I joined Facebook nearly a decade ago when it was for college students-only. Back when there was no such thing as a mobile web, it was a fun way to connect with my friends and share photos and witticisms. When I got my first phone with web access about 5 years ago, I noticed right away that it was exciting to be able to access it anywhere – then I didn’t have to wait until I got home to a computer to update my photos, I could do them that same day and still stay engaged with posts my friends put on their pages.
As technology updated, access to this online meeting place became easier and easier and I was roped in with it. Facebook became intertwined with my day-to-day and like an appendage. When I graduated college, when I got my first job, at my wedding, on my honeymoon, at the birth of my daughter – Facebook was there, documenting my special moments and providing me with wonderful, instant feedback. From the point when I was forbidden to be on it as a teacher to the point where a part of my job is updating a Facebook page, the integration of this website into daily life has dramatically shifted to become overwhelming and unnerving. On some level, I needed to check Facebook several times a day.
The point when I realized that it had gone too far was about 2 months ago. My daughter was playing in the autumn leaves for the first time. I was there, right with her, laughing and enjoying this special moment – but on the other side of the screen of my smart phone. Before we came back inside, I had posted the photos I’d taken to Facebook for all my acquaintances to give me positive feedback on this special moment in my daughter’s life. In that moment as I posted it, I was alarmed and ashamed by my now obsessive need for the instant gratification of feedback and my inability to simply be present in a moment.
So, inspired by my friend Jim’s decision to delete Facebook a few months ago, I deleted Facebook from my phone two weeks ago, challenging myself to keep it off until Thanksgiving to see what would happen. I didn’t go cold turkey – I have kept my account and still check once a day or so from a computer.
Here’s what I happened when I “broke up” with Facebook:
- It was really, really hard to shift my perspective from, “Everyone is interested in what I’m doing or thinking right now and I should share that,” to “I should be fully present in the moment and not disengage by engaging with social media.”
- I focused better during the day by not staring at a screen all day. I felt less scattered, less stressed, and less foggy. I was more productive and sharp. I even slept better.
- I enjoyed social times with my friends more, hearing their stories and experiences for the first time. Instead of feeling inferior about my life when I see their magazine-worthy family photos, I can embrace them as the beautifully flawed people they are, photoshop-free.
- I was noticeably happier. I haven’t felt uplifted or encouraged by Facebook in a long time, and I realize now that Facebook has/had a more negative impact than I realized on my mood.
- I felt more present and engaged with my family and my friends. No more will I call willfully disengaging, “multitasking.”
- I didn’t miss it, but I did have to intentionally break the habit of unintentionally opening it, as well as the urge to visit it via mobile web.
- Facebook comes up regularly in conversation and people expect that you’ll know everything they know because of Facebook. Don’t believe me? Tally how many times it is mentioned tomorrow. I gave up around 30.
- I don’t have email addresses or even cell phone numbers for some of my friends. I had to keep Facebook messenger on my phone because I don’t know how to get in touch with some of the people I am friends with easily without it. Scary to think that one corporation holds the keys to my entire ability to reach my friends, and one password protects anyone from reaching them, pretending to be me.
- No one noticed I’d been off Facebook. While I typically receive great feedback on my posts, not one of my friends – even the real life close friends – realized that I had not been liking or commenting on their posts or posting myself. Granted, I did engage a little bit, but for as much of a priority I’d made it in my life, Facebook didn’t care if I was there or not.
- My daughter behaved better. This may or may not be attributed to Facebook, but I am certain that she doesn’t feel like she’s competing for my attention and that makes her a happier kid. And, I feel ashamed I didn’t do this sooner for that reason alone, much less the others.
I’m not sure in what ways I will be using Facebook going forward. I’m not ready to sever ties with it altogether because at its core it is good – I am grateful for the connection it brings with friends and family near and far and the opportunity to share and receive information. But, I won’t be reinstalling it and I hope to visit it only occasionally and intentionally from now on.