What do I remember most about my last days on Facebook?
I remember looking at a photo of an old friend from college at her wedding shower. She looked adorably radiant in her hat made of bows. Although she and I had never been particularly close, we had been in many classes together in college and I was certainly fond of her. I was thrilled to see her so happy.
I realized that if I left Facebook, I would never see her wedding pictures. I would not be able to wish her well on her wedding day. I would not see her honeymoon pictures. She was going to Hawaii - to the same islands Kevin and I visited this winter - and we had corresponded briefly about things to see and do while she was there. I would never know if she took any of my advice.
I still kept the Facebook Messenger app on my iPad in case anyone needed to reach out to me and didn't have my email address. A week after deactivating my account, I had a message from an old, dear friend that his mother had died.
Both of these incidents had me pondering if I had done the right thing by leaving Facebook. What would I be missing out by staying offline? I left right around the time I was performing in a Harrison Players show and I missed being able to share photos with the cast. How many weddings and births and graduations and other happy occasions would I be missing? How many tragedies would I not be able to provide any encouragement or comfort for? How many events would I not be providing support for?
Social media are a modern-day demon. No one claims to like them, but almost everyone uses them. Many of us are dependent on them for entertainment, networking, and socializing. You can check your Facebook when you're sitting at home feeling bored. You can check your Facebook when you're waiting on a long line or waiting for appointments. It is a connection to the world. It is also a shared experience. We discuss the posts we see online with our friends and family when we're offline. Facebook has become as much of a cultural touchstone with our peers as TV and movies, and other traditional media are.
Despite they way it has connected me to the wider world, leaving Facebook has had some serious advantages for me. Facebook addiction was a huge timesuck. Since I stopped using Facebook my house is cleaner, I read more books, and I even sleep better. I feel more at peace because I don't have to deal with other people's anger, prejudice, and negative worldviews. Facebook made my world bigger, but that world came with a lot of ugliness. The most positive aspect of avoiding Facebook is that I'm no longer bringing a heap of Facebook negativity to my life.
What is the price of inner peace and more free time and how long am I willing to pay it? The greatest price I paid so far is the cost of my friends. It seems my friends are far better at dealing with pitfalls of Facebook than I am. For my nearest and dearest, Facebook is the main way they socialize and stay and in touch. To stay away from Facebook is by default the way to stay out of the loop. Once you're away from Facebook, it's easy to be forgotten.
It's not as if my friends won't respond if I reach out to them. I don't want to make anyone sound heartless as if they won't speak to me anymore. If I call or email, I will receive a response. Unfortunately, with my tendency to low self-esteem, I find myself worrying that when I reach out, I am being intrusive. If you are devoting part of your day to socialize with friends on Facebook, responding to me is extra work and extra time. Talking to friends on Facebook is part of a routine. Talking to me becomes an extra obligation.
For example I recently exchanged emails with a friend and she mentioned an upcoming vacation. I asked her for the details. "Tell me all about it," I said. Then I realized that she has probably told everyone else about it already. She has probably talked about it as much as she wants to talk about it online. I felt this huge sense of guilt. Why was I pestering her this way when I could just join the rest of the world on Facebook and find out everything I need to know?
Now I feel guilty about contacting anyone. When I stop getting my information from Facebook and make email or offline inquiries, I'm creating unnecessary obligations of response. I probably shouldn't feel this way, but I do.
A year or two ago I tried to stay off Facebook for about 2 months. I remember at the time I thought it would improve my offline interactions because I would be forced to talk to my friends one-on-one and I might learn things that they would not want to share publicly. That never happened. I have never found it easy to find the time to discuss things I don't want to share publicly with my friends either. Leaving Facebook makes me interact less and not more.
The upshot of all of this is that even though I'm accomplishing more offline, I'm lonely. I'm living in a bubble with my husband. It's just us, discussing us and socializing with us. He is the person I bounce my ideas off of and complain to and joke around with. I'm happy I have him, but sometimes it's nice to have other people to share your world with. I also think that it's a bit disheartening that I rarely have anyone reach out to me. Does anyone ever wonder how I'm doing? Do I not exist if I'm not on Facebook?
So where do I go next? How long do I stay off Facebook and what will my fate be the longer I stay off? I have had friends suggest to me that I should stay off until after the election. It's true that the ugliness surrounding the election has a lot to do with my decision to deactivate, but I know once it's all over there will still be plenty of hate and snark to go around. Election year or not, I am still going to have to scroll past a dozen posts that may anger me, annoy me, or just not interest me. I don't need to view a hundred posts about sports I don't follow, TV shows I don't watch, or misanthropic memes I would prefer not to view (AND FOR PETE'S SAKE STOP TALKING ABOUT COFFEE ALREADY!) before I see updates from friends I actually want to see.
