Monday, December 19, 2016

Life After Facebook

Last Friday night, I deactivated my Facebook account.

I joined Facebook when I was eighteen. The original Social Network was quite different nine years ago– and curiously enough, in my memories it seems to have been far more social than it is now. Recall when there was no such thing as a "news feed" and Facebook was just a lot of individual profiles, and if you wanted to know what a friend's status was you had to actually go to their profile? People actually used Facebook invitations for more than just online product parties. Remember a time before "likes"? (Gasp.) Recall when "poking" was actually a thing? (I actually never got into poking. But I did use the app "Afternoon Tea", which mainly seemed to be virtually sending different tea-related pictures to other friends. I don't really remember what the point was, except that the pictures of teacups and teapots and teacake and crumpets were all so pretty.)

I've found Facebook more annoying than enjoyable ever since my news feed morphed into a long list of things that people had "liked". If there had been some option where I could limit what I saw to "written status updates only", excluding all links and photos, I might have reconsidered. If Facebook would take my (brilliant!) idea and give all users a limited number of "likes" per week (we'd have a much better idea of what people actually like if they can't "like" everything!) then I definitely would have reconsidered. But the Facebook Powers haven't done those things, and I've continued to use Facebook while vaguely wondering why, using the excuse that being a military wife, with so many friends in so many different parts of the world, it would be impossible to know what was going on without Facebook.

Then my feelings were hurt because of Facebook, and I knew it was time to leave– not at some future date, but now. No, it wasn't a political argument (I steer well away from those!) or even a direct interaction– in fact it wasn't even something that was said, but something that wasn't said. I told myself how silly it was to feel that way, but the sting was still there, in my brain, taking up mental space. And that's when my hazy intention of someday moving out of the virtual neighborhood changed into action. It was time to clean house and hang up the "for sale" sign.

Even leaving Facebook wasn't a simple matter of clicking "deactivate"– that felt too much like slinking out of a club I'd been part of for nine years without a word of goodbye. What if people thought that something dreadful had happened in my personal life and that was the reason for my leaving? I had to make an exit speech– and that just reinforced to me that leaving was necessary. As Facebook users go I had far fewer friends than average– around 200, and I interact on a regular basis with about 20 of them. Why the heck should I care what the other 180 might possibly think if they even noticed my absence? Yet I have to confess that there was a part of me that did care, so I wrote my exit speech.

I finally faced up to the facts. For me, Facebook wasn't about real community. To be brutally honest, it had evolved into three things: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), ego stroking, and laziness. I wasn't scrolling through the news feed because I was finding community there, but because, well, what if I missed a great article (or let's face it– I clicked on lame articles too, because it has been scientifically proven that clicking to a new page is stimulating to the brain's pleasure center.) When I posted a status or a link or one of my blog posts and it got a lot of "likes" or comments, I felt better about myself– as if there was a tiny Like-Counting Gnome in my brain, quantifying my worth for the day based on how many people hit the thumbs up button beneath my post.  I was scrolling through the news feed because "liking" a photo of someone's cute kid is a lot easier than calling or sending an email or even just a text to ask how they are doing. Facebook gave me the illusion of being connected, when in reality community takes intention, time, and work. I realized that I couldn't use the excuse of being a military wife, because the truth is, the connection I have with the military friends who are real friends (not just Facebook friends) exists because of the phone calls, emails, letters, text messages, and personal messages to each other, not because we click "like" on each other's photos. Real friendship, real community, takes time– whether that's hanging out in person, or using tools like phone calls and emails and texts. I know that my relationships with the people most important to me are not going to be diminished by the absence of Facebook.

It is true that my general knowledge of my acquaintances will diminish. There are quite a number of people whose peripheral presence on my radar will vanish without Facebook. But I've realized that's perfectly all right. I sometimes wonder whether human beings were really designed to have our brains so full of random information about people whom we barely know, with whom we have no real relationship. At any rate, I know that I don't function best that way. I said in my Facebook exit speech that Facebook was taking up too much of my mental space, and I have to remember that I don't have infinite mental space. I want to be a good steward of my mental resources as well as my physical resources. I'm already starting to feel a tiny change in my mental landscape– as though some large, unsightly structure  has been removed, and a lot of fertile soil has been uncovered. What fresh, fragrant plants can I cultivate in that soil?

Life after Facebook– it does exist. And yes, it's a bit of a detox process, and I don't know how long it will be before I cease to miss it or even think about it. I've learned my lesson about saying "never", so I won't even say that I'm never going back. But for 2017, at least, I will practice life without Facebook. I'm ready to plant some new seeds in all that newly-freed mental soil. I'm excited to see what blooms.

And now, instead of posting this blog on Facebook and monitoring the number of "likes" it gets, I am going to wrap Christmas presents and read books and play with Sean instead. :-)

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