maybe you can, but I can’t. Facebook and platforms like it give a type of affirmation that feels really good. Something addictive even. I can see now that I’m an Abstainer, and the only way for ME (not for everyone,) to get control over something that was starting to take too much of my time, yes, and attention, yes, but on some days, my HEART (which was probably when I knew I wanted to be through,) was to put it somewhere I couldn’t even reach it. Eventually, the habit to interact with it (I’m not even compelled to say “interact with YOU,” but really, with IT) would be replaced by the habit not to. It already has.
So if some of my “Ugh!”s struck a chord, maybe the reasons I told myself to stay will too. Or maybe not, which is fine.
1) It’s so convenient. It will be very hard to, easily, get ahold of people if I go off.
-This is a little bit true, but it’s not impossible. I’ve already found that, apart from a special few people, most are friends with someone else close enough to have an email address for me, all are smart enough to figure that out, and the ones who care enough to stay in contact even though I’ve left FB will make the effort to find me. I will do the same in return. Also, if someone doesn’t have your phone number or email address, is it likely you were not super tight to begin with?
2) I have reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in years through Facebook! I would never have reconnected with them otherwise!
-I did think about this one, but perhaps that part – “I would never have found them otherwise” is key. I’m not sure that reconnecting with individuals from your distant past is natural to the way life works, short of bumping into them at the library and catching up briefly. I know that, of the vast number of my 500 FB friends that were ‘OLD friends,’ I rarely engaged them, even on FB. Just consumed what they put out there, for better or worse.
But far worse than the buffered, pseudo-interaction you tell yourself is a real connection with “old friends,” is what happens to the REAL realationships you have NOW.
On a TED talk from artist and author Abab Devaser, Devaser says:
“WE all know that the internet has shrunk space as well as time. Far away over there is now here. Your former friends lie on a flat plane with today’s friends, because the internet archives, and it warps the past. With no distinction left between the Past the Present and the Future, and the here or there, we’re left with This Moment, Everywhere; this moment that I’ll call The Digital Now. This “Now” bears very little physical or psycological reference to our own state. It’s focus, instead is to distract us at every turn on the road… Not just is the digital now far from the ‘present,’ but it’s in direct competition with it. At all times I can opperate at a different rhythm and pace from you while I sustain the illusion that I am tapped into you in real time.”
I think the lie that platforms like Facebook tell us is that we are really connecting. The disconnection we feel though (or maybe I shouldn’t say “we.” I can speak for myself at least,) is indicative of the problem that this isn’t the way nature intended for us to share our human experience. This isn’t real relationship. If you’ve ever come away from two hours spent with your Facebook “friends,” and felt completely lonely, then you must have sensed it too.
Reason number 3 that I told myself to stay:
How will I know what you are up to?
Well, the honest truth is, maybe we will survive something like that! I’ve had to accept that knowing everything about everyone’s life is quite a heavy weight on my mind and my spirit. Do you feel it, too? I want to be available to those who are in my physical space. I want to be mentally and emotionally free to love them in whatever way they need (especially my family!) I’ve felt so used up by what Facebook gave me. By rather, what it took. So if I can’t listen to all of that noise, I shouldn’t expect someone to listen to mine either.
In another TED talk, Anthropologist Amber Case says:
“And (now) you have a Second Self. Whether you like it or not, you’re starting to show up online, and people are interacting with your Second Self when you’re not there…. and you have to now maintain that digital self. And when we bring all that into our social space, we end up checking our phones All The Time. So now we have this thing called Ambient Intimacy. It’s not that we’re ALWAYS connected with EVERYBODY, but at ANY time we can connect to ANYone we want. And there are some psychological effects that happen with this… People aren’t taking time for mental reflection any more and they aren’t slowing down or stopping being around all those people in the room all the time,. People that are trying to compete for their attention. They never just sit there. And it’s when you have no external input that you have the creation of Self; when you can figure out who you really are.”
She says we need to turn off the phone. Force yourself to be WITH yoursself… Experience real time, to be real again.
4) A fourth reason to stay when you know you should go… How will I let YOU know what I am up to? I mean, I live in Africa, after all!
This may be where I expose my addiction, and the disfunction that such an addiction to something that takes so much and gives so little, points t
I have looked high and low, reread and relistened to a lot of articles and podcasts trying to remember where I heard this, but I couldn’t find it again. I think it was an interview I was listening to, and the woman being interviewed said she wasn’t on Facebook. The interviewer , if I remember right, then asked her why not, and she said something like: “Well, I was on for a long time, but I finally realized that it mostly just made me feel BAD.”
