Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Month without Facebook

I've been threatening to quit Facebook for years, but I finally got up the nerve to pull the plug on December 1. Not a Facebook diet. Not a Facebook fast. A no-turning-back, burn-your-bridges, lose-your-data Facebook abandonment. Why December 1? I really don't know. It seems like January 1 is the date to make a sweeping dramatic gesture. But as I mentioned at the beginning of my "month of blogging" in July, I am nothing if not arbitrary, and I fixed my gaze on the start of December.

So it's been a month since I've logged on to Facebook. How is life different?

It's strange, but I don't really miss Facebook like I thought I would--even during the first few weeks after I quit.

My relationship with Facebook has been strained for quite a while. I initially joined my senior year of college, when it was still just college kids logging in, because I was invited by a student in the freshman block I was mentoring. I didn't use it much at first (all of my friends were still on Xanga--yes, I'm old), but it steadily became more and more popular as it morphed into the be-all, end-all digital hangout. I didn't mind this at first, especially once college was over and I missed seeing my friends every day, every night, at every meal.

But then came Farmville and a host of other annoyances. Facebook was no longer a place to hang out; it was intended to be a place to remain. I no longer received friend requests from only my real friends. Instead, every person I vaguely knew in real life wanted a digital counterpart to our nod-in-the-hallway existence. And with the integration of the news feed burying items from people I cared about under the noise of my most vocal "friends," I had to be logged on all the time or miss out on the real "news." I still appreciated seeing what was going on with my real friends, but Facebook isn't about real friends.

Sometime during all of this, and even in the midst of the annoyances, checking Facebook isn't something I thought about doing; it's just something I did, absent-mindedly, like drumming on the table or shaking my leg or tapping my foot to a bluegrass song. Facebook was putting my Internet brain into neutral; it was its idling velocity. Feeling bored? My fingers would, by rote, type "f-a-c-e..." and allow Google Chrome to do the rest.

So for the first few weeks after I deleted my account, and even just moments after, I found myself typing "F..." into the address bar, letting the browser finish my thought for me. I went to the blue Facebook login page, saw that I was logged out, and immediately remembered my commitment to quit. Over the following weeks, I gradually typed that errant F into Chrome less and less, and now I only do so when I'm really not thinking about it.

The weird thing is, I didn't share a whole lot on Facebook anyway (as those who were my Facebook friends might be aware). I didn't play games there, I interacted only occasionally with friends, and I didn't usually enjoy my time there. (There are only so many artsy self-portraits you can look at without wanting to gouge out your eyeballs.) Why did it take me so long to quit?

I think part of what kept me there is that Facebook is just so easy. Everyone is on it, just about, and even though I didn't use it often to communicate with friends, if I really needed to get ahold of someone, I could. In fact, just days after I quit Facebook, I realized that I didn't have so-and-so's address for our Christmas card mailing. Then I realized I didn't have her e-mail address either. I sent the Christmas card anyway, with what I was sure was her old address, and indeed, it was returned to sender last week. Facebook could have prevented this.

Similarly, there are a number of friendships that either began or blossomed on Facebook. College professors I had never had class with who were good conversation partners. Fellow students I knew only little at college who, it turns out, are much cooler than I gave them credit for. Relatives I don't see often were there, and I was able to read their news without waiting for it to make its way from great-aunt to aunt to mother to sister to me.

Despite the ease that is lost, I really don't miss Facebook as much as it seems I should. I think part of this relates to what Eugene Peterson, in The Pastor, refers to as "topos and kairos": real space and real time, living where you are placed. It's true that I wasn't a master of this before, and quitting Facebook isn't enough to shift my paradigm, but I'm trying to do better. One of my favorite quotes from Pascal gets at this well. He says, "The present is never our goal: the past and present are our means: the future alone is our goal. Thus, we never live but we hope to live; and always hoping to be happy, it is inevitable that we will never be so." Facebook was a temptation to live simultaneously in the past (by lengthening, in many ways artificially, relationships) and in the future (by projecting a life that is often the "best parts" version of what, by many accounts, isn't all that interesting), bypassing the present. I'm sure I'll find a million other ways to do this, but for now, I'm glad Facebook isn't one of them.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting read. Totally do a follow up post six months out. Funny how Facebook is so intrenched in our lives this almost reads as a social experiment.