I considered going back to Facebook now, but allow only a handful of my closest friends to display in my feed. The problem is I just don't know where to draw the line. What constitutes a close friend? There have been friends I have enjoyed interacting with over the years who still manage to get under my skin. What if it's someone who isn't close, but still makes wonderful posts? I would feel bad for friends who might still keep me in their feed and comment on my posts while I ignored theirs. That wouldn't feel right to me. How can I separate communicating with the people I care about the most and simple amusement?
I joined Instagram recently and also started using my Google+ a bit more to keep myself somewhat connected. I have a few FB friends I follow and who follow me. It's one way of simply telling people what I'm up to and seeing what they are up to. For example I had another engaged friend and I was sad that I would also miss her wedding photos. Fortunately she is on Instagram. While I'm sure she had more photos on Facebook, I at least got to see some of her wedding and wish her well. I don't post too much, but I'm sure when I do my traveling this summer, I'll have plenty to share. Where will I put my main photos without Facebook albums?
In the end, I have to wonder if the most important side effect of leaving Facebook is that it helps keep me grounded and less self centered. There is a joke out there that is a play on the old, "If I tree falls in a forest..." question. If an event happens and you don't announce it on Facebook, did it really happen? When I am the victim of unfortunate events, do I need the sympathy of 300 people in order for it to matter?
Two years ago my neighbor directly below me went on vacation and while he was away, an alarm went off in his apartment. He was gone for at least two weeks (it was a rough winter so he was away longer than expected due to the many canceled flights during that period) and I was hearing a constant beeping noise almost the entire time he was gone. I complained about it heavily on Facebook. All my friends, family, and acquaintances knew about it. Sympathy poured in from every area. I had friends living it with me, waiting alongside me for the issue to be resolved. One of my friends said she even had a sympathetic dream about it. Having so many people share my pain made the whole situation more bearable. It became something I could laugh about.
I have another unpleasant, ongoing situation in my building right now. A little over a month ago there was a fire in the rooftop ventilation fan for the laundry rooms. It took a few hours for the fire to be put out. I had rehearsal that night. It was Hell Week for my show and I couldn't go into my apartment before rehearsal to change clothes, eat dinner, and relax for a few minutes. The fire ended up disabling all the laundry rooms in the building. I am lucky to live across the street from a laundromat, but now I have to schedule my entire world around the laundry (doubly difficult when I had rehearsals every night). If I do it myself, I waste two hours and a fortune in quarters, taking a chunk of precious time away from me. I can drop it off, but the woman who handles the drop off service tends to come into work late and leave early, so if I don't time it right, I don't get my laundry back right away.
I wanted to complain to the world about it. I wished I could find an excuse to reach out to my friends so I could tell them about it. I missed Facebook terribly. (Also, Facebook is useful for passing time when you're sitting around the laundromat for an hour.) I wanted to garner the kind of sympathy the beeping apartment brought me.
Then I wondered why I needed to tell the whole world so badly. I complain about it to Kevin often enough. My immediate family knows all about it. Who else needs to know? Why do I need to complain to my friends so badly? I think of some of the problems many of my close friends are facing right now either with their families or with their own personal health, and I think of how petty a broken laundry room is. Garnering sympathy from a hundred friends isn't going to change the situation either. I want to talk about my laundry room to the world because I want the attention. I know my friends would be sympathetic about my laundry room, but their lives go on whether they know about it or not. Maybe it's a wise move to stay off Facebook as a learning experience in humility.
Although I love to joke otherwise, it's not always about me. Connection with friends and easy entertainment is the main reason I used Facebook, but I'd be lying if there wasn't a degree of narcissism and desire for attention involved. I wanted to show the world how funny and smart I am and how wonderful my life is. When my life wasn't wonderful, I wanted to bring everyone down with me for a spell. So much of my childhood and early teen years were dull and miserable and I am trying to prove to everyone how amazing I turned out - and probably trying to prove it to myself more than anyone else.
I miss interacting with my friends and I miss having something to fall back on when I'm bored, but I realize I have given myself a learning opportunity. I'm learning how to make better use of free time, but I'm also learning to be with myself and living without the expectations of constant support from others when I need to learn more self reliance. As tempting as it is to go back, I think I will stay away a few more months as I initially planned.