I’ve been off FB for over three months now, and I feel like I should have something profound to say about that. Except I don’t, really.
I can tell by the way people react when I tell them I’ve deactivated my account that they don’t really get it. They’ve read enough articles (or at least been exposed to the sound bites) to know that people are generally less satisfied with their own lives when they’re on FB a lot, that studies show it doesn’t make people happier, so they can nod their head as they furrow their brows and pretend like they don’t think I’m a weirdo. I think most of them assume I’ll be back, any day now, when I realize what a massive mistake it is to stay away.
I don’t think it’s a mistake, and I plan to stay away, at least for the time being. It’s not that there aren’t things about FB that I miss–I wouldn’t have stayed on for so many years if it had nothing positive to offer–but I can’t help but acknowledge that I’m happier not participating than I was before.
Do I miss seeing pictures of my friends and families and their kids? Yes. Absolutely. I do miss that. Sometimes a lot. But the truth is, one picture every few weeks (or even months) is plenty for me. I don’t need to see every picture of every person that I know, every day. I just don’t. I also don’t need to know all about all the things they are doing. In fact, knowing all that stressed me out, in ways I didn’t even realize.
You could say that I left when I recognized that FB inspired feelings of envy or jealously or coveting, or when I got sick of comparing my life to everyone’s highlight reel. That is probably why I left. But having spent three months away, I realize that the negative effects were far more insidious. The reality is I simply couldn’t process that amount of information. I didn’t know what to do with all the thousands of images and experiences being offered up by everyone I knew. I didn’t have any place to put them. They were constantly bumping against my own ideas, trying to find a space to land, but there simply wasn’t anywhere for them to go. My mind became more crowded and cluttered, while I became distracted and unhappy.
Do I know less about my friends these days… yes! And I actually think that is a good thing. Now when I talk to them we have interesting subjects to cover. Now when they text me a picture I can take the time to enjoy it, and then file it away in a manageable archive devoted to that person. I can take the time to actually think about them and their kids, and process information about their lives in a meaningful way that inspires connection.
And I’ll be honest, it is easier to feel fulfilled in my own life when I’m not constantly bombarded by the highlights of everyone else’s. I’m sure I feel less dissassifyed now that I’m not seeing everyone’s amazing vacations and get togethers with friends. I wish I could consume that kind of information day in and day out and not be negatively affected but it just wasn’t something I could manage.
Last Sunday was my birthday, my first birthday off of FB. I wondered how it would feel without the 100+ salutations from well-meaning “friends” that I hardly know. I’ve always quite liked and appreciated the birthday wishes on FB, at least from the people who mean something to me, but not having that acknowledgement wasn’t so bad. A few close friends remembered despite not having FB to tell them (and a few close friends forgot, and then felt bad, but I didn’t mind). Birthdays don’t mean that much to me anymore and I’m not upset when a friend, even a good friend, forgets to text me happy birthday. I didn’t even get a handmade card from my own husband or kids so I wasn’t expecting (and didn’t get) much. And you know what, it was fine and now it’s over and I’m not disappointed looking back. It’s just a day, and I don’t need a bunch of people who only know to say Happy Birthday because a website tells them to write something on my wall.
I do think FB has made us lazier in our connecting with other people. And when someone is not on it, it’s easy to forget them. Which I understand, but I think is sad, in a way.
The one thing I do recognize as a powerful connecting force on FB are the groups. I hear about the connections people have through their groups and they do sound effective at bringing people together to provide support and understanding. By the time I left I wasn’t a part of any active groups anymore (the ones I were a part of were smaller and fell into disuse), and that is probably why I was ultimately able to leave. Without that more authentic opportunity to connect with people, the site lost it’s ability to truly bring me closer to others in a way I felt was meaningful.
Not being in FB is a surprisingly powerful gesture–people read into it in ways I didn’t anticipate. I feel like I should have greater insights into how I feel now that I’m not on it anymore, but I don’t. All I know is that I think about going back sometimes, and there are compelling reasons to do so, but in the end I just can’t click the reactivate button. I just can’t commit to the chaos that is FB, especially not in the fraught political landscape of this election year. So for now I’ll stay away, always open to the possibility of retuning. Maybe after a few more months I’ll have something productive to say about my absence from the world’s biggest social media site, but probably not.
Have you ever taken a break from FB? Would you consider taking one now?