I’ve noticed a character trait, specific to my personality, that feeds on affirmation (as weirded out as I also am when someone gives me any actual attention or praise.) I have seen in myself, for some time, that dopamine rush when I get a hit of reinforcement. Yet, I can identify with that woman’s words, that Facebook, even in it’s moments of affirmation, mostly just makes me feel bad. I feel bad in a way that is hard to put a name on. In a way that, even after gorging, makes you feel empty instead of full. In a way that, even after “connecting,” leaves you lonely. In a way that, having presented your precious of precious, to “share,” makes you feel robbed. Going back, again and again, to a relationship that takes and rarely gives, is unhealthy. It can take a self-confident, self-assured person and tell her a lie of neediness.
I’ve been reading a book by Macrina Wiederkehr with the title, Seasons of your Heart (don’t let the trite title fool you.) I only picked up this book AFTER deciding to take my time back from Facebook, but it has felt like it was written specifically FOR me, for THIS time.
She writes: “Who of us has not felt deeply the frustration of being trapped in addictive behaviors from which we would like to be delivered? Those behaviors that have become deep wounds in our spirits? Those that keep our true selves in bondage?”
I feel my heart humming to that.
But then, from Wiederkehr again (some redemption, because I got lost for a while, but found myself again): “The scars in my life,” the ones I’ve exposed to you here, “have become my badges of victory and glory. Some healing has taken place, yet as I pray with these scars I am able to see that I will probably have to live with some of the pain I’ve inherited from my cluttered life.”
My cluttered life. I have phrased it just that way myself, but I’d probably add the word “curated” to that, too. May it be less cluttered and curated, both. I will continue to blog… but I will continue to blog, as always, with honesty.
But my biggest reason for leaving social media behind for good was just to take my REAL time back from the virtual world. Here’s a quote from Devaser from her TED talk again:
“Our own innate rhythm of time and the rhythm of (the internet) are not in synch. It explains why we can spend a long time on it, and the next thing, you look up and two hours have passed. It uses some very real parts of your body and your brain to hold you there.”
“Time-warping technology challenges our deepest core. You and I know exactly what it means to be truly present in a moment… like looking into the eyes of someone we have known for a very long time. At such moments our Selves are complete. The Self that lives in the long, narrative arch, and the Self that experiences the moment become one…”
” Things happen in the time they take, and because it will pass and it will move, we owe the present moment our full attention. Love is ATTENTION. The digital world canibalizes time, and in doing so, what it threatens is the completeness of ourselves. It threatens the flow of love. But WE DON’T NEED TO LET IT. We can choose otherwise, and in our lives and in our actions, we can choose those solutions and those innovations and those moments that restore the flow of time instead of fragmenting it… We can choose to TAKE TIME BACK.”
My number one reason for quitting for good is to Take Time Back. I think I win a lot of other things back in the meantime, and already feel a slow, piecing-back-together of myself. I’d almost missed her.
Guy, the moderator for the TED radio hour then asked, “How do we do it? How do we reconnect to our human reality.”
What a question. Does anyone else feel a bit helpless that such a question, from a sensitive individual, must even be asked now? It’s a sad state we’re in.
Habab replies that she thinks it’s for each one of us to ask what’s important, and whether we want this or not. “For me, the physicality of things, which is missing from the digital world, gives me something to hold on to. We spend a lot of the time in the digital world, but if I think, say, about my year last year, the things I remember are not the hundreds…” (Ugh!) “of hours spent on the internet. Who we are, and our sense of Self is the memories we’ve carried and the experiences we’ve had that shape us. So the story we have of our own life, that we carry around in our heads, is that going to get emptier as a result of this? Or what WILL fill it? If real LIFE is not going to fill it?”
That bleak and deeply perplexing question would have been enough to make me quit if I hadn’t already. The millions of digital hours of human experience that are swirling down an every sucking drain and vanishing into a dark vacuum aren’t going to have mine numbered amongst them any more. I reclaim those parts of my story that are being lost in the exchange of Real for Not. And I hope that that never translates to anyone I love as my choice to love them less, but as my effort to love them more. It certainly has helped me love myself a little more. And my husband and children. And the small moments I had undoubtedly been missing in the vortex.
There have been so many excellent thinkers and scholars (I don’t watch much TV but if I find myself alone, it’s almost always to the soundtrack of a podcast,) that have spoken into my understanding of this decision over the past weeks, but I would especially urge you to look into Screens – Part I and Screens -Part II of the TED Radio Hour, which may just change the way you think of things too. You won’t be sorry.